The following is the seventh of eight position reviews of the Bears’ 2018 season.
Brian Urlacher’s induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame last summer was just the start of a memorable year for Bears linebackers.
Outside linebackers Khalil Mack and Leonard Floyd and inside linebackers Roquan Smith and Danny Trevathan all played major roles in the team’s resurgence in 2018, fueling a defense that led the Bears to a 12-4 record and the NFC North championship.
Mack, who was acquired Sept. 1 in a blockbuster trade with the Raiders, was voted first-team All-Pro and selected to his fourth straight Pro Bowl after leading the Bears with 12.5 sacks, a career-high six forced fumbles and 18 quarterback hits. He also ranked second on the team with 10 tackles-for-loss.
Mack’s 12.5 sacks were the most by a Bears player since Hall of Famer Richard Dent also had 12.5 sacks in 1993. Mack’s 12.5 sacks tied for the third most in franchise history behind Dent’s 17.5 in 1984 and 17.0 in 1985.
Mack was named the NFC defensive player of the month for September after registering five sacks, four forced fumbles and returning an interception 27 yards for a touchdown in the season opener against the Packers.
“He did it every day,” said coach Matt Nagy. “It was all consistent. He never changed. He affects the game just because offenses want to double, triple and quadruple team him and what that does is ultimately creates mismatches and one-on-one battles for the other players. He showed up every day at practice from the very first day he came here and built relationships with the rest of the guys, and I think he had a really fun year.”
Floyd, Smith and Trevathan all were named Pro Bowl alternates.
After recovering from a hand injury that limited him early in the season, Floyd began performing like the player the Bears envisioned when they traded up to select him with the ninth pick in the 2016 NFL Draft.
The Georgia product returned an interception 19 yards for a touchdown Nov. 4 against the Bills, the first pick and TD of his three-year NFL career. The 6-4, 251-pounder recorded three sacks in a three-game stretch late in the season, including two of Aaron Rodgers in a 24-17 division-clinching win over the Packers Dec. 18 at Soldier Field.
“[Floyd] is just a guy that can do so many things as a pass rusher, but yet he can be very effective with the run game, too,” Nagy said.
Selected by the Bears with the eighth pick in last year’s draft, Smith led the team with 121 tackles, three shy of Urlacher’s rookie record set in 2000. Smith also registered five sacks, eight tackles-for-loss, one interception and five pass breakups while playing in all 16 games with 15 starts. He added a second interception in the Bears’ wild-card playoff loss to the Eagles.
“It was huge to watch [Smith] just kind of flourish, especially in the late part of the year,” said general manager Ryan Pace. “The sky’s the limit for him. It’s just exciting to see him grow. I think you saw a glimpse of what he’s going to be, especially in the later part of the season.”
Trevathan brought veteran leadership and playmaking ability to a defense that led the NFL in several statistical categories. The seventh-year pro finished second on the unit with 102 tackles while also registering two sacks, two interceptions, eight tackles-for-loss, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery.
Outside linebacker Aaron Lynch also contributed in 2018, compiling 16 tackles, three sacks, one interception and four tackles-for-loss while appearing in 13 games with three starts.
Senior writer Larry Mayer ranks the Bears’ top 10 individual game performances of the 2018 season.