No Bears player made greater strides in 2021 than Trevis Gipson, a healthy scratch in Week 2 who blossomed into a top playmaker on defense.
The 2020 fifth-round draft pick from Tulsa appeared in 16 games with nine starts, registering 39 tackles, 7.0 sacks, seven tackles-for-loss, five forced fumbles, one fumble recovery and two pass breakups. Gipson especially excelled down the stretch, recording four of his seven sacks in the final five games and three of his five forced fumbles in the final two contests.
Due to his emergence, ChicagoBears.com has selected Gipson as the Bears' Most Improved Player for the 2021 season.
When Gipson was chosen by the Bears with the 155th pick in the 2020 draft, he already had a sizeable chip on his shoulder. It stemmed from when he played football at Cedar Hill High School in Texas and received only one college scholarship offer—from Tulsa.
"I really felt overlooked," Gipson said in October. "I've been going on a revenge tour. My dream school was Texas Tech, but Tulsa was the only one who had enough faith in me, and I'm appreciative of them. They gave me that one shot, and I haven't looked back ever since."
Gipson was a two-year starting defensive end at Tulsa, where he earned first-team All-American Athletic Conference honors as a senior in 2019 after setting career highs with 49 tackles, eight sacks and 15 tackles-for-loss. As a junior, he registered 46 tackles, four sacks and nine tackles-for-loss.
Converted to outside linebacker with the Bears, Gipson's transition as a rookie initially wasn't easy, primarily because all offseason workouts and preseason games were cancelled due to COVID-19. But after a full year and offseason under his belt, the 6-4, 263-pounder was able to take advantage of expanded playing time in 2021 after perennial Pro Bowler Khalil Mack was shut down for the season in late October due to a foot injury that required surgery.
"The more reps I've gotten in this preseason and the beginning of this season is just giving me more and more faith that I can dominate this game," Gipson said in October. "Overall, that's a goal of mine that I want to achieve."
In a 29-3 rout of the Giants Jan. 2, Gipson created two takeaways with strip/sacks of quarterback Mike Glennon. Gipson's first sack came on the game's first play from scrimmage and gave the Bears offense the ball at the Giants' 2, leading to David Montgomery's 2-yard touchdown run on the next snap.
A week later in the season finale, Gipson stripped the ball from Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins while sharing a sack with defensive end Mario Edwards Jr.
Gipson's five forced fumbles in 2021 were the second most by a Bears player since 2013, trailing only Mack's six in 2019.
Asked after the season where he felt he made the most strides, Gipson said: "I think I was able to create more pressure on the quarterback, set the edge better in the running game and overall be more physical. I was able to have more opportunities to be able to show what I can do, and I'm very appreciative of that. I'm going to evaluate myself, work hard and see what I can reach next year."
Check out the best photos of the 2021 season—taken by Bears photographers—featuring players on the defensive side of the ball.