By Chris Emma—
(CBS) Danny Trevathan and Jerrell Freeman, the core of a budding Bears defense, have combined for 1,005 total tackles in 128 career NFL games.
Their big tackle totals perennially rank near the top of the NFL in a 16-game sample. Given the backstories of Trevathan and Freeman, the sheer determination with which they play is no surprise. Trevathan was a sixth-round pick, while Freeman was undrafted and detoured to the Canadian Football League before reaching the NFL.
The impact of Trevathan and Freeman is clear through their statistics, but inside linebackers coach Glenn Pires knows they bring more than that.
"Those guys set great examples," Pires said. "Just their whole energy, how they are in meetings, that's a huge advantage for us. If you're a rookie coming up and watching those two guys, pretty good deal."
Bears general manager Ryan Pace was eager to sign Trevathan and Freeman in March 2016, taking advantage of unique financial situations with their former teams to sign two key players. Trevathan was a cap casualty of that vaunted Broncos defense that paved the way to a Super Bowl championship, while Freeman bolted from the Colts after a breakdown in contract negotiations.
The Bears were quick to welcome two players playing their best football, but the first season in Chicago for the tandem didn't go as hoped.
Trevathan suffered a ruptured patellar tendon and was forced into season-ending surgery after just nine games. Freeman stayed healthy but missed four games after violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing drugs for what he described as mistakenly taking a banned prescription before the season.
The silver lining for the Bears was a positive development for then-rookie Nick Kwiatkoski, who filled in well for his veteran teammates. Still, the team was left wondering what its tandem at linebacker can be.
With training camp underway at Olivet Nazarene, the question remains. How good can Trevathan and Freeman be together?
"We can be the best tandem in the league, there's no doubt in my mind," Trevathan said. "After working with (Freeman) for a year, I know the type of player he is — I know what he's thinking before he even thinks it, he knows what I'm thinking before I even think it. We could look at each other and get on the same page. We don't even have to yell at one another, we don't have to do nothing. We just know, as long as we're all on assignment, we're going to play good, play fast. We're going to be the best tandem in the league.
"I'm looking to be even better. I didn't do as well as I thought I would last year (with a) new scheme. I can make a lot of excuses. But that's not the type of person I am. I'm here to make this team better. They brought me here to help win some championships."
Trevathan is a constant voice of optimism, so his words should come as no surprise. He's experienced Super Bowl glory and emerged as a top linebacker in the game. However, his first step will be getting back to full speed.
Trevathan returned from his gruesome knee injury ahead of schedule, a testament to his work ethic as coach John Fox proclaimed. The goal with Trevathan will be taking the field for the season opener against the Falcons on Sept. 10. Kwiatkoski will likely spell Trevathan as the team eases his return to full speed. The hope is that he can avoid the physically-unable-to-perform list to open the regular season.
As for Freeman, the goal should be playing a full season of football. He has played in just 16 games twice in his five-year NFL career, his first two seasons in the league. While 2016 brought good health, the suspension brought disappointment to Freeman's first season in Chicago.
When on the field, the production for Freeman has been big. He isn't lacking in motivation.
"I want to be known as one of the top linebackers in the league," Freeman said. "I hope everyone on my defense wants to be the best player at their position. That's the mentality I would want, and that's the mentality I would want the rest of my defense to have. Getting better, lead a defense to one of the top defenses, just help my team in any kind of way to get some wins."
The next evolution for the Bears' twosome, as Freeman explained, is learning to play as one. Pires has seen how their instincts and experience leads to the point of attack, but that's two individuals playing with instincts.
Becoming one cohesive unit in the middle of the Bears' defense takes time – something Trevathan and Freeman could use together.
"We did get into a rhythm there," Freeman admitted.
"You know when you're on the field, you see a formation, you see a motion, you see certain things out there and you just look over -- you don't even have to say anything. We know what's about to happen, we know what's going on or we know what kind of change we want to make. Just little things. You can go out there and ride."
The production is there and so is the potential, but there's work to be done. Let's see if Trevathan and Freeman can indeed become the league's best linebacking tandem.
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