We’ve reached the OTAs period in the NFL offseason, which means teams have made their big moves in the offseason, barring some late trades and free agent signings. Fans will now talk themselves into their teams going far, even if it’s unrealistic.
It’s no different for a Bears team that figures to be better than the league-worst 3-14 last season, but how much better is an interesting question.

One key to the Bears being better would be to get more from the defensive line. They were near the bottom of the league, both rushing the passer and stopping the run. Ryan Poles and Matt Eberflus clearly recognized this and went out and added multiple guys in the draft and free agency. They signed DEs DeMarcus Walker, Rasheem Greene, and DT Andrew Billings in free agency and DTs Gervon Dexter, Zacch Pickens, and Travis Bell in the draft. And they are expected to sign one more DE in free agency (they could also do it via trade, but I don’t see a blockbuster move like the Khalil Mack trade in 2018). Matt Eberflus hinted at it last week.

With all this talk of the defensive line and possibly going after a star there, it seems that a couple of players have fallen off the radar of most fans. Those are Trevis Gipson and Dominique Robinson.

Now it’s understandable; they both struggled mightily and were part of the reason why the Bears were 3-14 last season, and nobody is really safe on a 3-14 team, except maybe Justin Fields.

These are still two young pieces that have shown enough to think their potential is tantalizing, and they may be the x-factors to the Bears making the playoffs in 2023.

Trevis Gipson

Photo: Chicago Bears

Let’s start with Gipson, the 6’4″, 263-pound DE, who is entering a contract year. Ryan Pace traded the 2021 fourth to draft him in the 5th round of the 2020 draft. He played sparingly as a rookie, only racking up 3 QB hits in the final stretch of the season. He was moved to the third edge rusher spot in 2021. When Khalil Mack went down during his phenomenal 2021 season (on pace to be as good or better than his near DPOY 2018 season), Gipson had to fill in.

And he was absolutely fantastic. He had 7 sacks, 7 TFL, and 5 forced fumbles to go along with 40 tackles in 9 starts.

The pass rush almost didn’t miss a beat. He wasn’t as good at stopping the run but wasn’t a complete liability. Last season, however, outside of one big game against the Packers, where he sacked Aaron Rodgers twice, Gipson was often invisible, both against the run and against the pass.

He did have more QB hits (11) than the previous two seasons, but his PFF grade dropped from 70.4 in 2021 to 48.9 in 2022. He ceded snaps to Al-Quadin Muhammad due to his struggles against the run. Overall, a very disappointing season for Gipson.

Dominique Robinson

Robinson was drafted in the 5th round by Ryan Poles in 2022. He was touted as a project player with immense upside; he had switched from WR to DE just two seasons before, standing 6’4″ and 255 pounds. But he was still learning the position; we weren’t to expect much from him. He then went and was the Bears’ best defender in week 1, sacking Trey Lance twice.

Unfortunately, for the rest of the season, he had 1 sack and a PFF grade of 45.9, below average. That week 1 performance showed what Robinson could be, but with these project players, consistency is going to be lacking, especially early on. We shouldn’t have been surprised that he struggled the rest of the season.

The Duo

The flashes from these two, combined with their youthfulness (Gipson is 26, Robinson is 24), mean the fans should give them time. And the circumstances last season were certainly less than ideal. A new scheme to adjust to (especially for Gipson going from 3-4 to 4-3), Robert Quinn and Roquan Smith being traded in October (the defense was at least serviceable to average before those trades), and then some clear tank moves by the regime late (playing Tim Boyle and Nathan Peterman the final week of the season).

I would not really hold the 2022 season against them like many are. I would implore fans to look at the 2021 season again for Gipson; that didn’t just disappear. He will be back to that form in 2023. Robinson showed what he can be in week 1 against the 49ers; he just needs time to be able to do that more consistently.

I won’t guarantee it, but I have a very good feeling about this duo as the Bears DE future.

When it’s all said and done, they will lead the Bears’ EDGE room in snaps, tackles, and sacks in 2023, more than DeMarcus Walker, Rasheem Greene, and the free agent to be signed.

Featured Image: Chicago Bears
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