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Bears have 5 players selected for Pro Bowl

December 20, 2018

The drought is over.

After having only three Pro Bowl players in the previous three years combined, the Bears had five players voted to the all-star game in Orlando, Florida, in results announced Tuesday night.

Outside linebacker Khalil Mack, defensive end Akiem Hicks, cornerback Kyle Fuller, safety Eddie Jackson and running back Tarik Cohen will represent the Bears on Jan. 27. The last time the Bears had a defensive player voted to the Pro Bowl was cornerback Tim Jennings in 2013. They were shut out on both sides of the ball last year.

It’s the fourth straight trip for Mack, a five-year veteran, but it’s the first Pro Bowl for each of the other four Bears.

Mack has 12.5 sacks and a league-best six forced fumbles in his first year with the Bears. Richard Dent is the only player in franchise history to have more sacks in a single season. Hicks leads the Bears with 15 quarterback hits and is the team’s leading tackler among linemen. He’s second on the team with six sacks.

Fuller is tied for the NFL lead with seven interceptions. Jackson, a

fourth-round pick in 2017, is tied for third in the NFL with six interceptions, including two pick-sixes. Jackson also returned a fumble for a touchdown this season, and his five defensive touchdowns are the most in the NFL since 2017. The versatile Cohen leads the NFL with 413 punt return yards, and his 13.3-yard average is third in the league.

The Bears acquired Mack on Sept. 1, and he has helped make a top-10 defense into arguably the league’s best.

“From the very first day that he showed up to practice, he was a complete team player,” Bears coach Matt Nagy said of Mack. “It was nothing about ‘me’; [it was] all about this team. He doesn’t want any accolades, he doesn’t want any attention, and he practices really hard. And then he’s a great person. He’s infected every player in the right way and made us all better. Just always talking, always leading.

“Just has a great mentality to him, and we’re very fortunate to have him. That was a big part of our season here is getting him in the beginning (Sept. 1).”

Most people at Halas Hall believe Hicks should have been honored last year, when he had a team-best 8.5 sacks and was dominant against the run. Bears coaches believe he’s played at or above the same level this year and been more consistent.

Asked if Hicks belonged in Orlando, Bears defensive line coach Jay Rodgers said: “If that’s where the Pro Bowl is, then yeah.”

Players are elected for the Pro Bowl through voting by fans, players and coaches, each of which counts for one-third of the voting. Hicks was almost certainly a popular pick among opposing players, who respect his game, according to Rodgers.

“From a player standpoint, I know people don’t like to play against him,” Rodgers said. “He’s one of those guys they have starred every time they do an advance scout. His production’s been good, he’s been steady throughout the entire year, he’s made some big plays in big moments. He’s done it on a national stage. He’s done a lot of good things this year, and I’m looking forward to the next few games for him to do even more things.”

A case could also have been made last year for Fuller, who bounced back after missing all of 2016 with a knee injury to finish third in the NFL with 22 pass breakups to go along with two interceptions and 68 tackles. He already has

20 pass breakups this year to go along with his career-best interception total.

“All of Kyle’s success goes to his preparation,” Bears defensive backs coach Ed Donatell said. “This guy is in his playbook, he studies film about as much as anybody we have in the building. So when he makes a play, its something he’s earned through his preparation, and the way he leads our team.”

Jackson flashed his elite play-making ability last year as a rookie, when he had a 76-yard interception return and a 75-yard fumble return for a touchdown in the same game.

“He’s growing as a pro, and his preparation is improving,” Donatell said. “He has an ability where in rapid cognition, when everything’s going, [to realize] where the quarterback’s looking and the receivers are running their routes.”

He can see everything, and that’s what gets him close to the ball. He can process it all. He’s an unusual processor and that’s what makes him have that production.”

In addition to his return skills, Cohen leads the Bears with 63 receptions and 679 receiving yards while averaging 10.6 yards a catch, and he has averaged 4.6 yards on 83 carries.

“He can do everything for us,” Nagy said. “I’ve said it all year long, he’s extremely bright with this offense. He can play multiple positions. He’s a willing participant in everything. He doesn’t care whether it’s blocking somebody, returning a punt, running a route, taking a handoff, playing quarterback -- he’ll do it all. That helps when you have those types of players.”

Cohen also has a one-yard TD pass this year on his only attempt.

The Bears also had seven alternatives selected for the Pro Bowl: tight end Trey Burton, center Cody Whitehair, left tackle Charles Leno, inside linebackers Danny Trevathan and Roquan Smith, outside linebacker Leonard Floyd and quarterback Mitch Trubisky.

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