LAKE FOREST, Ailing. – The Chicago Bears used their high two draft picks final month to remake a unit that desperately wanted change.
Chicago’s secondary was among the many NFL’s worst in 2021. The Bears ranked final in passer score allowed (103.3) and gave up the second-most yards per cross try (7.6). They completed with the third-fewest interceptions (8), 5 of which have been made by a security and just one from cornerback Jaylon Johnson. Of the 31 passing touchdowns Chicago allowed (tied for the second-most in franchise historical past), a cornerback was the closest defender on 27, in line with NFL Subsequent Gen Stats, which was essentially the most within the NFL.
So the Bears took defensive backs with their first two picks: Washington cornerback Kyler Gordon at No. 39 and Penn State security Jaquan Brisker at No. 48. The pair is in line to change into the primary set of rookies to start out Week 1 in Chicago’s secondary for the reason that early Nineteen Seventies.
Chicago’s 11-man draft class — and undrafted free brokers — melded with the veteran squad for the primary time this week when OTAs started. At the beginning of practices, nothing was handed to Gordon or Brisker. The rookies rotated in with the backups throughout Tuesday’s apply, nevertheless it won’t be lengthy till they’re given the chance to seize maintain of the beginning roles.
“Kyler’s been lighting it up the final two days,” coach Matt Eberflus stated on Tuesday. “The man’s obtained large ball abilities. He’s been enjoying the protection the precise means, and we’re very impressed with him.”
Coming into the offseason, the Bears had two starters returning within the secondary in Johnson and security Eddie Jackson, who hopes to get better from an interception drought that dates to Dec. 29, 2019. Regardless of not enjoying as much as the four-year, $58.4 million extension he signed in January 2020, Chicago’s new regime stored Jackson within the fold, banking on what Eberflus known as “a clear slate” to assist the veteran return to type.
“I feel that is in all probability one in all my worst seasons,” Jackson stated about 2021. “I gave up too many deep balls. Simply making an attempt to eradicate that. The little issues along with your eyes, breaking on the ball, consideration to particulars. Little issues, little fixes that you may make.”
Touchdown a robust security with Brisker’s versatility ought to profit Jackson. Brisker was one in all two gamers in FBS final season to play 400 snaps at security, 100 snaps at inside linebacker and 100 snaps at slot nook, in line with ESPN Stats & Info. He additionally performed 78 snaps at exterior linebacker.
With versatility like that, the Bears might resolve to play Jackson extra often at deep security and put Brisker, who registered 152 tackles, 7.0 tackles for a loss, 5 interceptions and 19 cross breakups in three seasons, up within the field, the place he thrived at Penn State.
“I really feel like I’m an old-school security,” Brisker stated. “I really like being bodily, however on the similar time, I can present my versatility within the again finish. I can assault the ball, I can cowl, after which clearly within the field, I like to hit. I like to sort out and tackle blocks.”
Johnson is coming into his third yr as a professional and coming off a stable season, throughout which he totaled 46 tackles, an interception, a pressured fumble and 9 defended passes.
“It’s an entire reset,” Johnson stated. “The whole lot I’ve executed previously with the opposite coaches, with the opposite workers, it actually doesn’t imply something an excessive amount of. The movie isn’t going to mislead you, however on the finish of the day, they need me to indicate them what I can do in individual transferring ahead.”
Eberflus, who spent the previous 4 seasons because the Indianapolis Colts’ defensive coordinator, brings a philosophy predicated on turnovers (the Colts had 33 in 2021, one shy of league-leader Dallas). Jackson and Johnson each famous how this scheme permits defensive backs extra alternatives to maintain their eyes locked on the quarterback and make performs on the ball.
One other Eberflus trait is that Indianapolis was in its nickel protection on the second-highest charge within the NFL (77.2%).
The Bears acquired former Ravens slot nook Tavon Young in free company. Although accidents have been prevalent all through Younger’s profession, Chicago seems to be placing the items of the secondary along with the thought of getting a veteran nickel — no less than to start out out.
“The nickel might be the toughest place on the soccer discipline,” defensive coordinator Alan Williams stated. “He is gotta match like a linebacker and a security, he is gotta cowl like a nook, he is gotta have the mentality of a ‘Mike’ linebacker. So, to have [Gordon] go inside and outside, it is powerful on a rookie. To have the ability to stick him in a single place and let him go and develop and be taught and really feel comfy, proper now that is the plan.”
Gordon will begin working as an out of doors nook, in line with Williams. The previous Washington standout, who didn’t enable a landing in 696 protection snaps throughout his school profession, got here to Chicago with the power to play in and out. His motion abilities, one thing he credit to training ballet and different dance competitively as a toddler, give him the power to play a number of spots within the secondary, which supplies the Bears the advantage of with the ability to transfer him round if wanted.
“The beauty of him is his motion abilities are excellent,” basic supervisor Ryan Poles stated. “He’s powerful. The opposite factor you like about him is simply the instincts. He’s obtained an amazing really feel for the sport.”