NFL Nation: defense

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LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- As Chicago Bears general manager Phil Emery finished up a 17-minute news conference Thursday night at Halas Hall, the muted TV to his right showed the Green Bay Packers taking Alabama safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix with the 21st pick in the draft.

Emery passed on Clinton-Dix, a mock draft favorite, when he took Virginia Tech cornerback Kyle Fuller with the 14th pick in the first round of Thursday’s made-for-TV draft.

[+] EnlargeKyle Fuller
Lee Coleman/Icon SMIBears first-round draft pick Kyle Fuller was a four-year starter at Virginia Tech.
If Fuller struggles and we see Clinton-Dix picking off Jay Cutler next year, we’ll have a good laugh (ha ha) about it, right, Bears fans?

Don't answer that.

You'll be surprised to know Fuller was the player the Bears wanted all along. Emery played coy about Pitt defensive lineman Aaron Donald, who ended up going a pick before the Bears’ turn, but he couldn’t help but effuse over Fuller, a tough, versatile cornerback who should excel playing Chicago Bears defense in Chicago Bears weather on Chicago Bears chewed-up turf.

He can hit and he can cover. Basically, he's the perfect football player, according to Emery's news conference.

"He's even a great person," Emery said.

No kidding.

Emery's a wild card around draft time, but we all figured he would go defense, given the glaring needs up front and, well, all over. But you shouldn't be surprised he wasn’t monomaniacally focused on safety. It’s a long draft. I think it’s over in July. So there will be more chances to draft a young safety this season.

This wasn’t a best-player-available situation, either. The Bears have a need, a hybrid defensive back, and Fuller filled it. ESPN guru Mel Kiper Jr. even picked this one.

“We decided on Kyle Fuller, the player,” Emery said. “That’s the important thing. He’s a good player with a lot of versatility in his coverage.”

Versatility is a word thrown around a lot around this time, and Fuller said, as draft picks are wont to do on draft night, that he’s open to playing anywhere.

“I feel like they know I can play corner, nickel and possibly safety,” Fuller said in a conference call with reporters. “I’m a versatile player.”

Versatility is nice. The Bears just need more bodies. Let’s go back to how last season ended, with safety Chris Conte blowing coverage, however it happened, and Packers receiver Randall Cobb going 48 yards for a division-clinching touchdown. At that time, the call was for a complete demolition of the defense, starting at safety.

Conte’s still around, but his partner, Major Wright, is gone. The Bears re-signed Charles “Peanut” Tillman and corner Tim Jennings, and brought in a handful of free agents at safety.

This isn't a leap. Fuller makes perfect sense. Emery just wants someone to cover the wide variety of receivers and tight ends in the modern NFL offense. The Bears need to match up with Green Bay and Detroit, not to mention the various offenses they see around the league.

Emery mentioned how Fuller covered tight ends like Eric Ebron, who was taken 10th by Detroit.

“His versatility of coverage was a big attraction,” Emery said.

We already know the Bears are going to go more “hybrid” this season under coordinator Mel Tucker. That’s the new rage, and of course, the old one. Disguising coverages is nothing new.

Fuller, who will line up inside and eventually supplant Tillman or Jennings on the outside, is expected to play right away, wherever.

“We see him as a corner with a lot of versatility in terms of coverage, in terms of covering different sorts of athletes,” Emery said. “That’s where his length comes in.”

Ah, length, another favorite buzzword come draft time. Fuller’s no giant, he’s a shade under 6-foot and 190 pounds, but Emery fell in love with him when he live-scouted Virginia Tech-Georgia Tech. Fuller forced a fumble and made two tackles for loss in that game.

“I knew that day that’s the type of player that I wanted to represent the Chicago Bears,” Emery said.

Let Emery explain.

“He was playing Georgia Tech, and they lined him up at inverted safety and ran him through the A gap against an option team to crash the mesh point between the quarterback and the fullback,” Emery said in plain English. “And he repetitively did that. This is one tough football player.”

On Thursday, Emery marveled at Fuller’s physicality, including 129 solo tackles as a four-year starter (with some injury history, that is of course, no concern whatsoever). In 2011, as a hybrid “whip linebacker/nickelback,” he led all college defensive backs with 14 1/2 tackles for loss. He’s also a highly-regarded special-teams player, blocking two punts in his career with the Hokies’ always dangerous unit. He's got a good pedigree, with two older brothers who have played in the NFL. His brother Corey is a practice squad receiver with Detroit.

Emery, of course, raved about Shea McClellin when he drafted him as a versatile pass-rusher. Two failed years later, McClellin is being moved to linebacker this year as a last-ditch effort to save his Bears career.

The Bears GM has made bold moves to renovate this defense for 2014, most notably signing defensive end Jared Allen. But Chicago will need Fuller to be more like Kyle Long, an instant starter.

A confident Emery left the press room Thursday sure the Bears have hit on this pick. Fuller was the best player on their board and is the start of a new defensive generation.

After all, he was the guy they wanted all along, and maybe the guy you wanted all along, too. Even if you didn't know it.

Upon Further Review: Bears Week 7

October, 21, 2013
10/21/13
12:00
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A review of four hot issues from the Chicago Bears' 45-41 loss to the Washington Redskins:

Run defense: The Redskins kept the Bears off balance all game with their ability to run the football. Alfred Morris averaged 5 yards per carry, while Robert Griffin III averaged 7.6. By establishing the run, the Redskins kept the Bears on their heels, thus opening up other facets of the game. Typically, the Bears shut down the run, making opponents one dimensional. But Chicago hasn’t been able to accomplish that objective consistently this season. Certainly, injuries along the front four contribute to the problem, but until the Bears solve the issue, teams will continue to gash them on the ground before taking chunks through the air via play action.

[+] EnlargeChicago's Matt Forte
Geoff Burke/USA TODAY SportsMatt Forte rushed for 82 yards and two scores after halftime against the Redskins.
Inconsistency against the pass: Jordan Reed became the third Bears opponent to catch at least nine passes for 134 yards or more. An anemic pass rush from the injury-riddled front plays a role, but up-and-down play at safety between Chris Conte and Major Wright seems to be Chicago’s most pronounced deficiency against the pass. Coming into the season, Conte and Wright seemed destined to become a productive duo at safety for the Bears. Wright has graded out higher than Conte for the majority of the season because of his takeaways and run support, but together, they’ve been more of a liability on the back end than the playmakers the club envisioned. The Bears yielded five completions for gains of 26 yards or more, including 30-, 38- and 45-yarders.

Feeding Forte: They don’t seem to be involving Matt Forte enough early on, and that’s diminished Chicago’s ability to find a rhythm. In six first-half drives, the Bears handed off to Forte just four times, including only once in each of the first two possession. Forte didn’t receive back-to-back attempts until the team’s second drive of the second quarter. By then, Washington held a 17-10 lead. Forte carried four times for nine yards and a score in the first half, yet finished the game with 91 yards and three TDs on 16 attempts. The offense should run through Forte from the onset.

Veterans on the front four: Given the injuries, inexperience and inconsistency on the defensive line, veterans Julius Peppers, Stephen Paea and Corey Wootton need to step up and start carrying the group. Peppers finally showed up on the stat sheet with seven tackles, while Paea and Wootton contributed two tackles apiece. Still, that’s not enough. The team needs even more, especial in the pass-rushing department. One of the best to play the game at his position, Peppers hasn’t contributed a sack since September.

Jon Bostic to play under Briggs' wing

October, 17, 2013
10/17/13
4:45
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LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- When leading somebody down a dark tunnel, trust is the key, and so it will be Sunday when veteran linebacker Lance Briggs stands alongside rookie linebacker Jon Bostic, who will be seeing his first significant NFL action.

With linebacker D.J. Williams lost for the season because of a torn pectoral muscle, Bostic will finally get his chance to shine after a solid preseason. Briggs remembers when he was in Bostic’s shoes.

“Jon is further along than I was as a rookie and he understands things,” Briggs said. “He understands all our concepts. For him, it’s just about getting game experience. There are things that he is still learning to trust. It’s just like me when I was young and Brian [Urlacher] would give me a tip off. I might be a step late because I didn’t really trust what he was saying.”

[+] EnlargeJonathan Bostic
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesWith D.J. Williams lost for the season, rookie Jon Bostic has been thrust into the lineup.
Anything Briggs says Sunday will likely be followed with the words “trust me.”

“For him he just has to know that hey, if it’s going to be there, if it’s a tip off, they’re probably going to run it,” Briggs said.

Bostic has played primarily on special teams this season, but the second-round pick out of Florida has been taking notes when it comes to the defense and often asks Briggs why things sometimes look different on the field than they did in practice.

“I’ll tell him that depending on the down and distance there are certain checks and adjustments you want to do differently than first and second down or against certain formations,” Briggs said. “For him it’s just allowing himself to be as sharp as he can be on Sunday.”

Coach Marc Trestman is less concerned about the transition from the veteran Williams to the rookie Bostic, primarily because of Briggs’ presence.

“I do know enough to watch (Briggs) work every day, his ability to communicate, his understanding of the defense and the standards that he has and wants to get to with our defense,” Trestman said. “I think that Jonathan is in very good hands.”

Bostic’s speed could come in extremely handy as the Bears go up against Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III and running back Alfred Morris.

“For Jon, you don’t want to think too much when you’re on the field,” Briggs said. “That’s what practice is for, getting that kind of stuff down, getting your keys down and your reaction to be as sharp as it can so that once you get in the game you read and react. You allow your athletic ability take over.”

Briggs’ ability to communicate figures to be put to the test as he guides a young teammate.

“There are always certain tip-offs before a play, but once game time comes, you have to get 11 of us aligned, making some of those adjustments, throwing out some of the tips and keys to him,” Briggs said. “I know [veteran linebacker] James [Anderson] will help too. Major [Wright] and [Chris] Conte, Peanut [Tillman] and Tim Jennings, we have a good group back there that does understand how teams will attack us.”

Rapid Reaction: Bears 23, Rams 6

September, 23, 2012
9/23/12
4:34
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CHICAGO -- Despite all the additions and lofty expectations for the offense, defense -- as usual -- carried the Chicago Bears to a 23-6 triumph Sunday over the St. Louis Rams at Soldier Field.

Led by Israel Idonije (2.5 sacks), the Bears sacked Rams quarterback Sam Bradford six times and picked him off twice, with Major Wright returning an interception 45 yards for a touchdown, in addition to limiting the signal-caller to a passer rating of 39.2.

Coming off a meltdown in a Week 2 loss to the Green Bay Packers, Chicago’s offense -- which operated without starting running back Matt Forte -- sputtered, but showed small signs of improvement.

Here’s a closer look:

What it means: The entire NFC North entered this week’s games with 1-1 records, so the Bears needed a win to stay in the mix atop the division standings. Obviously, it’s still early in the race. But the Bears didn’t want to put themselves in a hole so early in the season and fall into a situation where they’re playing catch-up.

Besides that, winning is the best way to rebound from a devastating defeat like the one suffered on Sept. 13 at Green Bay.

Front four still fearsome: Chicago’s front four built on its impressive start to the season by generating six sacks on Bradford Sunday to run up their season total to 14.

The Bears entered the game tied for second in the NFL with eight sacks, accounting for 47 yards in losses. Interestingly, every one of those sacks had come from the defensive line. But Nick Roach broke the string of sacks by defensive linemen by getting in on the action for the club’s linebackers.

Missed opportunity: Devin Hester's drop of a sure touchdown pass from Jay Cutler in the fourth quarter seemed to sum up a day of missed opportunities by the Bears offense. The Bears had just driven 11 plays, and siphoned away close to six minutes off the clock only to settle for a 22-yard Robbie Gould field goal that made the score 13-6.

Hester’s miss was just one of many by the Bears, who suffered multiple dropped passes from Brandon Marshall and some errant throws by Cutler.

The offense hoped to rebound in front of the home crowd after last Thursday’s embarrassing performance. The unit showed improvement in several areas, but for the most part sputtered.

Major playmaker? Wright has dealt with his fair share of criticism throughout his three-year tenure with the team, ranging from questions about durability to his grasp of Chicago’s defensive system. Well, Wright finally seems to be dispelling the doubts.

In the fourth quarter Sunday, Wright intercepted a Bradford pass intended for Danny Amendola with 9:06 left to play and returned it for a 45-yard TD to make the score 20-6 after the extra-point kick. Tim Jennings, who also picked off a pass late in the game, tipped the ball right into Wright’s hands. But on the return for a TD, Wright showcased the physical traits the Bears raved about when they drafted him with a third-round pick in 2010.

Wright recently admitted that a lack of knowledge of the team’s system contributed to his problems over the first two years of his career. But in the offseason, Wright said he put forth more of an effort to gain a firm grasp of the intricacies of the defense, and that appears to be paying off.

Wright entered Sunday’s game with 15 tackles in three starts.

Windy City: Kickers took advantage of light east winds in the first half with Gould connecting on a 54-yard field goal in the first quarter, and Rams kicker Greg Zuerlein hitting on a 56-yarder with 27 seconds remaining in the second quarter.

Gould’s 54-yard bomb was his longest since Dec. 11 of last season when he booted a 57-yard field goal at Denver. Since Dec. 5, 2010, Gould is 6 of 6 on field goal attempts of 50-plus yards.

Two No. 1's down, three to go: Bradford marked the second of five No. 1 overall picks the Bears will face this season. The club faced 2012 No. 1 overall pick Andrew Luck in Week 1 and came away with three interceptions in 41-21 victory over the Colts and limited Bradford, the first pick of 2010, on Sunday to 152 yards, two interceptions and a passer rating of 39.2.

Each of the club’s first four home games features No. 1 overall picks. The next two are Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford, the first pick of ’09 and Carolina’s Cam Newton, the top pick in ’11. The Bears wrap up matchups against No. 1’s in Week 11 when they face Alex Smith (No. 1 overall in ’05) at San Francisco on Nov. 19.

Best actor goes to: No contest, Bears right tackle Gabe Carimi wins. After locking up with Rams defensive end William Hayes at the end of a Michael Bush run, Carimi flopped to the turf in an attempt to draw a penalty. If you recall, Carimi was called in the team’s loss to the Packers on Sept. 13 for a personal foul for continuing after the whistle was blown.

Hayes didn’t appear to be doing that when Carimi appeared to throw up his arms and basically launch himself backward onto the ground.

Bad acting, Gabe. You deserve a Razzie. It was certainly entertaining though, drawing giggles throughout the Soldier Field press box.

What’s next: The Bears receive another opportunity on the national stage next Monday night when they face the Dallas Cowboys at Texas Stadium. Surely the memory of the meltdown at Lambeau Field on Sept. 13 will remain fresh on the club’s mind in preparation for the Cowboys. So the Bears will work hard to avoid a repeat performance in the national spotlight.

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