NFL Nation: Kyle Fuller

Charles Tillman said “this isn’t the end of the road for me” in a statement released by the team on Monday after it announced he’d go on the season-ending injured reserve due to a ruptured triceps. The first thought to come to mind was it may not be the end, but in Chicago it’s essentially over.

That’s not the way to think regarding a player of Tillman’s ilk. But reality is reality.

Tillman
Tim Jennings signed a four-year extension back in January worth $22.4 million, and rookie Kyle Fuller received a four-year deal with a club option for a fifth year which pays $9.687 million, including a signing bonus of $5.365 million.

Tillman, meanwhile, was playing on a one-year contract worth $3.25 million, and he signed that late after free agency proved fruitless.

Moving forward, the Bears can't afford to pay starter's money to three corners, especially with Jay Cutler's monstrous salary and potential extensions coming down the pipe for several players such as Brian de la Puente and Alshon Jeffery, just to name a couple.

Tillman certainly deserves to finish his career in Chicago. But with the corner set to turn 34 before the start of the 2015 season, it’s unlikely the Bears bring him back at a salary he wouldn’t find to be a slap in the face.

When Tillman hits free agency, he likely won’t be looking to break the bank. But he’ll definitely feel he’s worth more than a veteran minimum type of deal, which is probably what the Bears will offer given Tillman’s age, recent injury history, and the emergence of Fuller, who picked off a pair of passes Sunday in the club’s win at San Francisco. Besides that, if the Bears did decide to bring back Tillman for another season, would it be as a starter? Would he feel comfortable taking on the role as the nickel corner?

It’s sad to be pondering all this with emotions still raw, fewer than 24 hours after Tillman’s latest setback.

But that’s the reality we’re faced with; one in which special players such as Tillman always leave on someone else’s terms.

“He’s one of our leaders on this team, and much needed,” receiver Brandon Marshall said during his radio show Monday on ESPN 1000. “It’s sad for the city, it’s sad for our team, it’s sad for him.”

It truly is.

Tillman was correct in saying it’s not the end of the road, because it isn’t. Once Tillman rehabs from this injury, he’ll still be a player capable of starting and playing at a high level in the NFL.

But the problem is this team, even before Tillman’s injury, has already moved on. If Brian Urlacher and Devin Hester have taught us anything, it’s the fact the Bears -- like every other team in the NFL -- always moves on.
CHICAGO -- Chicago Bears first-round pick Kyle Fuller is out of Thursday's matchup against the Jacksonville Jaguars after suffering an ankle injury during the game's opening kickoff.

The severity of Fuller's injury wasn't immediately known. There's a chance the Bears could be taking a cautious approach with Fuller, who played extensively last week during the team's preseason opening win over the Philadelphia Eagles.

Fuller walked along the sideline under his own power, and didn't appear to be in any pain.

The No. 14 overall pick of the NFL draft out of Virginia Tech, Fuller had been playing with the starters at cornerback opposite Charles Tillman. Tim Jennings filled in for Fuller after the injury.

The team also announced tight end Zach Miller will also miss the rest of the game. Miller suffered a foot injury during the second quarter.
CHICAGO -- With Martellus Bennett serving an indefinite suspension, reserve tight end Zach Miller took full advantage of the extra repetitions, catching six passes for 68 yards and a pair of touchdowns as the Chicago Bears soared past the Philadelphia Eagles 34-28 on the strength of strong play from their quarterbacks.


Chicago's top three signal callers combined for 339 yards and four touchdowns.

Here are some other thoughts on the Chicago Bears' first preseason game of the year:
  • Considering Jay Cutler hasn't played an entire 16-game season since 2009, Chicago's competition for the No. 2 quarterback is vitally important. Both candidates made strong cases with Jimmy Clausen coming out with a slight edge. After Cutler performed sharply in two possessions (9 of 13 for 85 yards and a TD for a passer rating of 112.7), Jordan Palmer entered the game with 58 seconds left in the first quarter. Palmer started 3 for 3 for 39 yards before throwing an interception to Nate Allen on his fourth attempt. Palmer completed 8 of 11 for 104 yards and a touchdown to go with a passer rating of 94.9.

    Clausen, meanwhile, passed for 150 yards and two TDs for a passer rating of 134.6. Clausen's first scoring strike came on a 73-yard bomb to Chris Williams. He later hit Micheal Spurlock for a 22-yard touchdown, before finding Rosario for the conversion.

    Clausen may lead the No. 2 QB derby right now, but don't expect coach Marc Trestman to make a decision about the backup until later in the preseason.
  • Chicago's revamped defense put together a strong showing in the three possessions the starters played. Ryan Mundy and Sherrick McManis contributed interceptions as the defense held Philadelphia's first-team offense to 55 yards and 0-for-2 on third-down conversions. Remember, the Bears ranked last against the rush last season. But their starters limited Philadelphia's starting offense to 11 yards on four attempts. The front four generated plenty of pressure in the passing game, too. Mundy's interceptoin with 13:26 left in the first quarter came from a rushed Foles throw due to heavy pressure from Lamarr Houston.
  • Mundy and Danny McCray came out with the starters at safety, while Adrian Wilson and rookie Brock Vereen worked with the second team.
  • Rookie first-round pick Kyle Fuller received an extended look in his NFL debut. Although the starting defense played just three possessions, Fuller stayed in the entire first half and contributed three tackles.
  • Center Brian De La Puente suffered a knee injury late in the second quarter. The severity wasn't immediately known. De La Puente left the field under his own power, but shortly after the team announced he'd be out for the game. Williams suffered a hamstring injury on his touchdown reception and was unable to finish the game.
  • Non-participants Friday included Chris Conte and Craig Steltz, who remain on the physically unable to perform list. Tim Jennings (quadriceps) and Isaiah Frey (hamstring) were also held out along with Eben Britton (hamstring), Kyle Long (ankle), Jordan Mills (foot) and Bennett (suspension).
BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- For just a split second, it appeared Martellus Bennett would do the right thing.

He turned to walk back to the huddle. Then, all of a sudden Bennett snapped, pushing rookie first-round pick Kyle Fuller, before body slamming him to the ground in a confrontation that required several players to break up, while also causing Bears coach Marc Trestman to end Monday’s training camp practice earlier than scheduled.

“It’s practice,” Bennett said later. “Practice is practice. I know I sound like Allen Iverson right now, but at the end of the day it’s practice. At practice, [expletive] happens.”

[+] EnlargeMartellus Bennett
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhMartellus Bennett was a hot topic at Bears camp on Monday for much more than just his receiving ability.
Perhaps that’s true. But practice is also where the habits exhibited in games -- such as team discipline -- are born.

Going all the way back to Bennett’s dustup with Lamarr Houston during organized team activities in May, Trestman has made clear on multiple occasions his stance on players fighting at practice. Trestman has called practice skirmishes a safety issue for the players that can lead to on-field discipline problems in games. The coach has also pointed out how such situations take away valuable time that could be otherwise used for repetitions that enable the team to get better.

Bennett’s scrape with Fuller brought to mind all those things.

Not only that, it was totally unnecessary.

The play that led to the fight involved Fuller trying to make a play on a pass thrown to Bennett. As Fuller reached in to strip the ball loose, the rookie grabbed near the chest area of Bennett’s shoulder pads and pulled the tight end down to the ground. Had the play occurred during a game, it would have been totally legal.

So what Bennett did made little sense.

Getting up off the ground, Bennett looked as if he’d brush off the play. He started to walk toward the huddle, and then turned back toward Fulller before going after him.

“Just a football play,” Fuller said. “Stuff like that happens.”

What took place afterward, however, shouldn’t have happened.

What if Bennett’s body slam to Fuller would have left him injured? Remember, the team not only invested a first-round pick in Fuller, but it plans to play the rookie extensively as a major contributor to Chicago’s revamped defense.

In the aftermath of the skirmish, Houston, Matt Forte, and Zach Miller tried to calm down Bennett, who was also yelling at star receiver Brandon Marshall. Several players voiced disgust on the field as the skirmish unfolded. Even offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer walked over to try to calm Bennett.

Trestman declined to divulge whether Bennett would be disciplined for Monday’s altercation.

“I don’t think that’s something I would address here,” Trestman said. “These are brief moments in a lot of really good moments of competition. We address it and we move on. I stopped the practice. I felt that it was time to stop. There were a lot of people who care a lot about this team involved. It was in the best interest of the team to move forward, finish with the walk-throughs and move on to our meetings.”

When asked about a potential fine, Bennett shrugged it off, saying, “I can afford it.”

But the team can’t, as 15-yard penalties and ejections from games ultimately cost clubs valuable wins.

To Bennett’s credit, he hasn’t lost it on the field in a game situation. At the same time, practices are where game habits are formed, and the current roster features 29 impressionable players with one year of experience or fewer.

“You learn from things that happen at practice,” Bennett said. “I’ve never done it in a game. I’ve done it in several practices before now.”

It needs to stop.

Bears Camp Report: Day 4

July, 28, 2014
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BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Chicago Bears training camp:
  • Expectations are sky high for a Bears offense that ranked No. 2 in the NFL last year in points scored (27.8 per game) and No. 5 in passing yards (267.6 per game), but the opening four days of practice have produced a mixed bag of results from a unit that is expected to return all 11 starters. Monday’s performance was no different. At certain points of the session, quarterback Jay Cutler ran the offensive scheme to perfection, firing completions to wide receivers Brandon Marshall and Marquess Wilson and tight end Martellus Bennett that went for huge gains. On the flip side, Cutler badly underthrew Marshall on a deep route into double coverage that should’ve been intercepted by Bears defenders who were stationed in the area. Veteran cornerback Kelvin Hayden later picked off a deflected Cutler pass in full-team 11-on-11, Hayden’s third interception since the start of camp. There were also batted-down balls at the line of scrimmage and botched snaps from the center to the quarterback that resulted in Cutler describing the offense as “good and bad.” Cutler continued: “That is to be expected taking the time off in July. We’re getting better and better. There’s been some sloppy stuff out there. We’ve got to clean it up. I think the guys are doing a really good job of just recognizing the plays and getting lined up and knowing the concepts and knowing the checks and everything. So if we just clean up some of the little things as we go, we’ll be all right.”
  • The Bears desperately need their top three draft choices to step in and make immediate contributions on defense. First-round pick cornerback Kyle Fuller looks the part and continues to receive extensive reps on the first team in base and nickel with Tim Jennings temporarily sidelined due to a sore groin. Third-round choice Will Sutton got thrown into the fire on Monday at three-technique defensive tackle as the coaching staff decided to give Jeremiah Ratliff a veteran’s day off. Sutton appeared to hold up OK versus the heightened competition. Rookie nose tackle Ego Ferguson flashes the ability to get up-field in one-on-one individual pass-rush drills, but Ferguson has ended up on the ground on at least three separate occasions since the pads came on. Ferguson needs to find the perfect combination of speed and balance to ensure he doesn’t take himself out of the play when games begin for real next month.
  • Fans chanted “Mega-Punt” whenever first-year punter Pat O'Donnell connected with the football on Sunday. Not to be outdone, punter Tress Way won the matchup between the two aspiring kickers on Monday. As a sixth-round draft choice, O'Donnell is considered the favorite to win the job, but Way has proved to those in the organization that he is an NFL-caliber punter. Even if Way is eventually released, he can still make it in the league. Former Bears “camp legs” have found gainful employment in the league: Spencer Lanning (Cleveland Browns) and Ryan Quigley (New York Jets).
  • Most of the wideouts competing for the final roster spots have done little to distinguish themselves. The two exceptions are Eric Weems and Chris Williams. Not only are Weems and Williams natural fits in the return game, they have managed to catch the football in camp. The other reserve receivers have been plagued by drops.
  • Pro Bowl right guard Kyle Long (viral infection) visited doctors on Monday, but the team cannot say if Long will be back on the field when it returns to work on Wednesday. With Long out, the Bears have worked various combinations at guard, with Eben Britton, Michael Ola and Brian de la Puente all seeing time with the starters.
  • Wide receiver Alshon Jeffery (sore foot), receiver Terrence Toliver (toe), safety Chris Conte (PUP) and safety Craig Steltz (PUP) were all spectators on Monday.
  • The Bears are off on Tuesday. The next practice is scheduled for Wednesday at 9 a.m. CT.

Bears Camp Report: Day 3

July, 27, 2014
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BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Chicago Bears training camp:
  • Pop-pop-pop-pop, pop-pop-pop-pop. That’s what you hear every day after practice. The players resemble Kung-Fu fighters in football pads as they work hand-fighting drills with martial arts expert Joe Kim, who was brought on by the Bears as a consultant to work on skill development. Cornerback Charles Tillman took part in the drills one-on-one with Kim on Sunday and said afterward he’s expecting the hand-fighting drills to help him improve at jamming receivers and getting off blocks better.
  • While we’re on the subject of hand-fighting drills, Kim joined the team mostly to work with the defensive line, because under defensive coordinator Mel Tucker, the scheme is changing drastically this season. Last year, the Bears employed Lovie Smith’s system, which emphasized penetration along the defensive line. The players were used to simply shooting the gaps to stop the run on the way to the quarterback. That’s all changing in 2014. The coaching staff wants Chicago’s defensive linemen to be technicians with their hands so they can engage opposing offensive linemen, stack them at the line, shed, and run to the ball. In the previous scheme, Chicago’s defensive linemen simply didn’t know how to use their hands effectively. Many times when they penetrated, they overran the ball because more and more now, teams are employing zone schemes that allow backs to pick their holes instead of the old-school leads, counters, and powers. By becoming better at using their hands, the D-line can also keep opposing offensive linemen off the club’s rangy linebackers, which in turn allows them to run around and make plays. In fact, Tucker recently turned on film of Chicago’s defensive line during a meeting, and many of the players on the roster that were a part of last year’s team were shocked at how badly the group played. What Tucker pointed out, according to one player in that meeting, was that last year, the group didn’t know how to use its hands. The joke among defenders now is that if one of the team’s linebackers has scratches or paint from the opponent’s helmets on their own, the defensive line isn’t sufficiently doing its job to keep offensive linemen off the linebackers. The Bears are expecting higher tackle totals this year among the linebackers, and the defensive line will be largely responsible for that.
  • It’s no real secret, but a couple of players to watch on special teams are linebacker Jordan Senn and safety Danny McCray. The staff believes Senn is a better special teams player than former Bear Blake Costanzo. McCray, meanwhile, was the best player on special-teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis’ units with the Dallas Cowboys.
  • The workout Sunday marked the team’s first in full pads. Coming off a torn ACL in 2013, fifth-year veteran Nate Collins produced the best performance among the defensive linemen in one-on-one drills against the offensive linemen. “You watch the practice tape, he's running full speed all over the field and finishing,” Bears coach Marc Trestman said.
  • Rookie first-round pick Kyle Fuller continues to impress, and appeared to get the best of Pro Bowl receiver Alshon Jeffery during one-on-one drills. Jeffery caught an extremely limited number of passes in the drill against Fuller, and one of those completions likely would’ve resulted in offensive pass interference as the receiver slapped the defender in the head and pushed off to get open.
  • Cornerback Tim Jennings (quadriceps) returned to practice, but pulled himself out of action after the first play in one-on-one drills because the leg “didn’t feel right,” according to Trestman. He’s still day to day. Defensive end Willie Young (quadriceps) returned to practice, but receiver Terrence Toliver (toe) was held out of the workout along with safeties Craig Steltz (groin) and Chris Conte (shoulder). It’s believed the bulked-up Conte will return to practice in the next week or two after missing the entire offseason conditioning program and the early part of camp because of shoulder surgery. Even if Conte returns soon, he's not expected to play in the first preseason game.

Bears Camp Report: Day 1

July, 25, 2014
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BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- Here is a quick recap of highlights from Chicago Bears training camp at Olivet Nazarene University:
  • Welcome-to-the-NFL moments generally aren’t favorable, but rookie first-round pick Kyle Fuller bucked that trend with a pair of interceptions during his first training camp workout.During the first session of full team work, Fuller broke on a pass from Jordan Palmer intended for Terrence Toliver, diving just before the ball arrived to make an interception worthy of a highlight reel. Later in the practice, Fuller picked off a throw by Jimmy Clausen on a play when Terrence Toliver ran the wrong route according to Bears coach Marc Trestman.“Just playing my technique and fundamentals, and when the ball is in the air [I’m] just trying to go in and make a play,” Fuller said of his first interception.Positivity didn’t rule the day for Fuller, however. Chris Williams pulled in a bomb from Palmer, who dropped the ball right in between the bracket coverage of Fuller and safety M.D. Jennings for a touchdown.
  • Trestman introduced one new wrinkle the fans and players could appreciate at practice, as the team pumped music over the loudspeakers during warm-ups and individual periods. Trestman pointed out that during pregame at stadiums, music blares over the loud speakers during warm-ups, and the coach wants to simulate real situations as much as possible.Perhaps more interesting is the eclectic selection that included songs from Bon Jovi, Guns & Roses, T.I., Bob Marley and AC/DC. Trestman said the players pick the music.“It translates to games because there’s music before games,” Trestman said. “I just wanted to bring just a little more energy to practice.”
  • Chicago’s revamped defense definitely came out of Day 1 as winners, compared to the offense. But let’s remember, it was only the first day. In addition to Fuller’s pair of interceptions, cornerback Sherrick McManis picked off a Jay Cutler pass, and later stripped Marquess Wilson near the sideline before recovering the loose ball.There were also several instances in which the rush affected the quarterbacks enough for them to abort plays. Cornelius Washington also batted down a Cutler pass.“We looked great, came out here, got a few turnovers,” cornerback Tim Jennings said. “Defense came out with a lot of energy. I know some of the offensive coaches wish they could’ve had some plays back. We’re not at all disappointed with this first day.”
  • Non-participants at practice included guard Kyle Long (viral infection), and safeties Craig Steltz (groin) and Chris Conte (shoulder). Conte started camp on the active physically unable to perform list. But the club decided late Thursday to add Steltz to the active PUP list and put Long on the active non-football injury list.Long is considered day to day, according to Trestman, who said, “We don’t anticipate it will be too long” before he’s released to practice.
  • Receiver Eric Weems and McManis became involved in a brief shoving match near the end of practice that was quickly broken up by teammates.
BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- The Chicago Bears drafted Kyle Fuller at No. 14 overall because the organization believed Fuller had the ability to make an immediate impact on defense, even though two Pro Bowl cornerbacks were already on the roster.

[+] EnlargeKyle Fuller
Nam Y. Huh/AP PhotoRookie CB Kyle Fuller impressed coaches and teammates during Friday's training camp session.
It’s dangerous to get too high or too low on a player based on one training camp practice, but Fuller sure looked like an NFL-ready defensive back on Friday. Fuller stole the show on defense intercepting a pair of passes, including a spectacular diving pick on a Jordan Palmer throw during 11-on-11 that showcased the cornerback’s immense wingspan.

Fuller intercepted six balls and broke up 34 passes in 50 games at Virginia Tech. That propensity for getting a hand on the football in pass coverage was one of the traits that attracted the Bears to Fuller in the pre-draft process.

“It was a good start for Kyle,” Bears head coach Marc Trestman said. “That was a tremendous play he made in the first series of the day. The second one [interception] we had [the receiver run] the wrong route but he [Fuller] was in the right place and made the play. That’s a good thing. He was around the football. That’s a good start for him today.”

Fuller spent the entire offseason program working on the Bears’ first-team nickel unit at cornerback opposite Charles Tillman, with Tim Jennings generally bumping inside to cover the slot. That personal grouping did not change on Friday, raising expectations that Fuller will be asked to contribute immediately in the regular season, if he avoids injury in the preseason.

“I had a good start, but I definitely have a lot of work to do,” Fuller said. “I definitely enjoy coming out here and competing with guys like Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery every day. They are making me better.

“I just try and come out here every day and show the coaches what I can do. My goal is to just get better, and whatever happens, happens.”
Part of the reason the Detroit Lions essentially ignored addressing the secondary in the 2014 draft was because of the faith general manager Martin Mayhew had in the potential of his young cornerbacks.

That trust is sure to be tested now.

The Lions have released their top cornerback, Chris Houston, after an inconsistent 2013 and offseason surgery for a toe that just wouldn't heal. Darius Slay and Rashean Mathis would now likely be the team's opening day starters at cornerback and the move increases the pressure on an untested group of players.

Houston
Houston
Bill Bentley has experience in the slot and is probably best suited there instead of on the outside. Jonte Green started games the past two seasons when players went down to injury, but has not been consistent. Chris Greenwood can't stay healthy and has minimal experience. Cassius Vaughn had a good spring, but was used to primarily used to provide depth at cornerback in Indianapolis.

The one pick the Lions did use on the secondary, corner Nevin Lawson in the fourth round, should have been more of a developmental selection.

At least one of those players will need to be counted on this fall. The early guess would be Vaughn, who has some experience and had moments where he looked extremely sharp in the spring. He likely won't be a starter, but he at least feels like part of the reason the team could have felt comfortable releasing Houston without even seeing him in training camp.

Now, unless the Lions sign a cornerback before camp, they will have to use this group to forge a cornerback corps. It is a unit with some talent, but short on experience. In a division with receivers like Randall Cobb, Jordy Nelson, Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, that is not the type of situation you want to have.

Yet this is where Detroit is in the middle of June.

Something like this -- and Detroit had to have an inkling of concern here considering Houston did not play well in 2013 and had surgery -- was part of why it was so confusing how the Lions handled the secondary in the draft. Yes, Justin Gilbert was off the board when Detroit picked, but the team wasted little time before drafting tight end Eric Ebron, who the team opened up money to sign by cutting Houston.

They didn't seem to consider either selecting or trying to trade down to nab cornerbacks Kyle Fuller, Darqueze Dennard or even Jason Verrett from TCU or Bradley Roby from Ohio State. Or the team could have drafted Ha Ha Clinton-Dix from Alabama or Calvin Pryor from Louisville at safety and moved Don Carey, the team's third safety, to cornerback -- a position he previously played.

After Ebron, the team went with an interior lineman, Travis Swanson, in the third round and traded their fourth round pick to move up for Kyle Van Noy. The move possibly cost them one of the litany of defensive backs who went off the board before the team took Lawson with a supplemental pick in the fourth round.

Any of those first three picks could have been used on a secondary player that could have helped.

Of course all of this is hindsight now. Yet the Lions knew this possibility existed because of Houston's past few months. And that possibility became reality Friday -- even if it was somewhat predictable after Houston was excused from mandatory minicamp.

It leaves Detroit either hunting on the free agent wire or sticking with what they have – a group of young cornerbacks that could end up deciding Mayhew's future.

This is a sequence -- between the draft strategy, how's Houston's injury and eventual release was handled -- that should be used to judge Mayhew if Detroit struggles this season.

Mayhew put his faith with a group of young cornerbacks early. With Houston gone, Mayhew will now need them to prove he was right all along.
The Chicago Bears moved another step closer to signing their entire 2014 draft class when the club announced Wednesday it has agreed to terms with first-round pick Kyle Fuller on a four-year contract with a fifth-year option.

Fuller
Financial terms were not immediately disclosed.

A cornerback out of Virginia Tech, Fuller started in 42 of 50 games in his college career, contributing 173 tackles, six interceptions, 21 pass breakups, four forced fumbles and one recovery. Fuller blocked three kicks at Virginia Tech and recovered one for a touchdown.

As a senior, Fuller was a captain, earned second-team All-America honors from the Walter Camp Football Foundation, and was named first-team All-Atlantic Coast Conference. In nine games, he had 24 tackles, two interceptions, 10 pass breakups and a blocked kick.

The Bears have reached agreement with seven of their eight draft picks from the 2014 class. The club agreed to terms with safety Brock Vereen and quarterback David Fales on Monday. On Tuesday, the Bears signed defensive tackle Ego Ferguson, running back Ka'Deem Carey, punter Patrick O'Donnell and offensive tackle Charles Leno.

Third-round pick Will Sutton, a defensive tackle out of Arizona State, is the only player the Bears haven’t come to terms with on a new contract.

On Wednesday, the Bears became the first team in the NFL to reach agreement with their first-round pick.
PITTSBURGH -- Would the Steelers have taken a cornerback in the first round of the NFL draft had either Justin Gilbert or Kyle Fuller -- or both -- been available at No. 15?

Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert isn’t saying.

“Sure, there were guys that went ahead of Ryan that were really good players,” Colbert said Monday on TribLive radio. “We were extremely excited [Shazier] was there but there were other players that we would have entertained and maybe didn’t have an opportunity to pick them. But that doesn’t diminish our excitement for Shazier.”

The Steelers really liked tight end Eric Ebron, and the North Carolina product certainly would have been prominent in the discussion that preceded the Steelers' first-round pick had he still been available.

But the Steelers were more than happy to select Shazier, who provides speed, athleticism and versatility to their defense.

The Steelers only took one cornerback in the draft but Colbert echoed comments made by defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau that the position is not as lacking as has been widely perceived.

"Cortez Allen we think has a real bright future and he should only get better," Colbert said. "When you’ve got a guy like William Gay and Brice McCain and Antwon Blake and we feel nice about what they’re going to be able to contribute. Blake did a great job coming in [last season] and playing mainly on special teams because he was a late addition for us but he’s going to have a whole offseason to grow as a corner.”

Despite taking only one cornerback -- and waiting until the fifth round to select Arizona’s Shaquille Richardson -- the Steelers have generally gotten good reviews for their draft.

ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr. gave the Steelers an A-minus for their draft. ESPN analyst Todd McShay also liked what the Steelers accomplished during the three-day draft.

"I was really impressed. I thought they had one of the better drafts of all the teams in the league," McShay said Monday during a post-draft conference call. "I really thought beginning to end that Pittsburgh did a really good job of finding players that fit their system and do multiple things.”
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- The arrival of cornerback Kyle Fuller will not force 33 year old veteran Charles Tillman to move to safety.

Tillman
Chicago Bears general manager Phil Emery confirmed Friday that Tillman is not a candidate to switch positions.

"You can rule that out 100 percent -- you don't even have to finish your question," Emery said. Charles Tillman is our starting corner and that's where he's going to be."

Emery's endorsement of Tillman nonwithstanding, Fuller is expected to contribute on defense next season and projects to be a future starter at cornerback, perhaps as early as 2015.

That much is certain.

However, the great unknown is how Fuller meshes with Tillman and fellow two-time Pro Bowler Tim Jennings, who has the security of a new four-year, $22.4 million contract extension he signed at the end of the regular season. Tillman signed a one-year deal with the Bears in March after he explored his options in free agency.

How will Tillman react to having his potential replacement looking over his shoulder?

We don't know the answer. But Emery isn't worried.

"I have to be honest with you -- it's rare that you do that [consult a veteran before making a draft choice at the same position], as we're so focused on getting the best player available and I completely trust the input of our scouts and coaches during that process," Emery said. "And we come to a conclusion and work through who is the best player at that pick, who represents the most value and who can help the Bears win. That's where the focus is, we don't bring players in and ask their advice on that, we know they'll be excited and are excited that we pick a good player that they see can contribute to wins. That's when they get excited.

"But I definitely had players text me last night and congratulate us on the pick and it was good to hear from them. And like Coach mentioned, we're a family, we're here for each other and we're going to help Kyle through this process. He'll probably have more than one mentor to help him through the process, and what's exciting about that is Kyle's the type of person who can accept mentoring. It takes a certain level of maturity to let others reach out and help along the way and Kyle is certainly that type of person."
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SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- The San Francisco 49ers were supposed to be powerbrokers of the first round.

Everyone was expecting them to go make the big move for a top-end receiver in an effort to compete with Super Bowl champion -- and heated NFC West rival -- Seattle.

Instead, the 49ers ended up addressing their one true need -- albeit in an unexpected way.

Instead of trading up for stud LSU receiver Odell Beckham or taking one of the glamour cornerbacks, the 49ers grabbed Northern Illinois safety Jimmie Ward with the 30th pick.

At first glance, it smacked of a curious reach. Yes, Ward was a scout's favorite, but he was considered more of a second-round pick. And he played a position the 49ers made their biggest offseason investment at -- by signing veteran Antoine Bethea to a four-year, $23 million deal.

With receivers Cody Latimer and Marqise Lee still on the board, picking Ward did not initially appear to make much sense. But after digesting the pick, I could see why the 49ers made this pick.

The 49ers' benchmark is defense. With star inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman out until about midseason with a torn ACL and star linebacker Aldon Smith's future clouded by a potential NFL suspension, the 49ers need to keep their edge in the early season.

This move should ensure they stay stout in the secondary. In addition to safety Donte Whitner (who Bethea replaces), the 49ers parted ways with their second and third cornerbacks -- Tarell Brown and Carlos Rogers -- this offseason. Tramaine Brock and Chris Culliver are expected to start.

The 49ers want to see Ward become the nickel. He played there often at Northern Illinois. Some teams are using safeties as a nickel and it seems the 49ers are going that route.

There were rumblings the 49ers didn't like any of the four cornerbacks that went in the first round -- Justin Gilbert, Kyle Fuller, Darqueze Dennard and Jason Verrett. They had the means to trade up and pick any of them and didn't.

Instead, they eyed the hard-hitting, competitive and smart Ward.

This may be out of the box, but it seems like a 49ers move. Having Reid, who made the Pro Bowl as a rookie last season, the steady Bethea and Ward on the field together makes this a strong secondary.

49ers general manager Trent Baalke raved about Ward's competitive nature. Coach Jim Harbaugh simply said: "He loves football."

Baalke, who saw Ward play live once, said it was telling that when he asked scouts which games of Ward's he should watch, multiple scouts said, "Pick one." It was Ward's consistency that stood out to the 49ers.

Ward, who had the second most interceptions in the country last season with seven, led his team in tackles and interceptions the past two seasons. Baalke doesn't think coming from a smaller conference will be too much for Ward.

"The stage isn't too big for him," Baalke said.

Ward showed he had the mental toughness for the NFL when he ran for scouts with a broken foot, which is expected to be completely healed by training camp. Ward posted a 4.48 40-time on a bad wheel. That made Baalke smile.

The 49ers may not have stolen headlines with this pick, but they did add a key component to what makes them the 49ers -- an ornery 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.
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Despite veterans Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings being firmly locked into the starting cornerback spots for the Chicago Bears, don’t assume the team wasted a pick Thursday when it selected Virginia Tech’s Kyle Fuller at No. 14.

In drafting Fuller, the Bears addressed the future at the position while also adding a versatile Day 1 starter.

Fuller
“Obviously a player picked that high, we expect him to contribute his first year,” general manager Phil Emery said. “With the number of multiple wideout sets you face, we expect him to come in and contribute right away, and as time permits and our roster change[s] over time like they all do, to be a starter on the outside.”

But right now, Fuller is pretty much a sure bet to be the club’s Week 1 starter at nickel corner. Sure, it would be easy to try to minimize the value of the nickel corner in Chicago’s defense. But what’s important to realize is that Fuller will play more than the team’s starting strongside linebacker in 2014. Why? Because the Bears play nickel more than they play base personnel.

Historically, during Emery’s tenure in Chicago, the Bears have operated out of nickel between 54 and 60 percent of all defensive snaps, he said. That means Fuller will be on the field quite a bit. What’s more is Fuller’s versatility allows the Bears to be more creative with the scheme and how they deploy him. Emery has already said Fuller can play inside against tight ends or bigger slot receivers, but he also can move outside against speedier pass-catchers.

“We see him as a guy that has a lot of versatility in terms of coverage, in terms of covering different types of athletes. That’s where his length really helps him,” Emery said. “You can see him on tape covering the North Carolina tight end [No. 10 overall pick Eric] Ebron. You see him cover inside slots or bigger receivers. You see him cover outside. This is a corner that had 173 tackles in his career, 123 solos; a corner with 23 tackles for loss. You don’t see that every day; 4 1/2 sacks, six picks, 28 PBUs (pass breakups). [He’s a] versatile, tough, hard-nosed, smart football player and a great person on top of that. He’s got run-support toughness. There wasn’t any reason not to take Kyle Fuller.”

Fuller embodies what Emery and defensive coordinator Mel Tucker covet in the players the club looks to add to the defense moving forward. He’s versatile, athletic, and tough. He’s played nickel/whip linebacker at Virginia Tech as well as corner.

Interestingly Bears special-teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis rated Fuller as the best special-teams player in the draft. So he’ll contribute there, too, this season.

“Coming in, I like feel they know I can play corner or nickel; possibility of safety, whatever it is. I’m a versatile player," Fuller said. "I know they’ll put me in the best situation for myself and the team."video

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