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Who Could Be the 2018 Breakout Bears: Defense

| June 20th, 2018

When the Bears officially re-introduced defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, he kept telling reporters the most important thing the Bears need to do is get improvement from their returning players. This is something that certainly isn’t a given.

By nearly any measurement, the Bears had a top-15 overall defense last year. They were far from perfect — the inability to take the ball away still being a major issue. But they were more than good enough and are bringing back most of the roster.

Still, the team has some young players who could make a big impact in 2018. Here’s a look at five defenders who just could have breakout seasons like Kyle Fuller and Adrian Amos had for the team a year ago.


Deon Bush

It’s hard to expect a lot from a guy who played about 8% more snaps on defense than I did last year, but Bush still has some promise. Fangio singled him out during minicamp practices and there were reports of the young safety showing great range and getting his hands on the ball during those sessions. The reports were enough to reconsider Bush as a possible playmaker.

The plan entering last year surely was for Bush to compete for a starting spot opposite Quintin Demps. Of course, we all know how well that plan worked out. Bush ended up playing just 86 defensive snaps for the team last year and Adrian Amos and Eddie Jackson both entrenched themselves as starters. But a lot can still happen.

The thing that makes Fangio’s defense so good is the confusion on the back end. They’re pretty standard in the front seven but they mix coverages and do a lot to create confusion behind that. It wouldn’t be surprising if Bush took a couple of years to catch on.

What makes him interesting is the fact that he forced nine fumbles in college and picked the ball off four times. We don’t know if he can do that in the NFL, simply because he hasn’t had a strong enough grasp of the defense to be on the field. If that has changed he could be come an interesting player.


Jon Bullard

Bullard is widely seen as a mystery, but he played well last year and earned the job as the starting defensive lineman.

According to NFL Game Statistics and Information System, the Bears’ defense was significantly better when Bullard was on the field in 2017. Opponents averaged 0.32 fewer rushing yards when Bullard played and 0.31 fewer passing yards. Considering the man Bullard is replacing — Mitch Unrein — barely broke even, the Bears were more than half a yard per play better with Bullard on the field. That adds up over the 50 or so plays they’d be on the field.

Bullard was a highly thought of third-round pick and likely would’ve gone significantly higher if he wasn’t in a draft that was deep along the defensive line. He didn’t make the instant impact many on the outside expected, but the Bears seemed to know it would take him time to learn NFL techniques. If the end of the 2017 season is any indication, he’s where he needs to be.

Now in his third year, Bullard is a prime candidate to break out and fans should start seeing his athleticism and the overall impact it has on the defense.


Roy Robertson-Harris

RRH plays the same position as Bullard and the team’s best defensive player Akiem Hicks, but that doesn’t mean he couldn’t breakout.

Fangio seems to like the third-year defensive lineman, who entered the league as an edge rusher. After a redshirt rookie season, RRH has bulked up to 295 pounds and has shown promise as a pass rusher.

Partially due to injuries, RRH wasn’t on the field a lot last season, playing just about 20% of the team’s snaps. Still, he had two sacks and was credited with four quarterback hits by NFLGSIS.

The Bears didn’t use RRH like they used their other defensive linemen. He isn’t anywhere near as bulky — his 295 pounds is on a six-foot-six-inch frame. Last year, Fangio used four-man fronts when RRH was able to play. Those proved to be some of the team’s most effective formations as RRH was essentially replacing an outside linebacker. If the team’s outside linebackers struggle again this year, we could see a lot of him.


Bryce Callahan

Callahan is already good, but there is another step he can take and it could be crucial to the success of the team’s defense.

Out of the regular players, Callahan had the biggest impact on the team’s passing defense as they allowed roughly a yard fewer per pass play when he was on the field. Part of that, of course, is that he was replaced by Cre’von LeBlanc, but Callahan flashed some playmaking ability last year.

At one point, the Bears seemed to want Callahan to be a full-time starter outside, before a preseason injury essentially killed that plan. Injuries, of course, have been Callahan’s biggest problem, something that can be said about quite a few of the team’s players.

Now entering his fourth season, Callahan is set to be an unrestricted free agent next March. If every there was a time for a big season, this is it.


Leonard Floyd

It just seems that if Floyd is going to turn the corner and become a dominant player 2018 is probably going to be the year.

It’s kind of strange since he’s only played two seasons, but Floyd is going to be 26 early next season. His 11.5 career sacks aren’t enough and neither are his 22 career games though two seasons. But it’s so easy to see why the Bears fell for him before the 2016 draft.

Everybody’s favorite Chicago radio duo — Waddle & Silvy — spent the draft with John Fox and one of the biggest reports Silvy came back with was that Fox still loves Floyd. Say what you will about Fox, but he has always had a great eye for defensive talent. The fact that he had Floyd for two seasons and still praises him off the record just sticks with me. I can’t shake it.

Floyd looks the part. Players don’t get bonus points for appearing to be good, but he has shown enough flashes in two years that it isn’t unreasonable to think a double-digit sack season is coming. We’ve seen him explode off the line, dip his shoulder and take the quarterback down. We’ve seen the blazing speed, the incredible athleticism and all of the other raw skills that really, really good pass rushers have.

After the 2018 season, the Bears are going to have to decide whether or not to pick up Floyd’s fifth-year option. That will be a huge guaranteed payday that he’s going to want to secure. He has the talent and you shouldn’t be surprised to see him explode.

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  • That Guy

    Just as long as no one on the defense (or the offense, for that matter) is a broken Bear.

    More than anything, this defense needs to stay healthy.

  • willbest

    I don’t expect Bush to make the team

  • Scharfinator

    Is Floyd ever going to be strong enough for how they use him? It doesn’t seem like he can really win on the line with strength, just speed.

    • CanadaBear

      Last I saw he’s over 240 lbs. Still looks a little thin due to his height but he’s a big dude.

    • willbest

      And because of his speed they drop him into coverage more than they probably should.

      • Scharfinator

        I guess that fits the 3-4 somewhat – assuming he’s in the OLB slot.

      • Irish Sweetness

        If you’re a 6’5 LB then dropping back in coverage uses your abilities to the max.
        We haven’t seen the best of Floyd yet.

    • He’s gotta get close to 10 sacks this yr in my book.

      If not, he was over drafted.

      I understand not everyone could be a star but a GM can’t strike out with one top 10 pick ( White) then hit a double w another (Floyd) and be considered a great drafter

  • This is good stuff, Andrew, I love that we’re in the part of the offseason where we’re starting to look forward.

    Eddie Jackson is my breakout pick for the defense in 2018. He had a solid rookie season, but was just a half step away from making several big plays. I think an offseason of film study and development helps him make more of those in 2018. I’m expecting him to step up to a playmaker role and play at a Pro Bowl level.

    • willbest

      Maybe its just been 4 years of a shit show, but I am expecting him to not regress, hoping he plays at a pro bowl level, and praying that the injury concerns that caused him to drop 2-3 rounds continue to be unfounded.

  • Russian Hacked Pacebot 2.0

    My pick to break out is RRH. I was pumped when we got him for NOTHING as an UDFA out of college. He was a freak athlete at 6’5 250lbs and proceeded to put on almost 50lbs of actual muscle and bulk with proper nutrition, NFL training, etc. He is going to be the 5 tech of mocha man meat mountain muscle madness that will shore up that line.

    #nomorewhitelinemen

    • SC Dave

      #jjwatt

      • Russian Hacked Pacebot 2.0

        Watt is not white. He is a monster….a throwback.

    • Irish Sweetness

      I’m pulling for Deiondre Hall, Kevin White, and Sam Acho. Pulling for all of my Bears, but …

  • EnderWiggin

    I like these picks, but I’ll disagree with two:

    I don’t see Bush beating out Famous Amos or Jackson.
    I think LeBlanc has a better chance of breaking out than Callahan.

    • willbest

      Better chance at breaking out perhaps. He has significantly less play time so he could still be adapting to the NFL. Callahan is the better player. But both, I feel are JAG status.

    • You and your LeBlanc leLove!

      LeBlanc can create TOs, but he’s also been burnt like toast or completely lost and more than one occasion.

      That being said, He’ll see the field eventually cuz Callahan is an INJ waiting to happen

  • beninnorcal

    My breakout player for the defense is Mitch Trubisky. I really like what Vic’s been doing with our defense these last few years. That being said, if Mitch takes the next step, the improvement on defense could be dramatic given less time on the field, not to mention less chance of injuries(on defense, anyway).

    I think we could all appreciate a much fresher defense everytime they take the field after long drives by our offense. Here’s to hoping.

    • AlbertInTucson

      This.

    • “Modestly” Huge Bears Penis

      Nope, the D will be spending more time on the field. Trubs and the offense will be scoring so quickly that the D will barely have time to catch their breath before they have to get out on the field again.

      • How long do 80 yd bombs to Taylor Gabriel take?

        Maybe Shasheen can play some DE to get our $ worth

        • “Modestly” Huge Bears Penis

          He runs a 4.3 40 so at most like 10 seconds from the snap of the ball .

          • willbest

            Factoring in the travel time of the ball, that means the o-line will need to hold off the defense for 5 seconds unless he really floats it (Assuming he even has 80 yards in him)

    • BenderMcLugh

      Summer!!!

  • Agree w some below. RRH looked explosive. Much more so than Bullard to me. He has a chance to be something special

    Action Jackson looked like a 10 yr pro in Bama. I still see him lining up that secondary, making audible, and flying around back there. Sooner or later he’s gonna be the general of that D like MB. Hopefully it’s sooner.

    My sneaky pick is Nichols. I don’t think he’ll make highlight plays, but I think he’s gonna be a solid Goldman type playing both nose and DE

    Fitts I think will flash, but he’s been so INJ prone. Aaron Lynch is sorta in the same boat

    • “Modestly” Huge Bears Penis

      Fitts should be a situational pass rush guy, so that should limit his snaps. From what I have read most of his injuries happened on the field as oppose to practice. So maybe we can get lucky with him. Don’t force him into being an every down player like they tried to do with Mark Anderson years ago.

      • I guess Fitts, Acho and Lynch can split reps, but I don’t think that combo is gonna keep up any OCs

        And 2 of those are INJ prone

        If shit hits the fan, Pace may look into a guy like Shane Ray

        • “Modestly” Huge Bears Penis

          If they had only drafted Landry. LOL!!! Sorry had to troll a little.

          • That’s exactly why I wanted Landry! Oh well. Maybe his knee was made out of Cheetos or something.

            Roquan might get some sacks from the A gap. Wouldn’t be surprised if they move him to OLB and Kwiat to ILB from time to time.

            That is, if Fangio gets creative (Irish in 3…2…1…

  • It’s the off-season, so I present Paul -v-Graham debating the constitution and criminal -v- enemy combatant. They both make compelling arguments, though I think I lean more to Rand’s position

    https://youtu.be/H2GCiYvLg5Y

  • willbest

    I am not an industry expert, but my thought is that they should probably not make very many of these.

    https://nypost.com/2018/06/19/men-are-wearing-miniskirts-now/

    • “Modestly” Huge Bears Penis

      It is about time.

    • Kilts seem like they would be comfortable.
      Mini-kilts though….

  • “Modestly” Huge Bears Penis

    Favre needs to be checked for CTE.
    https://profootballtalk.nbcsports.com/2018/06/20/brett-favre-seeks-to-end-youth-tackle-football/

    Why would you get rid of tackle football for kids under 12? Thats stupid. Besides it’s really no fun running an illegal gambling ring on flag football.

    • willbest

      I believe the theory is that the near concussive hits have a lifetime cumulative effect.

      They have also replaced dodgeball with gagaball at my kids elementry school. Because I nerf balls to the face are dangerous or something. They get like 4 weeks of dodgeball during summer camp though so whatever.

      https://www.gagacenter.com/nyc/

      • KentuckyBearsFan

        looks like a game invented by evil bastards to encourage bad posture and servility

      • I dont know how many concussions came from dodgeball, but man, i always aimed hard for the face!

        More than a few got watery eyed. To the face!

      • “Modestly” Huge Bears Penis

        the pussification of the US continues.

        • Johnnywad

          It really does. It’s pathetic.

          • “Modestly” Huge Bears Penis

            Sad thing is that it is driven by the parents.
            “Oh we don’t keep score at this level” BS those kids always know who is winning.

            The one thing I don’t really mind is the “participation” trophy as long as the winners get something better.

            “Oh no my little Jimmy got hurt during dodgeball”. Well tough shit, it builds character, and maybe he deserved it. When I was a kid, games like dodgeball were the equalizers. Your kids being a dick the rest of the time so the rest of the kids gang up on him during the game. Maybe he will quit being such a dick.

            Since when did they switch dodgeball to nerf? what ever happened to that 4-5 inch rubber ball you could get a real grip on and wing it as hard as you could to leave welts.

          • KentuckyBearsFan

            …so the culture and the teachers got so stupid that instead of just making the circle bigger they replaced a rubber ball with sponge?

            They must have outlawed jump rope to prevent tripping by now.

            (…even double dutch for the little wymen. )

    • I said it before, but in 20 yrs, ppl are gonna look at parents allowing their kids to play tackle football much like we cringe when we see footage of pregnant woman smoking back in the days.

      Or it’ll be deemed as barbaric as this

      https://youtu.be/QpxVQ-S_XIM

      I’m pretty socialist on certain things , though I never look forward to it HAVING to intervene.

      Ideally parents keep kids off helmet football when their brains are still forming.
      If, not, then yeah, maybe state level policies.
      But I can’t imagine the South or Texas banning tackle football on their own, and Favre being from miss. Knows this

      Might as well ask Thailand to prohibit child muay thai

      So the feds may have to get involved, though hopefully not

      • Johnnywad

        The thing is, the real damage is done post high school. The US is full of guys that played high school ball and are completely fine. I believe the life altering build up of Tau in the brain occurs in college football and beyond. I also believe, that like many other things, everybody responds differently. The science will improve, and we’ll know more. But youth Football isn’t hurting anyone from my layman’s perspective.

        • You’re right, might be insufficient data(though who’s gonna have a bank of children pop warner brains to test?)

          Could be that lil kids dont have the velocity to get those bone crunching concussions. Then again, their brains are still forming, so maybe they dont need as much force to be bruised.

          I played pop warner. Oline. Helmets clashing every practice. I dont recall getting a concussion (irony?), but i dont think i would risk my kid braining his head permanantly for a $20 trophy and Shakeys.

          Get them into other ‘tough’ sports. Wrestling. Water Polo. Something.

          • willbest

            Pretty sure it’s the younger you are the more likely you will recover from brain injury.

            And there is no chance they are going to figure it out any time soon. They might claim something, but it won’t be any better than a field trial.

            For example, we have had 3 different peanut introduction protocols used in this country over the last 10 years. So either they don’t know what they are doing or they are experimenting on us. For a problem that didn’t exist 50 years ago.

            That should be a trivial problem compared to understanding the brian

  • Speaking of OLBS. Zombo might become free. Is he any good?

    ESPN’s Adam Teicher expects the Chiefs to move on from OLB Frank Zombo.

    With Tanoh Kpassagnon and second-rounder Breeland Speaks the Chiefs’ top EDGE backups, Zombo isn’t needed behind Justin Houston and Dee Ford. It should be an easy decision for the Chiefs to cut Zombo. Kansas City can save $1.2 million from Zombo’s release.

    • BenderMcLugh

      “Zombo’s release”

  • BuddhaJoe

    I guess Roquan doesn’t count since he’s a rookie but that’d be who I hope rocks it.

    • I’m curious to see how Fangio uses him.
      Will he use him like Freeman, or will he blitz him and move him around a little bit?

      Roq should rack up tons of stats cuz he’s the perfect nickle-dime LB, so he better be in great shape cuz he’s never coming off the field

  • Irish Sweetness

    “The thing that makes Fangio’s defense so good ….”

    Sorry Andrew, what? We had 5 wins last season. I’m reading Bill Walsh’s ‘Find the Winning Edge’ at the moment. He says when you lose as many games as we have been, it’;’s either a rash injuries, or – stand back in amazement – your players are not very good.

    • “Modestly” Huge Bears Penis

      look on the bright side. we had 5 wins last year because of the defense. Fox’s offense was certainly not helping.

  • the more Floyd drops into coverage, the less likely he gets hurt.

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