All eyes on Bears rookies
All eyes will be on first-round draft pick Leonard Floyd when the first training camp practices begin July 28.
The Bears traded up to the ninth overall spot because they believe Floyd is the difference-making pass rusher they lack. But in their nine-man draft class, the Bears' largest since 2009, other rookies might make just as much of an impact as the 6-foot-4, 244-pound outside linebacker from Georgia who figures to get the bulk of his playing time in passing situations.
The Bears believe Floyd's modest sack total of 17 in three seasons is not indicative of his pass-rush prowess, because the Bulldogs used him in a variety of roles, which demonstrated his versatility and athleticism.
"They used him all over the place," Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said. "So I think he has good football instincts. We'll see if that translates here. There were a lot of things to like from his athletic ability, movement, he's got some pass-rush talent, he can play in coverage, he's got talent for that."
But, initially, the Bears want him to focus on getting after the quarterback.
Second-round offensive lineman Cody Whitehair finished the mid-June minicamp running with the first team at left guard because of an injury to veteran Ted Larsen. And the 6-foot-4, 301-pound Whitehair has an opportunity to remain a starter on an offensive line in transition.
Left tackle Charles Leno will be the only player who started Game 16 last season who will line up in the same spot for the first snap of training camp. Kyle Long will be at right guard after playing right tackle last season.
Third-round defensive end Jonathan Bullard is expected to be in the mix at right end. Mitch Unrein is the presumptive starter, but expectations are that several players will be used in the D-line rotation, including Bullard. The 6-foot-3, 285-pounder from Florida was a better run defender for the Gators, but he had 6½ sacks as a senior, and the Bears believe he has the tools to be a pass-rush presence, although he'll have to prove that at camp and in the preseason.
"He's got some quickness," Fangio said. "It's hard to tell with those guys in this type of (minicamp) practice. But based on the tape, he's a guy that we're looking to hopefully make some contributions early."
Iowa inside linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski, the Bears' first of three fourth-round picks (113th overall), faces an uphill battle for playing time in the base defense behind starters Danny Trevathan and Jerrell Freeman. But the 6-foot-2, 243-pounder is a natural special-teamer because of his blue-collar style, which he describes as "Just a guy who comes to work every day, no matter the circumstances."
"It's just someone who is constantly working hard to get better," Kwiatkoski said. "If you're not trying to get better, you're not really doing anything. You should always be working to improve something, whether it's in practice or the weightroom or anything."
It wouldn't shock observers if fourth-rounder Deon Bush, the 124th overall selection, wound up as one of the starting safeties. Last year's fifth-round pick, Adrian Amos, started all 16 games at safety as a rookie and led the team in tackles. With the release of veteran Antrel Rolle, the other safety spot is wide open, and Bush brings a menacing, physical element that the Bears' secondary lacked last season.
Deiondre Hall, the Bears' third fourth-round pick (127th overall) split his time between cornerback and safety at Northern Iowa. If he can make up for mediocre speed (4.64) with ideal length (6-foot-1½) and arm length (34⅜ inches), Hall could be a weapon at cornerback against the league's growing number of big wide receivers.
"Length is only good if you can stay close to the guy and then, when the ball comes, the length becomes an advantage," Fangio said. "If (wide receivers) are running away from you, the length is of no use. We've got to find out and see how well he moves, how well he can cover."
Hall showed enough in the off-season that he spent all of his time during the full-team minicamp at cornerback, where he could provide depth behind starters Kyle Fuller and Tracy Porter.
Fifth-round running back Jordan Howard seems tailor-made to be the short-yardage specialist, at the very least, in what figures to be a Bears running attack by committee.
The 6-foot, 230-pounder has more size and power than Jeremy Langford, Ka'Deem Carey and Jacquizz Rodgers. And, if the Bears go with a two-back approach, as Fox has preferred in the past, Howard could be the No. 2 to Langford's No. 1.
"He's a bigger back," offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said of Howard. "He's a change-of-pace back. Their skill sets are different. We won't ask them to both do the same thing, but we'll find out what Howard does well, and we'll play to that."
Sixth-round pick DeAndre Houston-Carson is another rookie with experience at safety and cornerback but is projected at safety in the NFL. At 6-1 and 201, he's almost as tall as Hall and a step faster in the 40 (4.54).
Western Michigan wide receiver Daniel Braverman stood out more in off-season practices than most seventh-round picks because of the quickness and acceleration he flashed after making catches underneath the coverage. The fractured foot suffered in minicamp by veteran wide receiver Marquess Wilson could provide more training camp opportunities for the 5-foot-10, 177-pound slot receiver. On a team still in rebuilding mode with just 11 victories in two years, there should be plenty of opportunities for a large class of rookie draft picks.
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