Bullard's play impressive to Chicago Bears head coach

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Defensive lineman Jonathan Bullard and teammates sign autographs for fans following a recent Chicago Bears practice at Warren High School in Gurnee.

      Defensive lineman Jonathan Bullard and teammates sign autographs for fans following a recent Chicago Bears practice at Warren High School in Gurnee. Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 8/25/2016 7:39 PM

Rookie defensive end Jonathan Bullard has gotten plenty of playing time this preseason, and the Chicago Bears' third-round draft pick from Florida has made his 71 snaps count.

Among his 4 tackles are 1 for negative yardage in the opener, plus a half-sack he shared with first-round pick Leonard Floyd last week.

 

"He's a tough-minded player," Bears coach John Fox said of the 6-foot-3, 290-pound Bullard, who has played more defensive snaps than all but two teammates. "He's a tough player physically.

"He's explosive, which helps obviously in a pass-rush situation. That's a lot of the reasons why we drafted him (72nd overall). I've liked his mindset and how he goes about his business."

Bullard was back at practice Thursday morning at steamy Halas Hall following a three-day absence to deal with personal family matters back home in North Carolina.

He said he will play in Saturday's third preseason game and doesn't expect to miss a beat.

"I kept up on my iPad at home, so I'm up to speed on everything," he said. "And I met with (defensive line) coach (Jay) Rodgers, and he got me caught up, so I'm fine."

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Bullard has had to adjust his playing style from his senior season with the Gators, when his knack for disrupting plays in the offensive backfield helped him accumulate 17½ tackles for loss and 6½ sacks.

As a Bear, he has more responsibilities.

"I just (have to) play with (better) technique, stay in my gap and make sure nothing gets through my gap," Bullard said. "Then I can help out my teammates in their gaps.

"How (coaches) have explained it to me is, 'Just come off the ball, but come off using my hands (to control blockers) rather than just getting straight upfield.' "

It wasn't an easy change at first, but with an off-season, training camp and two preseason games under his belt, Bullard is much more comfortable. Coaches don't want to take away the advantage of his quickness, just harness it in a more productive way.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"All I was doing was (being) a penetrating guy, getting off the ball so fast that I'd shock them," he said. "I ain't the biggest guy. I'm probably the littlest D-lineman we've got (he is the lightest), so I use that (quickness) to my advantage.

"They weren't taking it away from me, but they were telling me I could slow down a little bit. I had to learn to be more stout rather than just getting off the ball."

Bullard has been a fast learner, responding to coaching well enough that he's expected to be a major player in the D-line rotation.

"He's more comfortable in our scheme, of what's being asked of him by his coaches, and transforming that into playing fast in game situations," Fox said.

"Obviously, if you're not thinking, you're performing and you're not being slowed down in the mental aspect. You just get more comfortable."

It didn't happen overnight for Bullard, but he has proved to be a quick study.

"I knew my game was kind of starting off slow," he admitted. "Understanding the defense and what the guys are doing around you is so valuable and so important. It allows you to know when to take chances.

"Now I can play much faster and start making the plays that I'm used to making."

• Follow Bob's Bears reports on Twitter @BobLeGere.

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