Chicago Bears' Floyd sees bigger, better things ahead

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Chicago Bears outside linebacker Leonard Floyd (94) celebrates sacking Minnesota Vikings quarterback Sam Bradford during the first half of an NFL football game in Chicago, Monday, Oct. 31, 2016.

    Chicago Bears outside linebacker Leonard Floyd (94) celebrates sacking Minnesota Vikings quarterback Sam Bradford during the first half of an NFL football game in Chicago, Monday, Oct. 31, 2016.

 
 
Updated 6/14/2017 7:48 PM

Only two rookies had more than the 7 sacks Leonard Floyd racked up for the Chicago Bears last season, but defensive coordinator Vic Fangio gave the first-round pick a grade of "incomplete."

"He's got a foundation of a year behind him, (but) he was only available about half the time last year," Fangio said, alluding to a variety of injuries that impeded the linebacker's progress. "Hopefully with the year under his belt, getting in better shape, and (working on getting a better) takeoff, (and) if he stays healthy, I feel good about him."

 

Floyd said Fangio's honest assessment serves as motivation, as he seeks to reach the lofty potential that convinced the Bears to move up two places in the 2016 draft to make him the ninth overall selection.

"It definitely inspires me to go out this year and play every game," Floyd said. "That's the goal -- just to go out and play every game so I can produce (more) plays."

Floyd, maybe more than any Bears defender, showed that even as a somewhat raw rookie, he has a propensity for difference-making plays, something in scarce supply on last year's defense.

Floyd had 6½ of his sacks in a six-game stretch at midseason, including a sack and strip of Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, which Floyd recovered in the end zone for a touchdown. That was the Bears' first defensive touchdown in more than two years and 1 of just 2 defensive touchdowns in 2016.

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Five games after that 2-sack effort against the Packers, Floyd notched 2 more sacks against the San Francisco 49ers, 1 of which resulted in a safety. But the 6-foot-4, 240-pound Floyd missed four games and parts of at least three others because of injuries.

Before Floyd's hot streak began, he missed two games with a calf injury, and a similar injury forced him out of some preseason action.

He suffered two concussions later in the season, including a frightening collision with 6-foot-5, 336-pound teammate Akiem Hicks that saw the rookie carted off the field strapped to a back board to immobilize his head and neck.

Both concussions occurred when Floyd led with the crown of his helmet rather than keeping his head up and seeing his target. Extensive work has been done since to break him of that bad habit.

"With coach Vic (Fangio), we've been working on (dummies), putting our hands and hat in the right places and getting good repetition doing it every day," Floyd said. "I just had the crown of my helmet a little too low. It needed to be higher."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

So, too does Floyd's sack total if the Bears' defense is to make strides.

Early indications are optimistic because Floyd says he's in better shape, even though he has put a few pounds on his lanky frame, which the Bears have encouraged. Coaches expect a year of maturity will make a noticeable difference in Floyd's game.

"With most players, when you go from your rookie year to second year, (the game) slows down," Bears head coach John Fox said. "They understand it. They're not thinking; they're reacting. So I'd expect (improvement), and I've seen that already, even in the off-season.

"He's a really good talent. I'd rather understate and let him overproduce, but I think both mentally and physically he's going to take a big step."

The 24-year-old Floyd is more comfortable in the defense and with his role in the scheme.

"Everything was new to me last year," he said. "I'm just way more comfortable being out there with the play-calls and my assignments and with the other guys on the field."

Despite producing some memorable flash plays from last season, Floyd knows he's capable of more.

"There definitely were a lot of plays I left (on the field)," he said. "I'm going to do a better job this year of making those plays."

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

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