As we quickly review some of the things that I’ll be looking at on Thursday with the Bears as they take on the Broncos in the first preseason game, I’d like to take a look at a few of the recent defensive draft picks that the Bears really need to see come through this year.
We will all, of course, be watching Leonard Floyd and Eddie Goldman on Thursday night. Floyd is a potential star outside linebacker in the making and the Bears aren’t the same without Goldman in the middle after his ankle injury last year, something that to their credit they recognized and partially addressed with the addition of nose tackle John Jenkins.
Both of these men have already shown enough to convince fans that they are capable of performing and, though both need to continue to develop, questions surrounding them have more to do with their health than their ability.
So with this post, I’d like to point to a couple of guys whose situation is a little different.
The Bears have completely rebuilt themselves up from scratch starting with Ryan Pace‘s first draft in 2015. Some of those picks have really come through but others have either been inconsistent or have proven to need time to develop. For one or two, its time to produce on their potential. If they don’t, their careers may be in jeopardy.
Jonathan Bullard was a 2016 third round pick that the Bears are depending upon to be part of their future at defensive end. Bullard came from a system at Florida where he was expected to penetrate in a Lovie Smith style of line play. But the Bears base defense is a 3-4 and Bullard is expected to be a two-gap lineman in that sort of scheme. That means he needs to hold up the lineman and read the play while covering the gaps to either side of him. It requires more strength and awareness than, perhaps, Bullard was expected to display in college and he had a hard time adjusting to it in his first year.
Although he’s apparently had a quiet training camp to this point, Bullard bulked up to over 300 lb in the offseason and apparently has progressed in the scheme to the point that there might be some hope for him. Coaches think the game has slowed down form him since his rookie year. They’d better hope so. Their starting ends are Akiem Hicks and either Jay Howard or Mitch Unrein and the first injury is going to throw him into the rotation, ready-or-not.
Similar to Bullard on the defensive line, the Bears need Nick Kwiatkowski, a fourth rounder from 2016, to develop into a starter quality NFL linebacker. Kiatkowski played a great deal last year with Jerrell Freeman missing games due to a suspension and Danny Trevathan‘s knee injury. Travathan is rehabbing but isn’t fully back.
Kwiatkowski played too slowly last year and apparently lacked the necessary play recognition skills to play the position at a high level. He needs to step up now and make plays in the middle and the Bears and their fans have to be hoping that he flashes more this preseason because he’s going to be needed as the first guy off the bench (assuming Trevathan is ready to play – a big assumption).
As young players that they hope are on the rise, both of these men represent important players not only for the Bears present but, they hope, for their future as well. How they perform this year will tell us a lot about how that future will shape itself and how quickly.