Bears rookie LB Leonard Floyd breaking out, also finding out “you’re not in Kansas (or Georgia) anymore, Toto”

Bears rookie LB Leonard Floyd breaking out, also finding out “you’re not in Kansas (or Georgia) anymore, Toto”

BOURBONNAIS, Ill. – Leonard Floyd had used the move countless times before, unleashing speed on an outside pass rush, then countering quickly back underneath, inside a wrong-footed tackle, to a clear path to a quarterback.

On Monday morning the rookie outside linebacker, getting his first work with the No. 1 defense, unleashed his combination speed/change-of-direction move against first-string right tackle Bobby Massie. When he came out of the double move, he found, not a quarterback in his sights, but rather right tackle Bobby Massie in his face.

Several snaps later, Floyd was primed again. He worked his moves on left tackle Charles Leno Jr., and finished the high-speed combination with a spin that left him, yep, stalemated face-to-face with one left tackle Charles Leno Jr.

“I’ve tried some of my college moves,” Floyd said, smiling, “and they don’t work on these guys. I was just focused on why I didn’t get a sack. I’m right now meeting with [outside-linebacker coach] Clint Hurtt to try and come up with some NFL-fit moves.”

The Bears are betting that Floyd comes up with them. Fast, since everything Floyd does, from warmup drills to scrimmage snaps, is fast.

Floyd did get some solid push on a bull rush against Massie, getting underneath the big tackle and using leverage to force the protection back toward quarterback Jay Cutler. He later worked off a stunt with one of his defensive ends and came clean for a simulated sack.

But he has taken stock of why he’s getting handled, when he is, and using it as a guide to things he needs to develop.

“It’s different because guys know their techniques,” Floyd said. “In college some of the offensive linemen didn’t know the proper techniques. All of the guys I’ve gone against here, they’ve got great technique.

“So I’ve really got to work on my technique to beat them or even be even.”

Some days you get the bear and some days the Bear (tackles) get you. The key, however, was that this time Floyd was being sent against the No. 1’s, the starters on the offensive line. And the overall has been extremely positive.

“I think he’s everything that we thought he would be, so very impressed,” said coach John Fox. “He’s learning well; it’s not perfect yet. Like any rookie they’re going to make some errors but I like his athleticism and like what he brings to the table. He’ll be a big part of us.”

Suddenly the “weight” questions around Floyd are disappearing. Floyd has answered some questions about his stoutness against the run. He set an edge Monday against Massie, forcing an outside run back into a tangle of teammates. He later closed down from the outside at full speed to stop running back Jeremy Langford for a small gain through the middle.

Floyd has worked his way into more playing time with steady progress and a work ethic that has impressed coaches, not only with the improved results, but also with an attitude toward not repeating mistakes and learning with every snap taken against NFL-grade competition.

That learning has been aided by a surprise boost.

Floyd understood that the NFL is a world of professional, graded by results, not scholarships. Yet he has found a team within a team in the group of outside linebackers despite the underlying reality that everyone is competing for some of the same jobs.

“Willie [Young] has taken me under his wing, and really, the whole OLB [outside linebacker] room gives me advice and help,” Floyd said. “I didn’t expect it, because it’s the NFL. But I was really happy they’ve taken me up under their wings.”

Young has consistently credited former teammates with helping him learn how to be a professional, on and off the field. Now he is paying it forward.

“I see a lot of similarities in the way that he plays and the way that I play,” Young said. “And I look forward to being able to be a part of his development. Like when I came in, those guys took me up under their wings.

“It didn’t matter, man. We had a brotherhood. And I know that to have a brotherhood, I’ve always been a team player. And to see Leonard come in here and to see the things that he’s doing now, sky’s the limit for him.”

2017 Bears position grades: Inside Linebacker

2017 Bears position grades: Inside Linebacker

2017 grade: B+

Level of need: Low

Decisions to be made on: Christian Jones (free agent), John Timu (free agent), Jonathan Anderson (free agent); Jerrell Freeman has reportedly been cut

Possible free agent targets: Demario Davis, Preston Brown, Anthony Hitchens, Avery Williamson, Navorro Bowman, Derrick Johnson

How the Bears rate Nick Kwiatkoski will be the key to figuring out what this unit will look like in 2018. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio thought Kwiatkoski finished last season strong, but strong enough to rely on him in 2018 as the starter next to Danny Trevathan?

The thing with the Bears’ inside linebackers, though: Trevathan makes whoever is playing next to him better. The problem is Trevathan hasn’t been able to stay on the field — he missed time in 2017 with a calf injury and a one-game suspension, and missed half of 2016 after rupturing his Achilles’. Trevathan hasn’t played a full 16-game season since 2013, so durability is an issue for the soon-to-be 28-year-old.

So that leads to this question: Do the Bears need to find someone in free agency, regardless of how they value Kwiatkoski, who’s also missed time due to injuries in his first two years in the league?

Free agency could provide a few options. Demario Davis had a career high 97 tackles for the New York Jets last year and has never missed a game as a pro. Preston Brown had some decent production in Buffalo and also hasn’t missed a game since being drafted in 2014. Avery Williamson may not be a world-beater but has only missed one game in his four years in the NFL.

The Bears could also opt for someone who fits more of a rotational mold, like Dallas’ Anthony Hitchens, or try to lure a veteran linebacker like Navorro Bowman (who played for Vic Fangio in San Francisco) or Derrick Johnson (who Matt Nagy knows from his Kansas City days) to play next to Trevathan and/or Kwiatkoski.

The Bears could opt to keep the status quo and re-sign Christian Jones and John Timu for depth, and enter 2018 with Kwiatkoski and Trevathan as the team’s starters (Jerrell Freeman, who suffered a season-ending injury and then was hit with his second PED suspension in as many years, was cut on Tuesday). Signing a starting-caliber free agent isn’t out of the question, either, but there is a third option for the Bears if they appear to stand pat in free agency: Draft an inside linebacker in April. If that’s the route they go, Georgia’s Roquan Smith could be the guy. But again, those more pressing needs at other positions could mean the Bears don’t burn a first-round pick on an inside linebacker.

With Josh Sitton on his way out, what’s next for the Bears’ offensive line?

With Josh Sitton on his way out, what’s next for the Bears’ offensive line?

The first major move of Ryan Pace’s 2018 offseason hit on Tuesday, as NFL Network reported the Bears will not exercise Josh Sitton’s $8 million option for 2018. 

The move accomplishes two things for the Bears: 1) It frees up about $8 million in cap space and 2) Removes a veteran from the offensive line and creates a hole to fill, presumably by a younger free agent or draft pick. 

The 31-year-old Sitton signed a three-year deal with the Bears after Green Bay cut him just before the 2016 season, and was a Pro Bowler his first year in Chicago. Sitton played 26 of 32 games in two years with the Bears, but him being on the wrong side of 30 was likely the biggest factor here. If the Bears saw his skills eroding, releasing him now and netting the cap savings while going younger at the position does make sense. 

“Going younger” doesn’t guarantee the Bears will draft Notre Dame brawler Quenton Nelson, though that did become a greater possibility with Tuesday’s move. Nelson might be one of the two or three best offensive players in this year’s draft, and offensive line coach Harry Hiestand knows him well from the four years they spent together at Notre Dame. 

There’s a natural fit there, of course, but a few reasons to slow the Nelson-to-Chicago hype train: Would he even make it to No. 8? Or if he’s there, is taking a guard that high worth it when the Bears have needs at wide receiver, outside linebacker and cornerback? Still, the thought of Nelson — who absolutely dominated at Notre Dame — pairing with Hiestand again is tantalizing, and Nelson very well could step into any team’s starting lineup and be an immediate Pro Bowler as a rookie. 

If the Bears go younger in free agency, Matt Nagy knows 26-year-old guard Zach Fulton (No. 25 in Bleacher Report’s guard rankings) well from their time in Kansas City. Fulton — a Homewood-Flossmoor alum — has the flexibility to play both guard positions and center, which could open the door for Cody Whitehair to be moved to left guard, the position he was initially drafted to play (though the Bears do value him highly as a center, and keeping him at one position would benefit him as opposed to moving him around the line again). There are some other guys out there — like Tennessee’s Josh Kline or New York’s Justin Pugh — that could wind up costing more than Fulton in free agency. 

Or the Bears could look draft an offensive lineman after the first round, perhaps like Ohio State’s Billy Price, Georgia’s Isaiah Wynn or UTEP’s Will Hernandez. How the Bears evaluate guards at the NFL Combine next week will play an important role in how they go about replacing Sitton. 

The trickle-down effect of releasing Sitton will impact more than the offensive line, too. Freeing up his $8 million in cap space -- which wasn't a guarantee, unlike cutting Jerrell Freeman and, at some point, Mike Glennon -- could go toward paying Kyle Fuller, or another top cornerback, or a top wide receiver, or some combination of players at those positions (as well as outside linebacker). The Bears were already in a healthy place cap-wise; that just got healthier on Tuesday.