LAKE FOREST -- When the Bears traded Roquan Smith, general manager Ryan Poles and head coach Matt Eberflus made a big deal about scheme fit and the ball production required to man the WILL linebacker spot.
In the Bears' eyes, Smith couldn't give them what they desired in a critical spot in Eberflus' defense. So, the Bears went out and gave Tremaine Edmunds a four-year, $72 million contract to man the position they didn't believe fit Smith's skillset.
But Edmunds doesn't have the ball production track record the Bears claim to be vital. In five seasons in Buffalo, the 24-year-old has just five interceptions, two forced fumbles, and six-and-a-half sacks.
But the Bears are confident those numbers continue to tick up for a linebacker whose best ball is still in front of him.
“Yeah, the length, the speed, the coverage ability in terms of just the space that he covers and Matt and his group think they can take him over the edge with some of the ball production," general manager Ryan Poles said Thursday at Halas Hall.
Edmunds is the prize of the Bears' free-agent class. He played the MIKE linebacker position in Buffalo, but it's almost certain he'll play the WILL in Eberflus' scheme with fellow new-addition T.J. Edwards playing the MIKE.
The Virginia Tech alum has always been a downhill tackling machine, but he has made significant strides in pass coverage during his final two seasons in Buffalo.
That steady improvement for a player who came into the NFL at 19 illuminates what the Bears are getting in Edmunds.
"Man, I think it's just keep going. I've never got comfortable," Edmunds said Thursday. "I never got too up. I never got too down. I think that everything that I've been through, whether it's good or whether it's bad, I've learned from it. And I think when you can look yourself in the mirror and you know and be honest with yourself, that's the great teacher. Experience is a great teacher, and you know, things that I've been through, whether I didn't always agree with it or whether it was some things that was great. I've always learned from everything and I'm going to continue to learn.
"That's part of my game and that's part of what I put into this because it's a whole lot of hours that go into this and you don't just get somewhere overnight. It's like a journey and I'm just picking up little pebbles on the way and adding it to my game each step of the way. Man, I'm going to continue to do that."
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Edmunds arrives in Chicago hoping to become the latest in a long line of legendary Bears linebackers. Brian Urlacher, Dick Butkus, Mike Singletary, and Lance Briggs adorn the walls of Halas Hall. Edmunds hopes to one day have his name mentioned among other Bears greats.
Edmunds spent five years building himself into a Pro Bowl linebacker in Buffalo. He has all the traits Eberflus looks for at the position meant to be the tip of the spear for the Bears' defense.
That's a lot of responsibility for a young player. But Edmunds is acutely aware of the cauldron he's walking into as the conductor of a defense in a city that champions hard-nosed, old-school football.
"You look too far back, man, you’re gonna trip going forward," Edmunds said. "I’m focused on what’s in front of me and leading this football team to get to the level that the city and we want to be at as a team. That starts with me. That starts with the MIKE linebacker. That starts with the man in the middle. I’m looking forward to that opportunity and that challenge. I’m just looking forward to that opportunity, that challenge. I got my hard hat on ready to work."
A few minutes later, Edmunds, sporting a plum suit, confidently left the dais and exited the Halas Hall media center. His work starts now.