Chicago brought in Al-Quadin Muhammad this offseason and drafted Dominique Robinson in the fifth round of the 2022 NFL Draft as a long-term project. The Bears are banking on steady production from Muhammad and are planning to keep things simple for Robinson as he continues his transition from wide receiver to defensive end.
But the Bears don’t need to look far to find that guy who could answer many of their pass-rushing questions in 2022.
Last season, Trevis Gipson burst onto the scene, notching seven sacks, five forced fumbles, and two passes defended in 16 games, showing he has all the skills to be a franchise edge rusher.
“I noticed is he has a very good awareness of the quarterback,” defensive line coach Travis Smith said. “You guys know. He had a lot of ball production last year. And that’s not 100 percent natural. That’s not something that just comes naturally to everyone. He has good awareness that when you’re an edge rusher, that if guys get high in the pocket, he can come back inside. Or if he has the edge, then he can turn it, where then he can affect that quarterback and also go for the ball.
“That’s a part of the reason I love this system too because Coach Flus and Coach Williams, that’s all they do is preach the ball. So, it’s just an extension of us. And he already showed that and flashed that on tape. He has very good quarterback ball awareness.”
The 24-year-old started the 2021 season as a rotational piece but ended up starting in nine games, slotting in mainly for the injured Mack. With more opportunity came more production for the Tulsa product.
“He went in there and showed up, and he was productive,” Smith said. “Our goal is to be productive whether in the run or pass. He went in there and did that and was productive both in the running game, setting edges and tackles for loss and keeping that ball inside. Then, also in the passing game by getting to the level of the quarterback, falling back inside, sacks, forced fumbles, all of those sorts of things.”
Gipson had an 87.0 pass-rush grade that ranked 10th among qualified edge rushers, right behind Chandler Jones, per Pro Football Focus. His 11.9 pass-rush productivity in true pass sets ranked 16th, and his 19.3 percent win rate, the number of times he beat his man in two seconds or less, ranked 52nd.
However, there’s reason to believe Gipson’s production can continue to go up this season as he transitions back to a 4-3 defensive end in new head coach Matt Eberflus’ scheme. Gipson was a 4-3 end in college before playing 3-4 outside linebacker during his first two seasons in Chicago.
"For sure," Smith said when asked if the change would help Gipson. "Our mentality in our room, which if you look at it as 3-4, 4-3, in our 43 our guys are gonna start in a three-point stance. And talk about how we build a man from the ground up. It’s not just football. Everything starts with our stance. Our alignment, our assignment, our key to technique.
"So you’re going to see him come out of a three-point stance in practice. And that’s about get off. I don’t care first, second, or third down, everything we do is vertically penetrating, knock back and then we’ll rush the passer. We’ll play the run on the way to the quarterback. So you’ll see him come off the ball out of a stance, playing vertical on their side of the line of scrimmage, not waiting. Reacting. He’s going to be getting vertical first and then reacting to his keys."
It's a move Gipson is excited about as he enters a season that could serve as a launching pad to stardom.
“They want us to play fast, physical, have fun,” Gipson said of the change back to the 4-3 during voluntary minicamp in April. “They took a lot of (the) thinking load off of our plate, which I’m sure every player would want. I’m excited to play fast.”
The Bears have a young, talented secondary led by safety Eddie Jackson and cornerback Jaylon Johnson. They have two heat-seeking missiles at linebacker in Roquan Smith and Nicholas Morrow. Quinn is coming off an 18.5-sack season. If Gipson can elevate his game and be a force opposite Quinn, then Eberflus' aggressive, turnover-focused defense will have a chance to wreak havoc this fall.
In a season that will be all about discovering the right building blocks for the future, Trevis Gipson has a chance to make the loudest impression this fall.