Bears

After volatile first year, Bears seeing CB Kyle Fuller grow up

kyle-fuller-returns-to-practice-insider-slide.png

After volatile first year, Bears seeing CB Kyle Fuller grow up

Whether it’s the NFL, business or just life in general, some years are just like that. As Kyle Fuller is finding out.

About this time a year ago, the Bears cornerback was the rookie No. 1 draft pick, coming off a two-interception game in Week 2 against the San Francisco 49ers that earned him the honor of NFC Defensive Player of the Week. John Fox singled Fuller out for mention as one of the building blocks of the Bears’ defense after Fox became Bears head coach.

Then came the 2015 preseason in which Fuller struggled with assignments, tackling and other parts of what had appeared to be an elite-level skill set, in addition to appearing to lose focus and composure at times. The bottom came in Chicago when Fuller was benched in the second half against the Arizona Cardinals in favor of seldom-used backup Terrance Mitchell.

That was followed a day later by respected veteran safety Antrel Rolle in a radio interview suggesting that Fuller needed to become a true professional and be a true student of film. The obvious implication was that Fuller was neither, yet.

[MORE BEARS: Preparing for Bears, Jim Caldwell not denying some Lions quit vs. Cardinals]

“There is no magic potion out there,” said defensive coordinator Vic Fangio.” You gotta go out there, experience success, do your job, break up a pass or two, you know, be tight to your man, make the plays when they come to you, and the more he does that, the more confidence he will get.”

Since then, the messages appear to have registered and the confidence has indeed begun to re-emerge even as some of the criticism was stinging.

“He’s definitely grown up the last couple of weeks,” said cornerback Tracy Porter. “He’s been accepting the challenges that’ve been put in front of him. People were harping on him, saying he’s been struggling.

“But I don’t see it. These last couple weeks he’s been doing a tremendous job.”

That job has included seven tackles, over the three games since Arizona.

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

What it hasn’t included has been a lot of effusive assessment of his performances:

“It’s been cool, hasn’t been much different,” Fuller said. “I haven’t really changed anything.”

Getting more comfortable? “Yeah.”

That is one overriding component of the overall with Fuller. Coaches are now starting to see what they thought they had in Fuller, who also has appeared to work harder at his craft.

“You have to focus every week in this league, especially at that position, where you’re out on an island so much,” said Fox. “You’re dealing with some pretty incredible athletes at the wide-receiver position. Just technique-wise, he’s honed in better, working a little bit harder at perfecting those skills in practice and I think it’s carried over into the game.” 

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Can the Bears pull off an upset at home against Tom Brady and the Patriots?

10-17mitchtrubisky.jpg
USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Can the Bears pull off an upset at home against Tom Brady and the Patriots?

Chris Emma, Matt Zahn and Gabe Ramirez join David Kaplan on the panel.

0:00- NBC Sports National NBA Insider Tom Haberstroh joins the panel to discuss the Bulls’ terrible defensive performance as well as Zach LaVine’s impressive season debut.

11:35- Khalil Mack is listed as questionable for Sunday’s game against the Patriots. Can the Bears pull off the upset against Tom Brady?

23:50- NBC Sports Boston Patriots insider Tom E. Curran joins Kap to talk about how New England views the Bears and discuss how Matt Nagy’s team can exploit the Patriots’ weaknesses.

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below.

Subscribe:

Khalil Mack appears set to play Sunday with Tom Brady, Patriots looming

Khalil Mack appears set to play Sunday with Tom Brady, Patriots looming

Khalil Mack appears in line to play Sunday with Tom Brady, Patriots looming

Khalil Mack participated in the Bears’ final practice of the week on Friday, clearing the way for the edge rusher to play Sunday against the New England Patriots. 

ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported earlier Friday that the Bears expected Mack, who hasn’t missed a game in his career, to play after suffering an ankle injury early in Week 6’s 31-28 loss to the Miami Dolphins. Mack is officially questionable for Sunday’s game at Soldier Field. 

Mack had little interest in discussing his ankle with the media on Friday, passing on answering questions about his readiness for New England. Coach Matt Nagy, though, said he thought Mack “looked pretty good” during practice on Friday. 

Mack didn’t record a sack against Miami and was held to just one pressure, per Pro Football Focus. The Dolphins’ gameplan was to commit plenty of resources to stopping Mack, but he wasn’t effective even when he had one-on-one pass rushing opportunities as the game went on. 

“He was (affected),” defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said. “I can't put a percentage on it, but he definitely was.”

Having Mack available — even if he’s not full strength — will be critical for the Bears’ defense to have a chance at keeping Tom Brady from lighting up the scoreboard. The key for the Bears will be to generate pressure on the 41-year-old quarterback without blitzing, which is something Fangio’s defense was successful at prior to Sunday’s wacky loss to the Dolphins. 

Brady’s passer rating is 138.4 when he’s blitzed, per Pro Football Focus, while when under pressure his rating is 87.2. That’s still pretty good, but it’s worth noting that all of the six interceptions he’s thrown this year have come when he hasn’t been blitzed. And only one of the eight sacks he’s taken has come when he’s been blitzed. 

The point being: If the Bears feel like they have to start blitzing to generate pressure, they can expect Brady to pick them apart.  

“You could say all of that but ultimately (Brady’s) a gamer,” Mack said. “He’s going to take those hits, and you gotta be able to deliver them but also have coverage over the top. It’s going to be real important for us.” 

The good news for the Bears, perhaps, is that New England’s tackles have struggled at times this year. Left tackle Trent Brown has allowed 17 pressures in 234 pass blocking snaps, per Pro Football Focus (about one in every 14 snaps). And starting right tackle Marcus Cannon is out with a concussion, giving way for backup La’Adrian Waddle, who’s allowed eight pressures in 78 pass blocking snaps (about one in every 10). 

So the opportunities will be there for Mack, Leonard Floyd, Akiem Hicks and the Bears’ pass rush to affect Brady on Sunday.

A bigger injury concern?

While cornerback Prince Amukamara (hamstring) was a full participant in Friday’s practice and will play Sunday, slot corner Bryce Callahan suffered an ankle injury during Thursday’s practice and did not participate Friday. He’s officially questionable for Sunday. 

Callahan “did his ankle,” Nagy said, toward the end of Thursday’s practice, and he felt worse as the day went on. Nagy characterized Callahan’s absence from Friday’s practice as “precautionary.”

Callahan’s availability may be more of a pressing concern than Mack’s, given how well the Patriots’ offense has played since slot receiver Julian Edelman returned from a four-game suspension to begin the season. While his numbers aren’t eye-popping (11 catches on 16 targets, 111 yards, 1 TD), New England’s offense has scored 38 and 43 points in his two games back. 

“Brady has always had a guy in the slot that he’s comfortable with; whether it be (Wes) Welker, (Danny) Amendola or Edelman,” Fangio said. “It’s a big part of their offense. They haven’t missed a beat, but I really think it’s helped their offense and played a big part in them basically averaging 40 points in the last three weeks. I really appreciate and respect how good of a player he is and has been.”

If Callahan isn’t available, Sherrick McManis could be the next man up at slot corner.