In a season of bleak, Leonard Floyd looking every bit a true No. 1 draft choice

In a season of bleak, Leonard Floyd looking every bit a true No. 1 draft choice

When the Bears drafted Leonard Floyd out of Georgia, one of the attractions was that he could do and had experience doing so many things, the perfect template for what the Bears want from an outside linebacker in their 3-4 defensive scheme. But sometimes the asset of versatility has brought with it a small curse.

Because he can do a lot, he’s being asked to do a lot, meaning not only is he tasked with in-depth study of opponents he’s seeing for the first time in life; he’s also in the midst of learning his own defense for the first time.

That latter element has been the critical key to Floyd’s acceleration, literally and figuratively, onto the NFL stage.

“I’ve been talking to him, letting him know, that just as much as you study the opponent, you have to study our playbook because you get asked to do so much,” said linebacker Pernell McPhee, increasingly paired opposite Floyd in the Bears’ base 3-4. “So you’ve got to know what everybody’s doing, where your help is, when you’re dropping. I think he’s gotten used to that, studying and playing faster."

Floyd is indeed playing faster, exploding over the past three games for 10 tackles (7 of them solo), 4 tackles for loss, a pass deflection and a strip-sack to force an Aaron Rodgers fumble which Floyd recovered in the Green Bay end zone in the Oct. 20 game.

Of greater impact, he has accounted for 4.5 sacks over those three games to give him 5 for the year, tops among rookies.

Floyd’s speed has risen directly along with his study, not just of his playbook, but also of word-of-mouth help from teammates.

“I learned so much, probably one play at a time, take it one play at a time,” said Floyd, who has played 61 percent of defensive plays despite missing two games entirely with a calf injury. “I get advice from Willie [Young]. I get some from [Sam] Acho. I get some from Pernell. Sometimes from the cornerbacks. I get advice from everybody on the defense.”

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He is the only Bears No. 1 draft choice still with the Bears and not currently on injured reserve, which makes Floyd a minor anomaly for all the wrong reasons. But after a training camp and early rookie season of fits and starts for health reasons, Floyd has begun to emerge as a different kind of anomaly, the kind that the Bears thought was worth moving ahead of the New York Giants to take with the No. 9 pick of the 2016 draft.

“I’ve said all along there’s an uncoachable skill set that he has, that it’s just a matter of time until he gets comfortable in what we’re asking him to do and our terminology, really even the pace and speed and strength of the game at this level,” said coach John Fox. “I’ve seen steady improvement with him since he’s been here and since he’s been healthy enough to be out there and practice and honing his skills. He’ll continue to improve. He’s going to be a very, very good young player.”

The improvement has not been without an occasional high-profile mistake. Earlier in the season he was losing outside responsibility too often, perhaps accustomed to his natural speed allowing him to recover. That may happen at the college level; not in the NFL.

And against Tampa Bay Floyd came free on a third-down rush of Jameis Winston, overshot Winston and allowed the Buccaneers quarterback to extend a pivotal play that resulted in a scrambling deep throw that arguably was the turning point of a game the Bears desperately needed.

It was quite simply a learning experience.

“With most of us, the more you do the better you get,” Fox said. “With him, with his skill set, I think that becomes more and more obvious. He even had a situation on that third-and-10, that big play that Jameis made, he might have kind of hesitated a little bit, left his feet a little bit, relaxed a little bit.

“He’ll learn from that moving forward as he breaks free on pass-rushing situations. It’s an experience that he’ll learn from.”

The Bears’ rookie sack record (12) was set in 2006 by Mark Anderson. Wally Chambers was credited with 9 in 1973, followed by Brian Urlacher with 8 in 2000. Floyd is now doing the things that have him on track to breach that list.

“I see him just slowing down the game mentally, playing faster than he did earlier in the season,” said McPhee, who since returning from knee surgery has played an increasing number of snaps opposite Floyd, who has started the seven games he’s been healthy for. “He’s starting to figure out how to study and watch film, and most important, studying our playbook because without that you can’t play fast.

“He’s going to be good, man, going to be good.”

Here's what the 2020 NFL draft TV broadcast could look like

Here's what the 2020 NFL draft TV broadcast could look like

The 2020 NFL draft will take place as scheduled on April 23-25 despite the nationwide social distancing campaign enacted to combat the outbreak of COVID-19. 

The NFL canceled the three-day party in Las Vegas and the league won't hold any public events to celebrate the players or the teams, but the show will go on in a much different way.

NBC Sports' Peter King outlined how this year's draft will likely be broadcast, which will be a familiar sight for anyone who's working from home or paying attention to how television has adapted to these challenging times:

If you’ve done Zoom video conferencing, or you’ve watched recent nightly newscasts, maybe you’ve seen eight or 10 people on the laptop screen or the TV all ready to be called on by a host. Imagine the same thing on draft night. The NFL will send out about 50 portable camera kits with microphones to top prospects and college coaches, with better-than-FaceTime quality, so NFL draft coverage will be able to bring in, say, LSU quarterback Joe Burrow from the family home outside Athens, Ohio, when/if he’s the first pick of the Bengals. Then Burrow will be able to do his media availability with the Cincinnati press, and whatever other one-on-ones he chooses to do.

It'll be a stark contrast to how the NFL draft is traditionally conducted. From the days of Radio City Music Hall in New York City to the traveling roadshow it's become in recent years, the league has done a remarkable job turning its biggest offseason event into arguably the biggest event in the sport aside from the Super Bowl.

Diehard fans of the draft will enjoy the broadcast regardless of whatever form it takes. Whether it's a red-carpet event or a zoom-style meeting, the teams will still pick their players and fans will celebrate (or loathe) the selections. The casual observer may not be as impressed, however. The emotions of draft day, especially when players realize their life-long dream by walking across the stage and bearhugging Goodell, will be lost. At least, there will be less of it.

Sure, watching prospects celebrate with their families in the comfort of their own home will be fun, but the cloud of what really matters -- the coronavirus and the devastation its causing across the globe -- will be unavoidable. The setting of this year's draft will be a constant reminder of it, too.

But the show must go on (apparently). And if the NFL has proven anything over the years, it's that the league knows how to take advantage of every opportunity it has to captivate an audience. 

Maybe, just maybe, the best thing the draft has to offer fans this year is a much-needed distraction from the stress and anxiety of the real world. Don't bet against the NFL accomplishing that goal. 

Bears hold pre-draft meeting with SIU safety Jeremy Chinn

Bears hold pre-draft meeting with SIU safety Jeremy Chinn

The Bears have a need at safety alongside Eddie Jackson, and while Deon Bush was re-signed to a one-year deal to presumably replace Ha Ha Clinton-Dix in the starting lineup, GM Ryan Pace may decide the 2020 NFL draft offers a better option.

One safety who fits the profile as a physical in-the-box defender is Southern Illinois' Jeremy Chinn. The 6-foot-3, 221-pounder wowed at the NFL Combine when he ran a 4.45 40-yard dash and lept 41 inches in the vertical jump, testing scores that confirmed the elite athleticism he displays on tape.

The Bears took notice and their interest in the small-school standout is real. Chicago held a pre-draft meeting with Chinn, albeit via Facetime, in an effort to learn more about the local prospect, a source told NBC Sports Chicago.

Chinn finished 2019 with 71 tackles, 2.5 for loss,  four interceptions and three pass breakups. He was a do-it-all defender who's been comp'd as a discount version of Clemson's Isaiah Simmons.

Unlike Simmons, there's a chance Chinn will be available when the Bears are on the clock at No. 43 overall. If he is, expect Pace, who has an affinity for small-school players, to pull the trigger.