Who Could Be the 2018 Breakout Bears: Defense

| June 20th, 2018

When the Bears officially re-introduced defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, he kept telling reporters the most important thing the Bears need to do is get improvement from their returning players. This is something that certainly isn’t a given.

By nearly any measurement, the Bears had a top-15 overall defense last year. They were far from perfect — the inability to take the ball away still being a major issue. But they were more than good enough and are bringing back most of the roster.

Still, the team has some young players who could make a big impact in 2018. Here’s a look at five defenders who just could have breakout seasons like Kyle Fuller and Adrian Amos had for the team a year ago.

Deon Bush

It’s hard to expect a lot from a guy who played about 8% more snaps on defense than I did last year, but Bush still has some promise. Fangio singled him out during minicamp practices and there were reports of the young safety showing great range and getting his hands on the ball during those sessions. The reports were enough to reconsider Bush as a possible playmaker.

The plan entering last year surely was for Bush to compete for a starting spot opposite Quintin Demps. Of course, we all know how well that plan worked out. Bush ended up playing just 86 defensive snaps for the team last year and Adrian Amos and Eddie Jackson both entrenched themselves as starters. But a lot can still happen.

The thing that makes Fangio’s defense so good is the confusion on the back end. They’re pretty standard in the front seven but they mix coverages and do a lot to create confusion behind that. It wouldn’t be surprising if Bush took a couple of years to catch on.

What makes him interesting is the fact that he forced nine fumbles in college and picked the ball off four times. We don’t know if he can do that in the NFL, simply because he hasn’t had a strong enough grasp of the defense to be on the field. If that has changed he could be come an interesting player.

Jon Bullard

Bullard is widely seen as a mystery, but he played well last year and earned the job as the starting defensive lineman.

According to NFL Game Statistics and Information System, the Bears’ defense was significantly better when Bullard was on the field in 2017. Opponents averaged 0.32 fewer rushing yards when Bullard played and 0.31 fewer passing yards. Considering the man Bullard is replacing — Mitch Unrein — barely broke even, the Bears were more than half a yard per play better with Bullard on the field. That adds up over the 50 or so plays they’d be on the field.

Bullard was a highly thought of third-round pick and likely would’ve gone significantly higher if he wasn’t in a draft that was deep along the defensive line. He didn’t make the instant impact many on the outside expected, but the Bears seemed to know it would take him time to learn NFL techniques. If the end of the 2017 season is any indication, he’s where he needs to be.

Now in his third year, Bullard is a prime candidate to break out and fans should start seeing his athleticism and the overall impact it has on the defense.

Roy Robertson-Harris

RRH plays the same position as Bullard and the team’s best defensive player Akiem Hicks, but that doesn’t mean he couldn’t breakout.

Fangio seems to like the third-year defensive lineman, who entered the league as an edge rusher. After a redshirt rookie season, RRH has bulked up to 295 pounds and has shown promise as a pass rusher.

Partially due to injuries, RRH wasn’t on the field a lot last season, playing just about 20% of the team’s snaps. Still, he had two sacks and was credited with four quarterback hits by NFLGSIS.

The Bears didn’t use RRH like they used their other defensive linemen. He isn’t anywhere near as bulky — his 295 pounds is on a six-foot-six-inch frame. Last year, Fangio used four-man fronts when RRH was able to play. Those proved to be some of the team’s most effective formations as RRH was essentially replacing an outside linebacker. If the team’s outside linebackers struggle again this year, we could see a lot of him.

Bryce Callahan

Callahan is already good, but there is another step he can take and it could be crucial to the success of the team’s defense.

Out of the regular players, Callahan had the biggest impact on the team’s passing defense as they allowed roughly a yard fewer per pass play when he was on the field. Part of that, of course, is that he was replaced by Cre’von LeBlanc, but Callahan flashed some playmaking ability last year.

At one point, the Bears seemed to want Callahan to be a full-time starter outside, before a preseason injury essentially killed that plan. Injuries, of course, have been Callahan’s biggest problem, something that can be said about quite a few of the team’s players.

Now entering his fourth season, Callahan is set to be an unrestricted free agent next March. If every there was a time for a big season, this is it.

Leonard Floyd

It just seems that if Floyd is going to turn the corner and become a dominant player 2018 is probably going to be the year.

It’s kind of strange since he’s only played two seasons, but Floyd is going to be 26 early next season. His 11.5 career sacks aren’t enough and neither are his 22 career games though two seasons. But it’s so easy to see why the Bears fell for him before the 2016 draft.

Everybody’s favorite Chicago radio duo — Waddle & Silvy — spent the draft with John Fox and one of the biggest reports Silvy came back with was that Fox still loves Floyd. Say what you will about Fox, but he has always had a great eye for defensive talent. The fact that he had Floyd for two seasons and still praises him off the record just sticks with me. I can’t shake it.

Floyd looks the part. Players don’t get bonus points for appearing to be good, but he has shown enough flashes in two years that it isn’t unreasonable to think a double-digit sack season is coming. We’ve seen him explode off the line, dip his shoulder and take the quarterback down. We’ve seen the blazing speed, the incredible athleticism and all of the other raw skills that really, really good pass rushers have.

After the 2018 season, the Bears are going to have to decide whether or not to pick up Floyd’s fifth-year option. That will be a huge guaranteed payday that he’s going to want to secure. He has the talent and you shouldn’t be surprised to see him explode.

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