Previewing The Man in the Middle

| July 12th, 2023

We’re officially 2 weeks out from the start of Bears’ training camp, and that means we’re 14 days away from obsessively scrolling Twitter (and other social media platforms) for updates on Chicago Bears’ practices. With that in mind, let’s spend the next two weeks re-familiarizing ourselves with the Bears’ new additions so that, come camp time, we know the names to watch for.

To start, let’s look at…

Tremaine Edmunds

Backstory: Edmunds was the 16th overall pick of the 2018 draft and, ironically enough, was constantly compared to Roquan Smith pre-draft due their differences in style & perceived value. Edmunds had the size, length, and speed that made linebacking coaches salivate but whose instincts needed serious development whereas Roquan was seen as the ready-made modern WILL LB prototype despite being undersized.

It’s a bizarre twist of fate that the Bears effectively traded one standout first-round linebacker for another (while netting draft picks in the process) in their journey from Roquan to Edmunds, but based on Matt Eberflus’ penchant for size and length in his coverage linebackers I can’t help feeling like Edmunds will get featured within Chicago’s defense in ways that Alan Williams didn’t want to feature Smith.

I’m not normally one for paying Linebackers at the rate you could pay a formidable defensive lineman, but physical freaks like Edmunds  always command a hefty price tag — just watch him move in open space and you’ll see rare physical gifts on display. Suffice it to say, you can’t teach those traits — when pursuing a ball-carrier side-to-side, he’s a nightmare.

Where he wins: Tremaine Edmunds’ development as a coverage linebacker has been nothing short of outstanding — Edmunds looked completely lost in space as recently as 2 years ago, so give Sean McDermott serious kudos for getting through to the young backer.

Watch the film reel below for some great examples of Edmunds moving in open space & clogging the middle of the field — he’s got fluid hips that let him change direction as-needed and displays a nice understanding of where he needs to move to defend against the routes Kansas City attacks with. Remember, Edmunds doesn’t have eyes in the back of his head, so every time you see him seamlessly step between Mahomes and an open receiver that’s evidence of both his pre-game film study and recently-developed coverage instincts shining through. Also: he’s a hell of a blitzer (not pictured in this reel).

Call me a fan, but Edmunds’ progression as a player speaks to a strong work ethic that should make him an instant leader in a Bears’ defensive locker room that could use a leader or two.

Where he struggles: You’d think that a human as big and fast as Edmunds is would be a nightmare for offensive lineman at the second level, but Edmunds doesn’t like getting dirty in the run game and can create problems when fitting the run. He doesn’t sift through traffic naturally and often ‘catches’ the runner rather than driving his shoulder through the play. All of this is a departure from his attitude with a clear path to the ball-carrier — he’s fast and violent when he’s unblocked, but when he’s accounted for in the run fit he can disappear.

Buffalo accounted for this by pairing Edmunds with the violent Matt Milano, so the Bears will need similar play from new addition TJ Edwards (as well as SAM linebacker Jack Sanborn) in order to fit downhill runs. Edmunds’ coverage ability and side-to-side speed ultimately make up for his lack of violence at the point of attack, but with the Bears’ defensive line likely to struggle at keeping blockers out of the linebackers’ faces I’m curious to see how Edmunds will react to the occasional extra man in his face.

Hopefully he comes prepared for war in the trenches (alternatively, hopefully Gervon Dexter Sr. makes life hell for blockers attempting to reach the 2nd level).

Overall: Edmunds’ signing has Matt Eberflus’ fingerprints all over it and I’m excited to see how Edmunds gets deployed within the Bears’ 2023 defense. Flus’ use of Roquan Smith puzzled me last year (I was surprised he wasn’t asked to play MIKE LB, the more coverage-focused position) but that 2022 season was enough of a mess that I’m willing to issue a blanket pass and start fresh in 2023 with a clean slate all around.

Edmunds, in my opinion, will feel like a boom-or-bust signing throughout the 2023 season — I think there’ll be some games where he’s a dominant force that seems to be everywhere on the field at once, but I also think there’ll be games where he’s physically bullied in the run game and makes one too many mistakes in coverage. But so long as the weeks that he’s ‘on’ outweigh the weeks that he’s ‘off’, the Bears’ defense will benefit from having a sideline-to-sideline freak in a day and age of horizontal running games.

Honestly? I can’t wait to see him play. He should be a lot of fun to watch.

Your Turn: Now that we’re so close to camp, what do you think of the Tremaine Edmunds move?

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