Chicago Bears at Cincinnati Bengals: Five Things to Watch For

4 of 6

Sep 14, 2014; Santa Clara, CA, USA; Chicago Bears Kyle Fuller (23) runs after intercepting San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick (7) (not pictured) in the fourth quarter of their NFL football game at Levis Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Lance Iversen-USA TODAY Sports

What is happening to Kyle Fuller?

In 2014, I was so confused by the Bears’ draft needs that I changed my mind hourly on who they should draft. Worst run defense in the league? Check. They needed a defensive tackle and middle linebacker. One of the worst pass rushes in the league? Check, needed a defensive end. Aging cornerbacks who can’t cover anyone anymore? Check, needed a cornerback. The worst safeties in the league? Check. Needed safeties.

It was as if the entire Bears defense from 2012 was erased from the roster, leaving them with holes – not holes, craters – at every position. I could barely patch-up their defense in a video game, let alone real life.

Still, I was surprised when they went with a cornerback by drafting Kyle Fuller, and I was surprised they picked him over Darqueze Denanrd and Bradley Roby. I thought the embarrassing run defense or the three years of Chris Conte and Major Wright at safety would drive them in a different direction. I was wrong.

Nevertheless, Fuller’s first three games in 2014 were great. He and Cutler won the Week 2 San Francisco game for the Bears, as Fuller snagged two second-half interceptions, and Fuller grabbed another pick in Week 3 against the Jets. It looked like the Bears finally had a great young cornerback to build around.

Dec 15, 2014; Chicago, IL, USA; New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham (80) runs against Chicago Bears cornerback Kyle Fuller (23) during their game at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

Fuller backslid the rest of the season though, as he battled nagging injuries and was often stuck covering the best receiver on the other team as Tim Jennings regressed following a series of solid seasons.

Still, Fuller was expected to improve this offseason. Instead, he’s looked like the same guy the Bears saw for the last 13 games last season: Vulnerable in coverage but a solid tackler who has a bit of a ball hawk in him. Except that in the first two games, we haven’t seen the ball hawk. He’s just been good enough to make the tackle after the receiver beats him.

The nadir was against the Colts, when T.Y. Hilton, admittedly a great receiver, toasted Fuller to a crisp on a deep ball. Fuller, apparently deciding he hadn’t done enough damage yet, then taunted Hilton, tacking 15 yards onto the long-gainer.

For the Bears’ defense to have a chance at improvement this year, Fuller’s got to improve. He’s going to be matched up again with the best receivers on opposing teams, so it’s not going to get easier for him. I’m not giving up on him — that’s why the question at the top is “what’s happening to,” rather than “what happened to” — but it’s long past time to see Fuller grow.

But he’s had a season and an offseason to grow and improve. It should start to show, even if the improvement is only minimal. He’ll likely be matched up some of the time against AJ Green on Saturday. Time to show again that Bears have a cornerback they can build around.

Next: Positional Battles