Bears Young Players to Watch – Defense

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports /
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Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports /

With the Bears record at just 2-6 and already an extreme longshot to make the playoffs, the rest of the season should be focused on developing core players for the future on both sides of the ball. The Bears have had so many injuries this season, that they have been forced to put players on the field who are not necessarily ready for NFL action. The inexperience of many Bears players is a big reason their record is so poor this season, but the NFL snaps should speed up their learning curve and benefit the Bears in the near future.

The Bears should have some of their injured players returning to the lineup soon, but with the playoffs a pipe dream, the young players should still see plenty of snaps. You never know with John Fox, but hopefully he realizes that the rest of the 2016 season should be about player development.

I covered the young offensive players to watch in my last post and today I’ve covered the defensive players worth keeping an eye on in the second half of the 2016 season.  If there is anyone you think I missed, let me know in the comments.

Defensive players to watch

OLB Leonard Floyd -An obvious choice, as the Bears 2017 first round pick is a key piece of the Bears future. After a disappointing first quarter of the season, spent mostly on the bench with injuries, Floyd has started to make an impact. He has three sacks, a forced fumble, and a touchdown over the last two weeks and is starting to look like a guy worth selecting with the 9th overall pick in the draft.

Floyd does not possess the strength needed yet to consistently win verse double teams or even against some of the stronger tackles in the league, but his burst off the ball is elite and he’s starting to flash the ability to win most 1-1 battles. If Floyd can continue to improve during the second half of the season, the Bears may finally have a pass rusher that opposing teams have to game plan for.

Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports
Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports /

DE Jonathan Bullard – The 3rd round pick from this year’s draft is finally starting to get some consistent snaps on the d-line and is coming off his best game of the season against the Vikings. Bullard’s best trait coming out of college was his burst off the ball, but he hadn’t really shown it until week eight against the Vikings.

His stat line doesn’t reflect it, but Bullard was disruptive for most of the Vikings game. He got in the backfield often against both the run and pass and hopefully earned more playing time in the second half.

With Eddie Goldman at nose tackle and Akiem Hicks at defensive end, the Bears have two of the three starting d-line spots locked up, but the other defensive end spot is up for grabs among Bullard, Cornelius Washington, and journeyman Mitch Unrein. Bullard should get plenty of snaps in the 2nd half of the season to see if he can lock down the starting gig in 2017.

DL Cornelius Washington – At 27 years old he’s not technically a young player but due to injuries, Washington has only played one full NFL season (2014) in the four years since he was drafted in the 6th round of the 2013 draft. He’s finally healthy again and has been contributing this season in the Bears defensive line rotation.

Washington has two sacks already this year in limited playing time and has flashed explosive pass rush ability in three consecutive preseasons. He has the versatility to play inside or out in Vic Fangio’s hybrid scheme and has a natural ability to generate a pass rush, a trait that’s in short supply among Bears D-lineman.

Washington is in the last year of his rookie contract and the Bears have a tough decision to make on whether they are going to bring him back in 2017. His injury riddled career makes him a risky move, but there is no doubting Washington’s ability to rush the passer. How he plays the second half of the 2016 season may determine his future with the Bears.