By Chris Emma–
LAKE FOREST, Ill. (CBS) — When it comes to gathering quotes, Bears coach John Fox can be a tough customer. His objective is to give as little information as possible, concealing topics he feels don’t have to leave Halas Hall.
Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio operates differently. He’s a straight shooter. So, when asked about the preseason performance of rookie linebacker Leonard Floyd, whom the Bears moved up to draft at No. 9 in April, Fangio didn’t exactly give a glowing assessment.
“The best word has been choppy and inconsistent more from an availability standpoint,” Fangio said, referring to the time Floyd missed during the preseason.
“He’s about as ready as he can be, not if he had been all available in camp. But he’s ready to go.”
Don’t hold back, Vic.
Fangio even admitted that he held Floyd out for the Bears’ third preseason game because he wasn’t comfortable with the time missed that week. Fangio feels that Floyd encountered a stunt in growth.
Meanwhile, Floyd feels differently than Fangio, as he’s is confident in himself. Ever since joining the organization, he’s come two pounds away from his targeted goal for weight, which general manager Ryan Pace previously stated would be in the 240-pound range.
With Sunday’s season opener fast approaching, Floyd did agree with one assessment from Fangio.
“I’m as ready as I can be,” Floyd said. “Whenever my number is called, I’m going to go out there and do whatever it takes to help us win.”
Floyd’s first day of training camp ended suddenly as he battled an illness. There were also knee and hamstring injuries that kept Floyd from an important time of development.
Needless to say, Fangio was left frustrated.
“I don’t think he’s in the greatest condition right now,” Fangio continued on. “And I think for a young guy like himself, playing 60 to 70 plays in an NFL game, he’s going to find it vastly different than the 80 plays he might have played in college. OK? He’s up against men now, and he’s found that out quickly.”
Added veteran Bears linebacker Jerrell Freeman: “There’s no substitute for experience. But he’s a quick learner, quick study. You talk to him, you can tell he’s getting this.
“He’s not one of those prima donna first-rounders. He gets in there, he grinds and works with us. It’s good to have a rookie come in with an open mind ready to work.”
The 24-year-old Floyd is certainly coachable. He’s eager to adjust into this new role, working as an NFL edge rusher in Fangio’s 3-4 defense. When the Bears made the pick of Floyd, Fangio was “pounding the table.” The hope was that Floyd could become what Aldon Smith was for Fangio’s 49ers defense.
Right now, Floyd projects to play a role in this defense, despite Fangio less-than-glowing assessment. Pernell McPhee won’t play for at least six weeks, and Lamarr Houston and Willie Young are both former defensive ends who are better suited off the edge than in coverage.
Floyd presents the threat of speed and athleticism that can beat a tackle around the edge and also boasts the ability to cover downfield. He won’t be an every-down outside linebacker as rookie, though that wasn’t expected.
Pressure will follow the Bears and their first-round pick during his early years in Chicago, because he was considered a risky selection. Sunday brings the start of his career.
“I don’t feel pressure at all,” Floyd said. “I know me. I’m going to go out and give it the best that I can. That’s all I can do.”
Surely, Floyd missed plenty during his time on the sidelines of this preseason. It was an important opportunity to learn Fangio’s defense. He also could have used experience strapping on the pads and blitzing a veteran like Bobby Massie, learning how to use his finesse against 6-foot-6 and 320 pounds.
However, the Bears believe in what Floyd’s future holds. This 2016 season brings relative unknown as to what Floyd can do, though he will certainly play a key role within Fangio’s defense.
Floyd has what it takes to develop as a young player — Fangio can agree with that much. But he will be tested as a rookie tasked to a key role.