By Chris Emma–
LAKE FOREST, Ill. (CBS) — With such great promise, Bears cornerback Kyle Fuller dramatically arrived on the scene.
Dropping back in zone coverage, Fuller jumped a route and picked off Colin Kaepernick, the second pick of his second career game. One week later, he leaped in front of a Jets receiver and intercepted Geno Smith in the end zone, a game-changing play in the Monday night spotlight.
Early on, Fuller seemed to be everything the Bears had hoped when former general manager Phil Emery selected him with the No. 14 pick of the 2014 draft. But since those three picks in his first three games, Fuller hasn’t looked like a first-rounder. Switching from zone schemes to Vic Fangio’s 3-4 certainly complicated his second season. Still, Fuller had been inconsistent, unproductive and now unavailable.
Fuller’s career with the Bears may go three and out, despite his first-round selection and the promise that came from the previous regime. Wednesday brought the Bears shutting down Fuller on injured reserve, as he never played this season after an August knee scope. Consider it a major disappointment.
“I just listen to my body,” Fuller said Wednesday. “It tells me what I can and can’t do. Right now I can’t go out there and play. That’s the line, I guess.”
The Bears’ sentiments toward Fuller were made clear by the straightest shooter at Halas Hall, Fangio, who never got a true evaluation of the cornerback.
Speaking Tuesday, Fangio made it clear that all that held Fuller back from returning and making an impression this season was indeed Fuller. He was given medical clearance to return but wasn’t comfortable being activated. Fangio wanted to see him eager to get back on the game field.
He didn’t see it.
“Any time a guy is hurt, there’s three stages to get back to the field,” Fangio said. “One is you got to get medical clearance. Two, the player’s got to say he’s ready to go, he feels confident and is champing at the bit to go play. And then the coaches get involved and see if he’s better than what the other choices are, and if he really is back to being ready to play. A has happened, B hasn’t, so C is a non-issue.”
Replied Fuller: “That was definitely not true. I think I’ve been communicating with the team and just letting them know how much I want to be back, showing them I’m working and trying to get back. It really just came down to not quite being ready to play. I think that’s all it was.”
Fuller was expected to be back early in the season after his knee scope, which was timed for a potential Week 1 return. The Bears even listed him as questionable in each of the first three games. They expected him back. Instead, he ended up on IR. Their designation for his return nine weeks later came and went with nothing.
Fuller stated that he would like to be back, even claiming comfort playing in a man scheme. That decision is out of his hands, especially after failing to get on the field this season. General manager Ryan Pace and coach John Fox can begin to make new plans at cornerback if they so choose.
Closure could come in the offseason, marking Fuller as the Bears’ latest first-round disappointment. He has one year left on his rookie deal, The cupboards Emery left for Pace are mostly empty. His drafts only made the current regime’s job even more demanding.
The Bears initially had their sights set on defensive tackle Aaron Donald in that 2014 draft. He went one pick before to the Rams and has been selected to the Pro Bowl in each of his first three seasons, with another nomination Tuesday night. Oh, what could have been if the Bears lost one fewer game in their 8-8 season of 2013.
Fuller’s demise couldn’t have been expected when jumped in to pick off Kaepernick in his second NFL game. Then, it seemed like the Bears may have had their future at cornerback.
After this lost season — one in which Fuller wasn’t ‘champing at the bit to return in the eyes of the Bears — it seems his time in Chicago is nearing its end.