By Chris Emma–
(CBS) To this point, the unsatisfying Bears tenure of cornerback Kyle Fuller can be defined its early promise the demise from there.
Fuller burst onto the scene in 2014 with a combined three interceptions in two primetime games. He had two picks in a Sunday night upset in San Francisco, then he followed with a Monday night interception in New York. Fans in Chicago saw the potential for Fuller to become the next great Bears cornerback.
More than two years later, Fuller is simply a major question mark. He had a routine knee procedure last August and managed to miss the entire season while handling his recovery. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio called Fuller out in December, saying that he wasn’t “champing at the bit” to return after being granted medical clearance. It became known around the league that Fuller is on thin ice in Chicago.
“I hope to see Kyle healthy and out there running around, moving like he’s 100 percent,” Fangio said in May. “We’ll go from there.”
Fuller is again healthy as he heads into a crucial training camp that starts next week. The Bears declined to pick up his fifth-year option this offseason, meaning Fuller set on track to become a free agent next March.
First comes making this Bears roster, which will be a challenge given how the team has moved on from him already. General manager Ryan Pace inherited Fuller from his predecessor, Phil Emery. Given that Fuller was a first-round pick (14th overall) in 2014, Pace has exercised patience in hoping Fuller would pan out. But that patience has worn thin.
Pace went out and signed cornerbacks Marcus Cooper and Prince Amukamara, the likely starters on each end. Cooper earned a three-year deal and stability, while Amukamara is on a one-year contract and out to prove himself.
Then there’s Fuller, who had six interceptions across his first two NFL seasons — three of which came in those second and third career games. He has flashed potential at times, including toward the end of the 2015 campaign, but for the most part, Fuller has been a major disappointment.
From the Bears’ perspective, the inconsistency of Fuller hurts more given that they missed out on three-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Aaron Donald by one pick. Three-time Pro Bowl offensive tackle Zack Martin then followed a pick later. Safety Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix, a 2016 Pro Bowler, was passed up by the Bears for Fuller and fell to the rival Packers at the 21st pick.
Fuller faces major competition at cornerback entering camp. The additions of Cooper and Amukamara bolster the position with veteran names. B.W. Webb was also added to the group. Cre’Von LeBlanc and Bryce Callahan will battle to be the nickel corner, though LeBlanc showed potential on the outside. Deiondre’ Hall could prove capable of a role in his second season after dealing with an ankle sprain last season.
Then there’s Johnthan Banks, who like Fuller has seen troubles in his career. A second-round pick in 2013, Banks had seven interceptions his first two seasons in Tampa Bay. The Buccaneers released him early last season, and then the Lions did the same after just two games in Detroit.
Like Fuller, Banks is getting an important shot to prove himself with the Bears. Amid a 3-13 season in 2016, the Bears brought in Banks and got an important evaluation of him in practice. They felt enough to give him a one-year deal in March.
There’s no lack of confidence for Banks, who believes in what he can still be.
“Most definitely, the sky’s the limit,” Banks said of himself in December. “I know I can play. They know I can play. Obviously, they wouldn’t have brought me here if they didn’t think so.
“I just want to get out there and show them what I can do. They know I can play, I know I can play. I just need to get the opportunities out there and go do it.”
The Bears moved into the 2016 regular season with six cornerbacks on their 53-man roster, and that should be expected again in 2017. Cooper, Amukamara and Hall are locks, and LeBlanc and Callahan should stick, too. Sherrick McManis is the longest-tenured Bears player because of his special teams value, and he should remain on the roster as well.
Come the end of training camp, the Bears will have to decide whether Fuller or Banks are worth keeping around.