By Chris Emma—
CHICAGO (CBS) – Right as the ball was snapped, Bears edge rusher Leonard Floyd took a quick step forward and went right at Broncos tackle Menelik Watson on Thursday night..
Floyd showed something rarely seen in his rookie season — he attacked with confidence. Floyd used a quick move with his hands and beat Watson, then got to Broncos quarterback Trevor Siemian and pummeled him to the ground.
On a night rookie quarterback Mitchell Trubisky stole the show, there was another first-round pick who looked pretty impressive Thursday night, when the Broncos defeated the Bears, 24-17, at Soldier Field.
After an incomplete rookie season, Floyd has returned to action in 2017 as a more dangerous as a pass rusher. He’s becoming a more complete product, which is exactly what general manager Ryan Pace has hoped of his No. 9 overall selection in 2016.
Floyd arrived to the Bears last season undersized and needing time to develop as an edge rusher. He looked nothing like teammates Pernell McPhee, Willie Young or Lamarr Houston in terms of physical stature. Still, Floyd finished with seven sacks in 12 games. Those came mostly with quickness around the edge.
Now, Floyd is noticeably bulked up and capable of winning battles with his power. He has quick hands and a stronger upper body to beat tackles and get to the quarterback.
Even defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, who was critical of Floyd last season, is seeing the growth.
“It just shows up that he’s able to build upon each day’s work,” Fangio said of Floyd last week. “He’s had a good progression here up to date. I think he’s getting better and better at the little things, the things he thought were kind of hard last year, may come easy for him.
“He’s got really good potential. I think he’ll be a very good player for us and looked upon as a very good player in the league. If you’re looking for statistical numbers, I can’t put a finger on that. But he’ll be a damn good player.”
Amos getting challenged at safety
The early rise of Adrian Amos, a 2015 fifth-round pick turned two-year starter at safety, was a pleasant development for the Bears.
Amos found his way to the Bears’ secondary as a rookie and played a steady safety role by never getting beat. Fangio worked cautiously with his positioning, allowing Amos to play comfortably in the defensive backfield. He showed strong instincts in the run game, hitting the point of attack hard.
But to this point, Amos is defined as a safety by his zero interceptions in 31 NFL games. He hasn’t even accidentally run into a pick. While there’s certainly an element of luck involved, a veteran like Quintin Demps who recorded six picks last season knows well that taking away the football comes with a knack.
When the Bears’ first-team defense took the field Thursday, there was Amos alongside Demps as the starting safety. He’s being given the first crack with the first team – similar to veteran defensive end Mitch Unrein – but how long will he remain?
The second-team defense brought out Deon Bush and Eddie Jackson, both of whom are candidates to replace Amos as the starter. A fourth-round pick out of Alabama, Jackson has been particularly impressive during the early part of training camp. While his abilities at the point of attack are still in question, Jackson has shown he can play a strong center field.
A fourth-round pick in 2016, Bush had a disappointing rookie season and lingered far down the depth chart. He feels like a different player this time around.
“It’s always a huge learning curve,” Bush said. “I feel like Year 1 to Year 2, it’s a bigger jump (in preparation). You know more, you get to play faster.”
Harold Jones-Quartey could factor into the mix, too, but he’s currently dealing with an ankle injury suffered early in camp. Jackson may be the leading candidate to start alongside Demps, though Bush will also have a say.
As for Amos, it’s worth wondering whether the Bears will give him one more chance to produce.
Cohen looks to be Bears’ punt return man
There’s no need to coach confidence in rookie running back Tarik Cohen, as special teams coordinator Jeff Rodgers said recently. The 5-foot-6 Cohen is a giant in his own mind.
Confidence is revealed on the football field with Cohen, who has a great trust in his abilities to find green. It’s exactly why Rodgers has entrusted him as the Bears’ new punt returner.
Cohen was the first punt returner on the field Thursday, a sign that he could be the primary player to fill that role in the regular season. The rookie Jackson is likely Cohen’s primary competition, though the Bears may want to avoid using Jackson there if he is the starter at safety.
What makes Cohen ideal as a punt returner is his quick first move to make a man miss, then the ability to hit the edge with speed.
“He’s into it,” Rodgers said. “It’s really important. I’ve heard (Bears running backs coach Curtis) Modkins describe him as hungry. I’d echo the same thing. Guys like him have a chip on their shoulder, and they’re out to prove that they belong and be effective in this league.”
Extra points: Hroniss Grasu worked as the second-team center, though he didn’t work alongside Cody Whitehair at left guard. The Bears didn’t show their altered first-team offensive line, using Tom Compton as the starter in Kyle Long’s place. Perhaps that’s a good sign that Long is indeed on target for Week 1, as the Bears have indicated. … At linebacker, Nick Kwiatkoski started in place of Danny Trevathan, who didn’t play while being eased back to action from a knee injury. Lamarr Houston, who also recovered from surgery this offseason, didn’t play either. … Kyle Fuller and Johnthan Banks were used as the Bears’ second-team cornerbacks. The two could be competing against each other for the final spot at cornerback. … The Bears return to work in Bourbonnais on Saturday.