By Chris Emma—
(CBS) Leonard Floyd entered the NFL undersized and often overwhelmed, a top-10 pick in 2016 in whom the Bears held high belief yet a young player with great strides to make.
Midway through his sophomore season, Floyd has come a long way. He has five sacks in eight games this season, all coming in the last five contests. Staying healthy thus far has been the first step for Floyd, and first-year outside linebackers coach Brandon Staley has seen the progress in their first months working together.
The key for Floyd, according to Staley, comes in his preparation.
“He has been blessed with a lot of gifts, but he’s been able to showcase those gifts in a lot bigger way this year because his body and his mind are ready to go,” Staley said. “For any young player, that’s so crucial in their development – how much are they willing to give to improve.”
Floyd missed four games during his rookie season, the first two with a calf injury and two later in the year due to a pair of concussions suffered in separate games. The concussions were frightening ordeals that left Floyd with lingering effects into January and had the Bears concerned about the well-being of their young linebacker.
Floyd, 25, has moved past the injuries of last season and taken steps in his development. Though he was shut out in the sack category the first three games of 2017, defensive coordinator Vic Fangio noted that Floyd was close to making the big plays. He has since come on strong, just as Fangio predicted.
Opposing offenses take note of where Floyd is lined up before a play. After entering last season as a rotation player, he’s now the key edge rusher to the Bears’ defense. Floyd has found success through repetition.
Staley sees that Floyd is becoming better anticipating opposing blocking schemes and understanding how to use his leverage and angles properly.
“The more experiences that he has, the more aggressive that he’s going to be and the more he’s going to be able to counter those double-teams and some of those designer protection plans for him,” Staley said. “As we tell him, it’s a great compliment to you that people see you that way. But at the same time, now it’s your job to beat those schemes. The more he sees those, the better he’s going to be.”
When the Bears drafted Floyd with the ninth pick in 2016, it was Fangio who said they selected an Aaron Rodgers hunter. Staley noted that Floyd has learned to tailor his rushes to the competition – attacking the pocket that provides Rodgers comfort and using his speed on the edge to pressure the mobile Cam Newton.
No two NFL quarterbacks are alike, which presents Floyd with yet another challenge in adapting to the NFL game. He must not only counter opposing blockers but also learn the tendencies of each quarterback and offense.
“We’re pleased with where he’s at, we know he can improve, and he knows that, too,” Staley said. “We’re working every day to get him where he’s capable of being.”