By Jeff Joniak-
(CBS) The Bears (3-3) host the Dolphins (2-3) on Sunday at Soldier Field. Here’s what’s on my mind heading into the contest.
Injuries have slowed down linebacker Darryl Sharpton in a career spanning five seasons, and that’s about all that slows him down. As we all witnessed Sunday in Atlanta, Sharpton plays the game at one speed: breakneck. He blitzed on the first snap and kept on coming, zeroing in on Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, the running backs and even the receivers. Sharpton blitzed like a linebacker should, with reckless abandon and aggression.
He didn’t make every play, as that “hair on fire” effort worked against him in over-running some plays, but he was fun to watch. Sharpton called the defense after getting prepped by linebackers coach Reggie Herring, who also impressively prepared Khaseem Greene and rookie Christian Jones to get the job done. Herring is being applauded in that Bears locker room for a job well done.
With the Texans, Sharpton dealt with a quad injury in 2011, a hip injury in 2012 and a high ankle sprain at Redskins training camp in the second week of August. He’s only 26 and could prove to be a valuable in-season addition by Phil Emery’s pro personnel department.
I keep writing about Kyle Fuller, and I might write him every week. The rookie Bears cornerback is one of the premier first-year defenders in the league. He was the sixth defensive player taken and the second cornerback behind Oklahoma State’s Justin Gilbert, who went to the Cleveland Browns.
Of those to go before Fuller, Gilbert isn’t starting. Defensive tackle Aaron Donald of the Rams is averaging about 25 snaps a game, has one sack and generally has become one of the most productive linemen in St. Louis. He was drafted one spot ahead of Fuller. Anthony Barr starts at linebacker in Minnesota, where defensive coordinator George Edwards claims the UCLA product is as good a rookie linebacker as he’s ever coached. Barr has two sacks. In Oakland, linebacker Khalil Mack is getting high praise for his run defense.
Fuller just shut down two big receivers in back-to-back weeks in Carolina’s Kelvin Benjamin and the Roddy White-Julio Jones combo in Atlanta. Fuller has been targeted 40 times (a top 10 figure through Week 6) and has permitted only 20 completions (one for a touchdown) with six pass breakups, three forced fumbles and three interceptions, according to STATS. The underrated aspect of his game is his tackling in the run game, and right now is tied for second on the Bears in solo tackles with 22.
One of the more difficult pass rushers to deal with in the NFL is Miami’s Cameron Wake. Lightning quick off the snap, Wake has the ability to bend the corner on a right tackle and will present a significant challenge for Chicago’s Jordan Mills. WBBM Radio analyst Tom Thayer has studied Wake and explained that the moment of concern comes when the Pro Bowler shrinks his frame in such an unorthodox fashion that it’s difficult to get your hands on him.
“Wake gives you no target when you need to stop him,” Thayer said.
The 6-foot-3 Wake creates leverage by getting small while racing the edge. His get-off against the Packers was swift, resulting in 1.5 sacks of quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
“He drags you into the most difficult position, gaining ground in the most extreme moment of his rush, while the tackle is reluctantly giving ground in his set,” Thayer said.
Mills is coming off a rough outing in Atlanta, where he had two false starts and permitted a sack for the third time in six games.
From pressuring the pocket-passing Ryan, the Bears defense now goes back to preparing for some read-option and Miami’s Ryan Tannehill. The Dolphins dabble in it due in part to coordinator Bill Lazor, who coached Philadelphia’s quarterbacks in 2013 under coach Chip Kelly.
Tannehill is an outstanding athlete and a converted Texas A&M wide receiver who ran a 4.61 40-yard dash in the combine three years ago. However, he looked faster than that on a 40-yard run against the Packers last week. In the broader view, Tannehill also has good arm strength, but his accuracy dips with some of his questionable decisions. In 37 games, he’s thrown 35 interceptions. His receivers struggle to get much after the catch, due in part to his off-target throws related to questionable footwork.
Jeff Joniak is the play-by-play announcer for the Bears broadcasts on WBBM Newsradio 780. Follow him on Twitter @JeffJoniak.