By Chris Emma–
LAKE FOREST, Ill. (CBS) — Without any hesitation, the Bears backed edge rusher Leonard Floyd as a future cornerstone to their defense. They even moved up two spots to the ninth pick of this past draft, ensuring he would be available.
Expectations are high for Floyd’s career in Chicago, rightfully so — that’s what comes with being a top-10 pick. Bears general manager Ryan Pace wanted Floyd, and coach John Fox saw the Georgia product as an edge rusher for his team’s future. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio was pounding the table for Floyd.
The Bears got their way, with Floyd in camp as part of their rising roster. But what role will Floyd play this season?
Until Floyd can either add size or prove his worth as an undersized edge rusher, earning playing time will be an uphill battle.
“I’m sure there’s going to be a play or two every game where you’re going to say, ‘Jeez, he’s not heavy enough’ or ‘he’s too light,'” Fangio said of Floyd. “Hopefully, there will be a few plays every game, too, that we say, ‘Well, jeez, we didn’t have anybody who could have done that in the past.’”
During OTAs and minicamp, the Bears didn’t suit up in full pads. Floyd didn’t get his chance to rush against offensive tackle Bobby Massie and try to break the edge. This is what Pace, Fox and Fangio want to see.
Floyd, 24, played a jack-of-all-trades role at linebacker in college. He was a large presence in the middle of an SEC defense but didn’t produce the eye-popping numbers that typically come from a top-10 pick. Still, the Bears were confident enough in their ability to develop Floyd.
The Bears have Floyd setting hourly alarms to add nutrition and pack on pounds. Floyd has struggled to add weight, so the organization is trying to help him along. Floyd said he has added “quite a few” pounds but wouldn’t add an exact number. The Bears would like him at least more than 240 pounds.
“It’s going pretty well,” Floyd said. “We still got the game plan going, every other hour.”
Never one to hold back his honest assessment, Fangio came out recently and said that the weight component wasn’t a concern. He believes in what Floyd can do as a natural athlete. After all, Floyd boasts great speed and explosiveness. How that translates to the NFL remains to be seen.
Bears outside linebacker Willie Young has taken Floyd under his wing and is already a believer in the rookie. Young said it’s “BS” that Floyd’s weight will be a concern.
“The sky’s the limit for him,” Young said. “He’s very explosive, very fast. He has an idea of how to use his body.”
Last season, Young was requesting a trade from Chicago to reclaim a spot as a 4-3 defensive end. This offseason, he requested a contract extension, which has been discussed between his party and the Bears front office. Consider that a sudden turn of events, especially after the Bears drafted Floyd.
Young is willing to work with Floyd and help foster him along, but he’s looking likely to earn playing time over the rookie.
The Bears will play Pernell McPhee for the majority of reps at one outside linebacker spot, and Young and Lamarr Houston — the Bears’ two leaders in sacks last season — will get plenty of playing time, too.
While the Bears believe in Floyd as their future at outside linebacker, he has an uphill battle to earn reps this season.
“Just take it one day at a time, try to get better every day,” Floyd said. “Every time I step out on the field.”