By Chris Emma—
(CBS) It’s not often players refer to the business side of football, but Bears cornerback Prince Amukamara mentioned it in passing recently when speaking of teammate Kyle Fuller.
The Bears declined Fuller’s fifth-year option this past offseason, which made this a contract season. Amukamara knows well what this is like because he, too, is playing for a job this season, just as he did a year ago in Jacksonville.
“I hope he breaks the bank after this year,” Amukamara said.
Fuller is on his way to a decent pay day, whether that’s in Chicago or elsewhere. As it is now, his emergence has bolstered a secondary that’s playing inspired this season.
Every starter in the secondary is playing with something to prove. Though the 25-year-old Fuller wouldn’t admit to contract incentive, he sure looks like a different player this season. Amukamara knows it because he’s in the same place. Both have been quick with their breaks in coverage and attacking the football fearlessly.
During Chicago’s victory in Baltimore two weekends ago, it was Fuller who raced to Ravens receiver Chris Moore and broke up a pass that landed in the arms of Adrian Amos, who took the interception and returned it 90 yards for the score. On Sunday, it was Amukamara breaking up a pass directed to Panthers receiver Kelvin Benjamin. The deflection lofted to rookie safety Eddie Jackson, who raced 76 yards for his second return touchdown of the game.
A defense that finished dead last in takeaways with 11 all last season has six in its last two contests, including three returned for a touchdown.
“We’re just growing,” Jackson said Sunday. “Everyone’s getting comfortable with each other. Still a young defense – a lot of new guys, a lot of new faces – so we still just got to keep getting comfortable.”
Jackson is developing into exactly what the Bears had hoped. Coach John Fox on Monday gave credit to the organization’s scouting department for realizing the talent of Jackson, a fourth-round pick, and believing in him. Thirty-one other teams passed on Jackson’s potential after he suffered a broken left leg a year to the date of Sunday, when he won the Bears an important game.
The Bears selected Jackson because they were looking for that play-making presence in center field. After a long rehabilitation that continued into the summer, Jackson earned his place as a starter at safety. He joined veteran Quintin Demps by beating out the incumbent Amos, who had started 30 games the last two seasons.
When Demps was placed on injured reserve with a fractured forearm, the Bears turned back to Amos, who was also ready to improve his game.
Amos had zero interceptions before traveling back to his home of Baltimore. Always an aggressive player against the run, Amos wanted to take that to making plays on the football.
“I’m really a self-motivated type of person,” Amos said last week. “I made my mind up that when I get in there, I’m going to play my game. I feel like I’ve been playing my game. In years past, I’ve played my game, but I needed to make more big-time plays. More plays on the ball, plays that can help our defense out. When we’re losing, we need to find more turnovers. I feel like that’s got to be a focus for us moving forward.”
Takeaways have made the difference for the Bears, now 3-4 on the season after two straight wins. Both games would’ve been lost if not for plays made in the secondary.
For a unit playing inspired football, there are personal motivations that are underscoring team victories.