By Chris Emma—
(CBS) On a zone-read option, 6-foot-5, 245-pound Panthers quarterback Cam Newton ran wide of his line looking for the edge. Newton had just turned upfield when he got taken out low and flipped to his shoulder.
The big hit wasn’t enough for Bears cornerback Kyle Fuller, who swept around Panthers tight end Ed Dickson and let Newton know about the tackle. That play stuck with Bears defensive backs coach Ed Donatell as he reflected on a strong first half to a pivotal season for Fuller. It was part of the newfound swagger elevating his game.
“He’s just more confident because he’s made some plays, he’s verified plays and he feels good about himself,” Donatell said this week at Halas Hall. “He’s working really hard. That’s really what’s happened there.
“(Fuller is) building that confidence through repetition, performance and success.”
A first-round pick in 2014, Fuller is playing through the final year of his rookie contract after the Bears declined his fifth-year option. They may have done Fuller a favor, because he has bounced back well in 2017.
Fuller missed the entire 2016 season recovering from a knee procedure in training camp. General manager Ryan Pace didn’t have the faith that Fuller, the final first-round pick for Phil Emery, could respond like this.
Though Fuller doesn’t have an interception yet, he has posted 34 tackles and eight pass breakups in eight games. Donatell sees the improvement that Fuller is showing with his ability to pursue the play – either a pass or run – with greater confidence.
“He has come back with his spirit and emotion in a great place and his health in a great place,” Donatell said. “And we’re seeing the football player that he’s capable of being.
“He’s covering well, he’s pressing well and he’s tackling at a very high level.”
Fuller entered this offseason fighting for a roster spot without any assurances to his future with the Bears. He performed well in training camp and the preseason but still seemed set for a reserve role until cornerback Prince Amukamara, signed in March as his replacement, suffered an ankle injury in August.
With Fuller showing improved cover skills, he stuck in a starting spot when Amukamara returned. When Marcus Cooper – who also signed in March to start at cornerback – went down with a back ailment, Fuller’s role became more important.
There has been potential in Fuller, and it’s finally being revealed this season because of a greater confidence to his game.
“He’s challenging people, he’s got a good challenge mode, he’s stepping, he’s pressing, he’s battling,” Donatell said. “(And) I think he’s showing the right stuff.”