How Subtle Bears Defensive Change Can Benefit Jaquan Brisker

Third-year safety expands his horizons to make a bigger impact in coverage after two years of being forced into a more physical role.
Jaquan Brisker has been many things to the Bears defense and it's time for him to work at being an actual safety.
Jaquan Brisker has been many things to the Bears defense and it's time for him to work at being an actual safety. / Mike Dinovo-USA TODAY Sports
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There are really only three major changes to the Bears defense this season.

This can only be a positive considering how they responded last year after working through too many changes too soon over the first year and a half of the Matt Eberflus era.

Those changes on defense are nothing compared to what the offense has done over this offseason but can be impactful nonetheless.

The first change is Eric Washington becoming defensive coordinator. Matt Eberflus' influence as acting defensive coordinator last year proved critical. But Washington will not be calling defenses, so Eberflus still will have a big direct impact defensively week to week.

The second change is Gervon Dexter as one of the starters, but he played 3-technique last year. The real difference here is veteran Justin Jones no longer is playing on the defensive line.

The biggest on-field change might actually be safety, with Kevin Byard replacing Eddie Jackson but it's change accompanied by one other more subtle alteration. It's one that can make the defense much more effective.

With Byard's arrival, safety Jaquan Brisker becomes a more multidimensional player.

All-Purpose Safety

"I feel like the Bears haven't gotten the best version of me yet," Brisker said. "I feel like it's going to happen this year."

The reluctance of the Bears to move Eddie Jackson off the back end of the defense and into the box to stop runs and screens meant Brisker almost always had to do it. He even led the team in sacks as a rookie with four.

The physical wear and tear has been apparent as Brisker had two concussions and a few other injuries, resulting in four games missed total in his first two seasons.

When he did get into deeper coverage, he wasn't as effective as he could be with more consistent use there. His passer rating against when targeted was 98.6 as a rookie and 110.6 last year, according to Sportradar. He allowed 10 TD passes over two seasons and Pro Football Focus graded him 57th among all safeties against the pass last year. He has had to make 105 and 104 tackles in his first two seasons, and the physical wear and tear of high tackle totals takes a toll.

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"My next step is just showing what I can do, and that's in the front end and the back end," Brisker said. "Creating turnovers, more forced fumbles.

"I've showed what I can do in the box but now it's time for me to show what I can do playing free safety, also. Really, just putting it all together and having the best version of me. Being healthy, also, that's a big thing for me. Just being healthy–once I'm healthy, everything else is going to be easy."

It's debatable just how much the Bears will put Brisker back and Byard into the box. After all, when the offseason began and Eberflus was asked what he was looking for in a new safety with free agency approaching, he didn't count position versatility as a great need.

"Jaquan is a guy that's a strong safety," Eberflus said then. "He comes down (and defends) tight ends. He's a big hammer.

"The guy that we would be looking for has to have athletic ability, he's got to have range, he's got to have great communication skills, he's got to have ball skills. We want all of our guys to have the ability to take the ball away. He's to have that too."

At least in offseason practice, they have given Brisker the opportunity to show he can play more in back.

"Really, this year with KB, we’ve been playing a lot left and right," Brisker said. "I would say that's different."

Early Signs of Success

Safety coach Andre Curtis thinks this version of Brisker is ripe for expanding his defensive capabilities.

"He's really determined and he's learning to concentrate," Curtis said. "Year 1, Year 2, Year 3 for a DB is a big uptick, because now he's learned it and now he's getting the volume of reps of seeing it, which is pretty cool.

"That just makes things happen so much faster for him."

From what Byard has seen, Brisker can pull this off.

"I mean, it's just I think that's what the league is now," Byard said. "You want guys to be versatile."

The benefits are even more confusion for offenses.

"Like, as you watch film, teams are looking for any type of keys or clues to tell what type of defense these guys are going to run," Byard said. "So we don't want to be able to give that away. We want to be able to be versatile and try to make it hard for offenses."

There are few changes to the defense. After they made so many personnel switches the past two years due to the rebuild and injuries, the fewer changes the better.

But it never hurts to be able to throw the curve at a quarterback now and then.

"Just having me move left and right but having both of us move left and right is going to be good for the both of us," Brisker said. "We get the best of both worlds, which is good."

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Gene Chamberlain

GENE CHAMBERLAIN

BearDigest.com publisher Gene Chamberlain has covered the Chicago Bears full time as a beat writer since 1994 and prior to this on a part-time basis for 10 years. He covered the Bears as a beat writer for Suburban Chicago Newspapers, the Daily Southtown, Copley News Service and has been a contributor for the Daily Herald, the Associated Press, Bear Report, CBS Sports.com and The Sporting News. He also has worked a prep sports writer for Tribune Newspapers and Sun-Times newspapers.