Bears Need to See Different Version of Kyle Fuller
When second-round draft pick Jaylon Johnson first spoke with Bears media after his selection, one of the first things he did was pay homage to Kyle Fuller.
"Kyle Fuller, I've been studying his game and liked him since he was in college," Johnson said.
With Prince Amukamara's departure and the selection of a second-round draft pick at cornerback, Fuller adds the job responsibility of mentor and leader.
He'd already been leading through example to some extent but the actual role is clear now for a former All-Pro who has been to consecutive Pro Bowls.
Amukamara took that role on before in the secondary and is now with the Raiders.
"What's pretty neat is to see the way that, the study habits that Jaylon has and the questions that he asks are very similar, so Kyle's going to be a good role model for him," defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano said.
Fuller has another job to do, even if it isn't widely realized.
He needs to bounce back from a somewhat disappointing season. At least by his standards, it was a drop.
A Pro Bowl berth disguised it but as is usually the case with the Pro Bowl, his first one came a year after it should have.
Fuller had an outstanding 2017 season with an overall Pro Football Focus grade of 77 and then took a step up to elite level with an 83 in 2018. It was the season he made seven interceptions and allowed only a completion percentage of 56.2% when targeted. His passer rating against was at the same level, 63.7.
Last year the drop occurred as the entire Bears secondary suffered worse numbers when there also was a drastic drop in pressure applied by the pass rush.
Fuller gave up 67 receptions in 99 targets, or 68%. He allowed the fourth-most completions in the league according to PFF. Fuller's 62.5 PFF rating was his worst since his rookie year.
Some of the change could be giving up more completions underneath.
What the Bears have to wonder about this year with Fuller is whether he's fitting in well with what coordinator Chuck Pagano did.
"I think he understands that within this scheme that if we don’t give up big plays we have a really good opportunity to win," defensive backs coach Deshea Townsend said.
The question really is whether the loss of Vic Fangio's influence had anything to do with the decline, and not necessarily the scheme change when the former Bears defensive coordinator left for Denver
Fangio and Fuller were close, and were golfing buddies after Fuller missed 2016 with a knee injury. Fangio helped get Fuller back on track after arthroscopic knee surgery, helped him refocus.
Fuller came back strong in 2017 from the injury after the Bears had declined his fifth-year option, then was given a transition tag after he proved what he could do. Finally he received his current contract, which expires after 2021 for all intents and purposes. There are a couple of dummy years tagged to the end to let the Bears prorate his bonus out longer, but no salary involved.
The Bears need to see more of the 2017-2018 Fuller in 2020. The 2020 Fuller also has to be a step up from those earlier versions because he needs to be a leader.
It's a tall order, but in the past Fuller already proved his abilities when challenged once.
Kyle Fuller at a Glance
Virginia Tech CB
Key Number: Fuller is tied for the second-most incompletions forced over the last three seasons with 50. Stephen Gilmore had 54 and Darius Slay also had 50.
2020 Projection: Four interceptions, 16 passes defensed.