Pass Rusher on Bears' Agenda Even if They Won't Say So
Ryan Pace's mouth says one thing, but his actions seem to say something else.
And This has nothing to do with a Bears quarterback.
The Bears have been talking a lot with edge rushers at the combine and even before that at all-star games, all the while their real linebacker needs seem to be inside where Nick Kwiatkoski and Danny Trevathan are free agents.
It's enough to make someone think they really don't mean any of the praise they've heaped on outside linebacker Leonard Floyd, that possibly they've decided the $13.2 million he's due this year could be better spent elsewhere.
The company line keeps coming on Floyd even as his averages in tackles, quarterback hits, sacks and passes defended have declined the past two years over his first two years.
"I think Leonard wants to be more productive as a pass rusher, we want him to be more productive there too," Pace said at the combine. "He's close in a lot of areas when you look at the pressures and those things. He just needs to finish a little better on the quarterback.
"But I think when you're evaluating him, you have to factor in everything. His run defense, his ability in coverage. We consider him our SAM outside linebacker, so we value what he can do in coverage and think sometimes that goes a little underrated for what he does in that area, for a guy that's of his stature. Not many outside linebackers can drop in coverage like he does, so that's a factor."
Perhaps they're trying to finally bring in a third outside pass rusher who would be able to do something more than get an occasional QB pressure and stop the run, like Aaron Lynch does.
It is also possible the latter is true and they're keeping Floyd with an extended contract on terms allowing cap relief this year from the non-guaranteed salary.
Regardless, according to some defensive edge players at in their NFL scouting combine interviews, as well as web sites like Bear Report, the Bears reps have spoken to Michigan State's Kenny Willekes, LSU's K'Lavon Chaisson, Florida's Jonathan Greenard and Jabari Zuniga, Penn State's Yetur Gross-Matos and Tulsa's Trevis Gipson.
Some of these players are never going to fall anywhere near where the Bears select in Round 2 or later. Chaisson is especially unlikely to be available.
Penn State's Gross-Matos might slip to 43 where the Bears select. He finished with 18 1/2 sacks and 36 1/2 tackles for loss for Penn State. He patterns his play after Broncos outside linebacker Bradley Chubb.
"I watched a lot of his tape when I was in my early years of college," Gross-Matos told reporters at the combine. "He never stops moving on film. That’s something I was always envious of. I always wanted to put that in my name."
Gross-Matos had to overcome the death of his father to drowning and his older brother to a lightning strike and it all made him realize how strong his mother was.
"My mother, Sakinah, she's a phenomenal, phenomenal woman," Gross-Matos said. "And she sacrificed a lot. She lost a lot. And she just keeps positive. She’s the most positive person I know. I’ve got endless love for my mother. She’s the best woman I know."
Michigan State's Willekes had 23 1/2 career sacks and 49 tackles for loss after starting out as an inside linebacker and moving to the defensive line. At the Senior Bowl, he made two sacks and attracted a ton of attention.
"You saw it was a coming-out party, I had two sacks but if you watch my college film I've been doing that for three years at Michigan State," Willekes said. "I expected to go there and dominate."
Florida's Greenard had 19 1/2 sacks and 38 1/2 tackles for loss and transfered from Louisville, and his teammate Zuniga had 18 1/2 sacks and 33 tackles for loss in his career.
Greenard transfered to Florida from Louisville and faces the same question about playing 3-4 outside linebacker or 4-3 end many players his size confront.
"That's what kind of separates me from a lot of guys in my position," Greenard said. "I mean I’ve played in the 4-3, I’ve played in 3-4, I played 4-2-5, you name it. Regardless I can fit in any system. I can stand up and be a 3-4 guy, I'vee also played a true big end in a 4-3."
As for Chaisson, if you ask him there's no chance he'll fall anywhere and the Bears would somehow have to trade up into Round 1 to get him.
"I'm the most valuable player in this draft," Chaisson said. "When you hire someone, do you want someone that speaks one language or three languages? I can speak three—rush the passer, drop in coverage and I can play the run."