With their season at the halfway point, Bears position coaches shared their insight this week on some of the team’s key players:
Offensive line coach Harry Hiestand on guard James Daniels
Hiestand said that he’s seen weekly growth from Daniels, who learns from his mistakes. The rookie second-round pick has started the last two games at left guard after splitting reps with veteran Eric Kush the previous three contests at the position.
“There are little things that are happening weekly that are good signs,” Hiestand said. “He’s learning on the run and he’s getting used to the NFL game. We’re pleased with the progress. He’s going to get beat at times, but the good news for him is that he’s a good learner and he knows why [he made a mistake] and he self-corrects.
“During a series, he knows right away he leaned out too far or he took a bad target or bad step, so the next time the same thing comes up he generally doesn’t do that again. That’s a good progression to be on.”
Receivers coach Mike Furrey on Allen Robinson II
Robinson has missed the last two games with a groin injury. But Furrey is not concerned about the veteran receiver picking up with quarterback Mitchell Trubisky right where they left off before Robinson was injured.
“The biggest thing in the development and the camaraderie between the two is just trust, and I think Mitch has gained that trust,” Furrey said. “He trusts A-Rob. A-Rob hasn’t been there the last couple weeks, but it’s not that [Trubisky] won’t trust [Robinson] anymore. He still trusts him and that’s the biggest thing in having that chemistry.”
Furrey views Robinson, who returned to practice Wednesday without restrictions, as a respected team leader who takes his craft very seriously.
“He’s a professional,” Furrey said. “It’s his job. Whether it’s studying film or studying the opponent—the guys that he’s playing against—or getting the guys going, he kind of has that Alpha to him, where [he’s saying] ‘this is our job and let’s go out and do the best that we can do at it.’ That’s a good presence to have in [the receivers room].”
Defensive line coach Jay Rodgers on tackle Akiem Hicks
With consistent production and a personality that’s as big as his 6-5, 332-pound frame, Hicks remains a key presence on a talented Bears defense.
“You see his emotion come out and his personality,” Rodgers said. “He loves playing football. He prepares well. He’s a leader on our team. You get a guy who has been consistent for us the past few years, and his ability to affect games is impactful to the younger guys because they see, ‘Hey, maybe if I could do this, I could be like that.’ He’s got a big voice on this team and [we’re] expecting big things from him every week.”
Outside linebackers coach Brandon Staley on Leonard Floyd
Floyd remains without a sack this season, but the 2016 first-round pick has generated pressure on the quarterback in the last three games and returned an interception 19 yards for a touchdown in last Sunday’s 41-9 rout of the Bills.
Staley said that the Bears are “focusing on the process” with Floyd. “That’s what we spend a lot of time on,” Staley said. “That’s how you end up getting the production that you hope for, to really go back to work and really detail your performance and he really critical of yourself, which we’ve done both as coaches and players.
“That’s something for coach [Matt] Nagy that’s really important is just taking a really hard look at yourself, and that’s what we’ve done with Leonard. We’ve spent a lot of extra time taking a look at all of his individual rushes on the left side and the right side trying to improve his game as much as possible, and the last three games he’s made a lot of strides.”
The Bears are working with Floyd to be more decisive at the top of his pass rush.
“Initially, we just wanted him to get off on the football, and really stay on his track and use his speed to get on top of these offensive tackles,” Staley said. “He’s doing a much better job of that, but then at the top of the rush, being really decisive, knowing where that tackle is and being able to finish that rush. He’s putting himself in good positions, but just being more decisive at the top of his rush to kind of finish what he started.”
Inside linebackers coach Glenn Pires on Roquan Smith
After recording 18 tackles in the first four games, the rookie linebacker doubled his output in the second quarter of the season with 36 stops, including a team-leading 13 in last Sunday’s win over the Bills. But Smith is still learning the NFL game.
“He flashed, but now I think it’s about being more consistent,” Pires said. “I don’t know if he’s had a complete best game yet. That process is still going. He’s learning. He’s hard on himself, as I am. Like we talked about after the game, it’s all about the consistency. Flashes are OK, but the consistency, that’s the key.”
Every week in the NFL presents a unique challenge, especially for rookies.
“That’s what he’s realizing,” Pires said. “It’s like, ‘Wow, maybe I did some good things last week. Well, [the next opponent has] new players and different concepts.’ That’s an ongoing thing and it never gets solved because every team has new challenges. Every team has a new wrinkle or something we haven’t seen.”
Defensive backs coach Ed Donatell on cornerback Kyle Fuller
Fuller is tied for the NFL lead with four interceptions, tying his career high from his rookie season in 2014. And none of the picks have been easy.
“He’s had some good hard-working interceptions this year, where he’s had great breaks on the ball and high-pointed the ball downfield,” Donatell said. “He’s looking to have a really good year and he’s on that way.”
All four of Fuller’s interceptions have come in the last four games. Last Sunday in Buffalo he picked off one pass and broke up two others that resulted in interceptions by teammates Floyd and Adrian Amos.
“I thought they were all three huge plays,” Donatell said. “Causing interceptions is just as important as getting them, and they were all really good. He made great breaks on all the plays.”