Bears Edge Defender Search May Begin And End On Current Roster

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By now the consensus opinion on the Bears draft is unanimously a big thumbs up across the board. However, the one thing that gnaws at some (myself included) is the fact they waited until the 6th round to address what most people thought was their biggest need. Again, myself included. The Bears had countless opportunities to get who many believed was the best pass rusher in the draft Harold Landry but passed on him after trading up in the second at 55th overall in favor of Anthony Miller. This in spite of acquiring a similar player in Taylor Gabriel during the veteran free agent shopping spree the Bears went on to restructure their roster to included three shinny new weapons to help develop Mitch Trubisky.

Although I still feel there was an opportunity lost to get someone who could have made the Bears front 7 among the best in the league by not drafting Landry I still like the moves they made to make the front 7 pretty formidable. Drafting Roquan Smith was less of a risk and will certainly have a payoff in run support and in coverage but also in the Bears pressure scheme. Smith was a very good blitzer at Georgia. So drafting Smith was likely the right move as you have coverage in three phases of the defense in one player. Not to mention the intangibles Smith brings to the table as a solid citizen and a leader in the locker room and on the field as well as his high football IQ.

That said, the Bears still need help on the edge. That help it appears will come from within. There is no great solution out there in Free Agency and it’s too late to draft one. There are trade opportunities with two names out there in particular in Denver’s Shane Ray and Buffalo’s Shaq Lawson. Both appear to be available for the right price as they’ve fallen out of favor with their current teams, but both bring risk with them. Ray apparently has work ethic questions and may be a bit of a malcontent. Lawson by his own admission is more comfortable in a 4-3 as a traditional End rather than out on the Edge in a 3-4 standing up in a two point stance. Then there is the matter of having to give up assets to acquire them and they both will hit the 2019 free agent market and cost only money if the Bears still wanted to explore adding either of them. So it makes sense that the best way for the Bears to fix this is to develop what they already have.

There were two players I featured in this blog but found out that about 6 hours after publishing my blog and posting them to several groups on facebook and on twitter and reddit I find out Howard Jones got waived. Oops! Since I don’t do this professionally I was at work all day oblivious to this fact until I got home and read some comments on facebook telling me what an idiot I was and that Jones was cut! It’s very possible Jones will return to the Bears as he was signed to the practice squad, added to the roster, waived, resigned to the practice squad, added again, waived again and I believe resigned once more and ended the season on the roster. However, it would look pretty stupid hyping up the possibility of a players ascension as one of their rotation pass rushers the day he was waived on. So I just deleted all that hard work I did in research and typing. Now, it’s all about Mr. Fitts who I am fairly certain won’t be cut anytime soon.

A player Bears fans should be familiar with is Kylie Fitts the Bears 2018 6th round pick out of Utah. Fitts has had his progress as a player stymied through a series of injuries. The biggest one to his foot were he missed nearly the entire 2016 season. That appears to be the only thing that could hold him back from being a disruptive force off the edge. He is big and he is athletic. Standing at 6’4″ 265 his movement skills are that of a much smaller man. In many respects he is a more impressive athlete than Leonard Floyd is. Floyd at 6’6″ 244 ran a 4.6 flat 40, leaped 39.5″ in his vertical and 127″ in his broad jump and ran a 7.18 3-cone. Fitts at 6’4″ 265 ran a 4.69 40, Jumped 32.5″ in the vertical and 117″ in the broad jump, but really opened eyes with a blistering 6.88 3-cone which tied for tops at the combine with Landry. He also put up 31 reps on the bench press showing his strength as well as his speed and short area quickness.

Fitts doesn’t only bring you pass rush ability. He’s is very good in coverage and against the run. Here are quotes from an interview conducted by Chicago Tribune’s Bears beat reporter Dan Wiederer with Utah Head Coach Kyle Whittingham.

“I think he’s that prototype hybrid, if that’s not an oxymoron. He’s a guy who can play the edge on that defense. He can rush the passer or drop into coverage with equal adeptness. He’s just an athlete. He has outstanding pass-rush ability and he’s very athletic in his pass drops.”

“As a former D-coordinator myself, I understand those guys are very valuable, those guys who can rush off the edge. And 70 percent of the time they can rush the passer; the other 30 percent they’re dropping into coverage. That’s a valuable commodity for a defense, and I think Kylie is perfect for that role. I think that’s exactly how he’ll be used as a hybrid guy.”

So to tie a bow on it Fitts’ only issue to overcome appears to be his injury history. However, that can arguably be the biggest attribute to why the former coaching regime failed so spectacularly and that’s with a ton of injuries. The last thing the Bears need is an oft injured player as they’ve already been dealing with that from their current top Edge Floyd. The leash won’t be long if Fitts shows he can’t stay on the field. His athleticism jumps off the page at you though and he’s already making an impression at camp as the two tweets below will tell you.

There’ll be competition for snaps however. Another player I contemplated featuring in this article is Isaiah Irving who is also a good but not great athlete Which is I why I didn’t. At least with Jones there was his elite athleticism and physical stature to make a case with. There’ll also be veterans fighting for those snaps like Aaron Lynch who played under Fangio. There’ll also be Sam Acho and a UDFA prospect named Elijah Norris from Shepherd who could sneak on the roster eventually. A school the Bears seem to have a nice relationship with and are developing a sort of pipeline of talent with. So Fitts’ path to stardom certainly won’t be easy and without challenge, but the opportunity is there and that is more than most can say.

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