BOURBONNAIS — The hoots and hollers became louder and more distinct with every incompletion, tipped pass and overthrown ball in rookie cornerback Kyle Fuller’s direction.
The defensive veterans — namely linebacker Lance Briggs with his unmistakable high-pitched howl — made sure to play up Fuller’s prowess.
“There’s that intimidation factor,” they’d say.
“Oh, intimidation factor, whoo,’’ they’d shout.
The vocal support has come after Fuller’s run-in with tight end Martellus Bennett, which ended with Bennett’s suspension but started with Fuller’s one-handed takedown.
It’s playful rookie razzing, but it wouldn’t happen if Fuller were struggling. His success has helped make the Bears’ defense a happy bunch again.
“It’s saying me being there kind of affects them in catching the ball,” a laughing Fuller said Tuesday after the Bears’ last practice in Bourbonnais. “That goes back to just the good group that we have here, making me feel comfortable and encouraging me every day. The guys are helping me make plays.”
It’s unfortunate, but Fuller’s role in Bennett’s suspension has overshadowed a strong first training camp.
With Tim Jennings limited by a quadriceps injury, Fuller spent all of camp with the Bears’ first-team defense. Fuller has had problems against Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery — who doesn’t? — but he also has fared well, considering the quarterbacks are off-limits.
“He’s going to be a star in this league,” Jeffery said. “He makes a lot of plays. He’s a tough competitor. He likes to compete. It’s just something he was born to do. He’s a great cornerback.”
Defensive coordinator Mel Tucker highlighted Fuller’s tackling as a positive in the exhibition opener against the Philadelphia Eagles. But Fuller isn’t the second coming of Charles Tillman just yet.
Secondary coach Jon Hoke said Fuller had some expected rough spots against the Eagles and that his technique still requires fine-tuning.
“He’s been here just a few weeks, and we have our ways to do it,” Hoke said. “It’s always going to be a work in progress until it becomes a habit for him.”
Against the Eagles, Fuller was on the field for 35 plays, only four shy for most on the team. He could be looking at a similar amount Thursday against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
“That’s the only way you’re going to get better,” said Fuller, who was credited with three individual tackles against the Eagles. “It doesn’t matter who I’m facing. It’s just a matter of being consistent.”
But it undoubtedly helps that he gets to face Marshall, Jeffery and Bennett in practice. There’s a level of respect. Bennett made it a point to shake Fuller’s hand after their tussle. Marshall, meanwhile, has called Fuller over to face him in one-on-one drills during camp.
What has Fuller gained from those matchups?
“Just confidence,” Hoke said. “Nothing ever seems to faze him. He’s fine. Just for him, it’s competition every day, and he’s got great guys to work against.”
Fuller’s composure has resonated with his teammates and coaches. It even earned him compliments from quarterback Jay Cutler.
“He’s mature beyond his years,” Cutler said.
“[Fuller] has a very good mental disposition toward competing at that position,” Tucker said. “He doesn’t get too high, and he doesn’t get too low. Those are good traits to have at corner.”
So is his ability to stick to Marshall, Jeffery and Bennett.
And Fuller has earned the trust and support of the Bears’ defensive veterans, whether it’s Tillman offering advice on the sideline or Briggs yelling out “intimidation factor.”
“[Camp] has gone well,” Fuller said. “It was a good experience. I’ve been able to get better every day. I’m just looking forward to keeping that going into the season.”