No longer thinking like a rookie, Jonathan Bullard ready to take off

BOURBONNAIS — After spending way too much time thinking, worrying and reacting as a rookie last season, Bears defensive end Jonathan Bullard is trying a new tack: football.

“Last year was last year,” the third-round draft pick from Florida said. “I know why they drafted me. I know I can play ball. So it’s just ball, really. So I’m just going to play it the best I can, and see what happens.”

The early returns in training camp have been  positive. And the preseason opener against the Broncos on Thursday night at Soldier Field provided at least a bit of confirmation — on a third-and-one play in the second quarter, Bullard used his quick first step to get into the backfield and drop running back Stevan Ridley for a two-yard loss.

“It meant a lot, just to go out and have fun and make plays and do what I’m used to doing — and that’s shootin’ gaps,” Bullard said. “There’s a reason they drafted me and they’ve talked to me about not losing my aggressiveness and my attack. That was an opportunity for me to go with my hair on fire and that’s what I did.

Bears defensive end Jonathan Bullard had one sack and three tackles-for-loss as a rookie last season but is hopeful of being more productive in his second year. (Nam Y. Huh/AP)

“And it was just a good call by Vic [Fangio, the Bears’ -defensive coordinator]. That was the play for me. I saw the opportunity. I timed it up perfectly, got off the ball, beat my man to the point of attack and that’s all she wrote.”

It also helps that Bullard has a good mentor in defensive end Akiem Hicks.

“[He’s] everything from last year and just a little bit more,” Hicks said. “He’s definitely stronger, faster. He was already explosive. He has picked up the game to a point where he can play within the scheme now, see things come and be able to predict the play in order to get a step on the guard or tackle.”

That’s the key to success for Bullard in a nutshell — learning the nuances of the position to allow him to use his quick first step. Part of that is understanding the playbook better than he did last year. And being comfortable with the mental -aspect of the game is just as big. He doesn’t think like a rookie -anymore.

“A hundred percent,” Bullard said. “It’s not like [I’m] going out there worrying about not -messing up, because you’re going to get taken out and not put back in. Just little stuff, the mental part of it, too . . . I mean as far as playbook-wise. I’m more comfortable with it.

“The coaches have talked to me . . . the reasons they drafted me was because of that first step and explosion. They want me to use it more and just play and not think about a lot. All that comes when you get comfortable . . . So I’m just out there  trying to have fun, but also make plays I should make, that I’m used to making.”

Follow me on Twitter @MarkPotash.

Email: mpotash@suntimes.com

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