Bigger to better: Bears excited by what Leonard Floyd can be in Year 2

Outside linebackers coach Brandon Staley had a good feel about whom Leonard Floyd was before he joined the Bears’ coaching staff in February.

As a college coach, Staley recruited the area in Georgia where Floyd is from for years. He also knows some of Floyd’s former coaches at Georgia.

‘‘That means a lot, just knowing where someone is from,’’ Staley said.

But evaluating film of Floyd’s rookie season told Staley even more. Staley didn’t just go through Floyd’s game tapes; he went over his work during practices, too.

Bears OLB Leonard Floyd. (AP)

‘‘Everyone knows that he’s capable of a lot, but what a lot of people don’t know is how much it means to him,’’ Staley said. ‘‘He’s the type of guy that represents our franchise and our city really, really well.’’

Only one player — quarterback Mitch Trubisky — is more important to the Bears’ future than Floyd. But Floyd also will help define general manager Ryan Pace’s tenure because Pace traded up to draft him, too.

Big things are expected from Floyd this season. The Bears see him as a star-in-the-making, a true defensive cornerstone. His second season should be full of sacks and flustered quarterbacks.

‘‘Hopefully with the year under his belt [and] getting in better shape and better condition, he’ll take off,’’ defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said. ‘‘If he stays healthy, I feel good about him.’’

As a rookie, Floyd was a bright spot in a 3-13 season. He had seven sacks and three tackles for loss in 12 games.

But Floyd received an ‘‘incomplete’’ in Fangio’s grade book. He missed too much time with various ailments, from an illness in training camp to a strained calf to two concussions.

‘‘He was only available about half the time last year,’’ Fangio said.

Still, Floyd made progress. Just ask Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Floyd strip-sacked Rodgers and recovered the fumble for a touchdown Oct. 20 in Green Bay.

‘‘I feel good about him,’’ Fangio said.

Here’s why: A year ago at this time, Floyd’s weight and strength were primary topics during the Bears’ rookie minicamp.

Those concerns intermittently showed up in games, but the Bears expected that. Floyd was Georgia’s best pass rusher, but he also played off the line of scrimmage often, including at nickel back.

Fangio played Floyd in various spots and took advantage of his ability in coverage, but the sheer amount of contact Floyd experienced as one of the Bears’ primary pass rushers took a toll.

‘‘I’m not going to say that he left things out on the field, but I think the NFL season wore on him,’’ Staley said.

Staley said that, in film work, Floyd has taken note of how he starts plays. His goal is to anticipate what offenses are doing instead of merely reacting to it.

Floyd’s pass-rush moves and techniques will be refined through repetition and experience. Focusing on proper form while tackling will limit the head-down collisions that resulted in his concussions.

But to truly excel in his second season, Floyd must be prepared physically. It’s a process, but he reported to the offseason program in impressive shape.

‘‘His body now is just so much different than when he came in here,’’ Staley said. ‘‘He was, like, 225 [pounds] when he came in here; he’s almost 250 [now]. He’s just a lot stronger player. He’s a lot more equipped to handle the rigors of the NFL.’’

So the Bears have set a high bar for Floyd in 2017, one arguably higher than for anyone else.

‘‘[Floyd] isn’t the type of guy who thinks he’s arrived,’’ Staley said. ‘‘He knows that he has a lot in his game that he can improve on, and that’s what we’re spending a lot of time on right now.’’

Follow me on Twitter @adamjahns.

Email: ajahns@suntimes.com

 

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