Leonard Floyd’s only complaint about his first NFL games is that there weren’t enough of them.
“I wished I would have played those games I missed,” he said of the calf injury that cost him two starts. “Other than that, I think I did a pretty good job.”
Injuries are the only constant in evaluating the Bears’ rookie class at the midpoint of their first season. Only Cody Whitehair has played all eight games.
But at least four of their nine draftees have shown, at least in flashes, why the Bears selected them:
The Bears traded up one spot to pick Floyd ninth, and he’s felt that burden. In the last two weeks, though, the outside linebacker has recorded three sacks and recovered his own forced fumble of Aaron Rodgers for a touchdown.
“To see him go out there and have the sacks and have the kind of production for the team feels good,” outside linebackers coach Clint Hurtt said. “Because you see the pressure kind of building up on the kid.”
Concerns about Floyd’s weight are legit — would he be less injury-prone above 240 pounds? — but his quickness is special. He’s not a powerful player yet, but, Hurtt said, has “good, natural, functional football strength.”
Floyd has learned to strike run blockers on rushing downs and keep his hands active on pass rushes.
“Rushing the passer is like a fight,” Hurtt said. “You never see a boxer with his hands hanging down, because you’re going to get put to sleep.”
Pernell McPhee’s return gives Floyd another mentor — “I think he’s starting to learn the game a little bit more,” McPhee said — and should open ways to showcase Floyd’s versatility, be it via stunts or dropping into coverage.
“It keeps offensive lines on their heels,” Hurtt said, “because they don’t know what he’s doing.”
Wednesday, Howard became the second Bears rookie — and first sicne Anthony Thomas in 2001 — to win NFC Offensive Player of the Week.
“I feel like I’ve done a decent job,” the fifth-round pick said. “Sometimes I miss a hole or I’m not decisive enough with my reads or cuts.”
His 153 rushing yards against the Vikings were punctuated by a 69-yard gallop. Against an eight-man front, Howard took a handoff left, broke an ankle tackle and reached 20.76 mph, the fastest speed for any rusher last week, per the NFL.
“I’m going to give you footwork, I’m going to give you landmarks and I’m going to give you a read,” running backs coach Stan Drayton said. “If you’re true to your read, you’re going to see those things. But if you’re impatient, you’re kinda all over the place, scrambling.
“And that’s what a lot of rookies will do — they just kinda get all over the place and panic in the backfield at times. They’ll miss that read. But if he’s disciplined enough to stay true to his footwork and his landmarks, he should be right most of the time.”
Because he’s yet to play more than 25 snaps in a game, Bullard’s stats don’t jump off the page. Sometime, though, it’s the little things that mark progress.
On second-and-3 in the first quarter Monday, the third-round pick slanted outside, to the tackle’s right shoulder, before planting his left foot in the backfield and sprinting inside to tackle running back Matt Asiata for a 1-yard gain.
“He’s starting to play real well with his hands,” defensive line coach Jay Rodgers said. “He had a couple plays (Monday) where he really took his hands and knocked back their guards and made plays on the ball.
“We know he’s elusive with his feet, but I really like the improvement he’s making with his hands.”
Sometimes, though, not getting noticed is best.
“If you’re an offensive lineman and you’re invisible, that’s a great thing,” Bears offensive line coach Dave Magazu said.
But for a bad snap on fourth-and-1 in the opener, Whitehair has been. It’s impressive, given that he was moved from left guard to center one week before the season-opener.
In the next seven days, he spent as long as 18 hours per day learning blocking assignment calls he had to make as line’s leader.
“Guys know what they know and what they don’t know,” Magazu said. “If you’re unsure, you’re going to ask questions and put in more time and game prep so you feel comfortable. I think he’s done that, and it’s shown in his play.”
The 56th overall pick can still improve his technique, but Magazu said his preparation is beyond that of a rookie.
“When it comes to football I pick up things pretty well,” Whitehair said. “Obviously, I’m not there yet, and still have some things to do.”