Jonathan Bullard eager to take quick first step toward NFL impact

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Bears rookie defensive line Jonathan Bullard (74) stretches during the team’s NFL rookie minicamp football practice Saturday. (Nam Y. Huh/AP)

Bears defensive line coach Jay Rodgers calls it “suddenness. Or “first-step quickness.” Rookie Jonathan Bullard calls it “get-off.” Whatever, it’s the unteachable skill that is the foundation of making almost any 6-3, 285-pound defensive lineman a difference maker in the NFL.

And Bullard has “no doubt” that first-step quickness will translate to the NFL. “Because the guys I played in college are the same guys I’m going to play in the league,” said Bullard, the Bears’ third-round pick (77th overall) from Florida said at rookie mini-camp this weekend.

But there’s obviously a lot more to it than that. Bullard has a history of learning well, being coachable and versatile. He became a productive rotation player at Florida as a freshman. He moved inside and out depending on the need for the Gators’ throughout his career. And that’s why Bullard himself knows the most important part of the process in the introductory phase of being a Bear is listening and learning.

“Just learning the playbook,” Bullard said when asked about the key to becoming an immediate contributor with the Bears. “That’s what I’m doing with coach Rodgers is learning what to do so I can start playing faster … so I can play at the level they want me to.”

Bullard was a five-star prospect who was ranked among the top 20 overall prospects in the country coming out of Crest High School in Shelby, N.C. in 2012. Though productive at Florida, he never reached All-America status. Bullard contemplated leaving Florida after his junior year, but reconsidered after a negative draft appraisal. Even after last season he was a first-round pick in early mock drafts, but ended up going in the third round to the Bears.

The upside is that he appears to be at the right place at the right time — a good fit for Vic Fangio’s 3-4 defense as a lineman who is best against the run, but also has pass rush ability. His length, hands and hand-eye coordination could allow him to maximize his extreme “get-off.” He has a feel for his position and the game. As a junior at Florida, Bullard made 13 third-down tackles to prevent first downs.

“I like his length. He’s got some quickness,” Fangio said. “It’s hard to tell … in this type of practice [rookie mini-camp]. But based on the tape, he’s a guy we’re looking to hopefully make some contributions early.”

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