BOURBONNAIS — If outside linebacker Leonard Floyd’s life doesn’t depend on his new tackling technique, his quality of life most certainly does.
After suffering two concussions in five weeks last season after running the crown of his helmet into his own teammate, Floyd spent the offseason trying to keep his head up when he tackles. He lined up across from a blocking sled, fired off the ball and made sure he kept his face looking forward. Off the field, he envisioned keeping his head up, repeating it over and over in his mind.
On Saturday, in the Bears’ first full-pads practice of training camp, Floyd will get his first — and best — chance to test his technique. He won’t tackle anyone to the ground — nor will anyone else — but will try to keep looking forward when giving the ballcarrier a “thud.”
“Contact is where I think he can make the most improvement,” outside linebackers coach Brandon Staley said Friday at Olivet Nazarene University. “I think he knows that. Not just from a tackling standpoint — from playing blocks, from a pass rush.”
The Bears’ first-round pick in 2016, Floyd is confident he has mastered the proper technique.
“I’ve been working so hard on it, and I’ve been watching myself on film, really studying the way I tackle,” he said. “It’s really second nature now.”
Pray it is.
Floyd admitted to feeling in a fog for two months after suffering his second concussion in five weeks on Dec. 24. The first resulted in him leaving MetLife Stadium in New Jersey on a backboard.
“He’s so much more comfortable in the core techniques we believe in,” Staley said. “When you talk about his face, that’s a learned skill — about where to put your facemask, where to put your hands. The more you do it, the better you’re gonna be at it.”
Staley, in his first year with the Bears, thinks Floyd simply didn’t get enough experience at Georgia, where he lined up more like a nickel back or defensive back than a pass rusher. Floyd’s rookie-year training camp featured bouts with a sore shoulder and stomach flu, further limiting his practice reps. He then missed four regular-season games.
Floyd worked on hand quickness in the spring, trying to hit blockers before they can do the same to him. Maybe five edge rushers in football share his straight-ahead speed, Staley said, but he loses his split-second advantage if his technique isn’t perfect.
“A lot of people know about his ability to run,” Staley said. “He can glide. He can do so much on the football field.”
Floyd, who spent three weeks working out in Chicago with Pernell McPhee before camp, said he’s in way better shape than he was last season, when he had seven sacks and a touchdown. If he stays healthy, he’s the Bears defender with the best chance to reach the Pro Bowl.
“Oh, he’s grown a lot,” outside linebacker Lamarr Houston said. “You know he’s a better technician. He understands the game more, and he still has the same passion, so I’m excited to see what he does.”
Houston won’t see it unless Floyd can keep his head up and look forward.
“I think we’ve been able to really concentrate on that,” Staley said. “I don’t think he’s worried about it anymore.”
Follow me on Twitter @patrickfinley.