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Bears outside linebacker Leonard Floyd (94) sacks Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers in the second half of the Bears’ 24-17 victory on Dec. 16 at Soldier Field. Floyd had two sacks in the game to give him four for the season. | David Banks/AP photo

Out of the spotlight, Leonard Floyd thriving in complementary role in Bears’ ‘D’

SHARE Out of the spotlight, Leonard Floyd thriving in complementary role in Bears’ ‘D’
SHARE Out of the spotlight, Leonard Floyd thriving in complementary role in Bears’ ‘D’

We’re still waiting for Leonard Floyd’s breakout season, just not with the same urgency as before.

The Bears in effect have solved the problem of Floyd’s underwhelming production in his first two seasons since being the ninth overall pick of the 2016 draft by changing the world around him. With Defensive Player of the Year candidate Khalil Mack exceeding expectations as the program-turning guy in the spotlight, Floyd is thriving in the shadows as an invaluable and dangerous complementary piece on one of the NFL’s best defenses.

“I love it,” Floyd said. “Every day I’m soaking it up because you’re not in the league for long. So when you’re winning, these are moments you need to cherish. The personal satisfaction for me is winning. That’s all I care about. That’s all I ever cared about.”

Floyd’s numbers aren’t any better with Mack on the other side. In fact, most of them are down. Despite playing every game for the first time in his career — though he was hampered by a broken right hand in the first four or five games — Floyd is on pace for a career low in sacks and has fewer tackles for loss in 15 games (eight) than he had in 10 games last season (nine).

“The numbers — I guess what you’re alluding to is sack numbers — he’d like to have more,” defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said. “They all would. We’d like to have him have more. But I think he’s played good. Ever since he’s gotten full use of his hand and gotten back into the swing of things with that, I think he’s been a really good player for us.”

In fact, he has never been better, or never had a bigger impact. On a defense with Mack, Roquan Smith, Akiem Hicks and Eddie Goldman, the 6-4, 251-pound Floyd’s speed and versatility are a luxury with the potential for big-play damage at any time. He has been excellent against the run and effective in pass coverage. His speed has forced ballcarriers into danger zones manned by Mack, Hicks and others.

“It’s great having a player like Khalil,” Floyd said. “He’s a dominant player, so being up close to him, I get a firsthand view of some of the things he does well, and I get to click off of that. Even though I saw the football [guy], just knowing the person [has helped]. Just overall a great guy and great teammate.”

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With Mack around, Floyd’s little plays have not gone unnoticed. His pass rush against the Dolphins led to Kyle Fuller’s pick-six. Against the Rams on Dec. 9, Floyd helped set the tone by stopping Todd Gurley for a one-yard gain on the first play of the game. Against the Packers on Dec. 16 at Soldier Field, Floyd sacked Aaron Rodgers twice but had three other stops on rushes for two yards or less that set up second-and-nine, fourth-and-one and third-and-eight.

Against the 49ers last week, his physicality with tight end George Kittle helped keep the productive Kittle in check. Maybe it’s just a coincidence, but it was Floyd who was chasing down 49ers quarterback Nick Mullens when Mullens decided — ill-advisedly it seemed — against running for the first down and instead threw a fourth-down incompletion that clinched the Bears’ 14-9 victory.

After two years of being scrutinized for big plays, Floyd now is getting recognition for the little things. As a 3-4 outside linebacker with four sacks, he was named a Pro Bowl alternate last week.

“I always want to get better every year, so, yeah, you could say I’m playing at a better level than last year,” Floyd said. “It doesn’t really matter if I get recognition or not. As long as we keep winning, I’m happy with that.”

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