Feeling rushed: Can Kylie Fitts, Isaiah Irving fill Bears’ needs at OLB?

SHARE Feeling rushed: Can Kylie Fitts, Isaiah Irving fill Bears’ needs at OLB?

Bears rookie outside linebacker Kylie Fitts signs autographs at training camp. (Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times)

BOURBONNAIS — As practice played out Thursday, Leonard Floyd seemingly did less and less.

And the more Floyd watched, the more it became apparent that outside linebacker truly is a position in flux for the Bears.

“[It’s] part of the plan of how many reps we want to get him,” coach Matt Nagy said when asked about Floyd’s inactivity. “He’s good to go, but this is going to be a long season. We know what he can do. That’s been established.”

With that plan in place for Floyd — who’s being closely monitored after injuring ligaments in his right knee last season — Kylie Fitts and Isaiah Irving will get more opportunities to establish themselves at Olivet Nazarene University. They’re two young combatants in a very important position battle for defensive coordinator Vic Fangio.

Outside linebacker is full of wild cards, starting with Floyd and free-agent addition Aaron Lynch, who’s coming off two tumultuous years with the 49ers and has missed five consecutive practices because of a hamstring issue. Fitts, a sixth-round selection this year, and Irving, an undrafted free-agent signee from last year, are part of that mix, too. The Bears desperately need one of them to emerge as a viable contributor this season. With a lackluster pass rush, the defense can’t take the next step it so often talks about.

If Fitts and/or Irving tail off in camp and then struggle in the preseason, it wouldn’t be surprising to see general manager Ryan Pace scour the waiver wire after teams trim down rosters. He’s done it before with other positions.


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That said, it hasn’t taken long for Fitts, Irving and others to realize the importance and potential impact of the opportunities they’re getting on a daily basis. They’re not toiling away with the third team, but often facing the Bears’ best players.

“I see a big opportunity this year,” Irving said. “I’m one year better. I feel a lot more experienced, and I feel a lot more confident.”

Fitts, meanwhile, is an early standout in camp. He even apologized to Nagy for getting too close to his quarterbacks during practices.

“It’s definitely a good opportunity, and I’m blessed to be here with the Bears,” Fitts said. “It’s a young group, and it’s very talented. I just have to come in every day and improve my technique and try and contribute as much as I can.”

Various injuries hurt Fitts’ production at Utah, then hurt his draft stock. But the Bears had a higher draft grade on Fitts than his sixth-round selection (181st overall) would indicate. He fits their profile because of his short-area quickness — underscored by his performances in the three-cone drill (6.88 seconds) and 20-yard shuttle (4.19 seconds) at the NFL Scouting Combine. Fitts tied Harold Landry, a second-round pick for the Titans, in those drills.

“[Fitts is] like a wolf,” veteran outside linebacker Sam Acho said. “He just goes and goes and goes. He hunts the quarterback. He’s really smart, too. It’s cool to see him grow, as far as understanding things like the [run-pass option] — when you play the run and when you have to play the pass — tackle sets and stances. [It’s] good to see.”

But Acho doesn’t want you to overlook Irving, who spent most of last season on the practice squad. He’s physically more imposing after spending parts of his offseason training with Acho.

“I know I can play the position,” Irving said.

Time will tell if Fitts and Irving are enough for Fangio, who takes a hand-on approach to his outside linebackers. Fangio certainly needs more beyond Acho and Floyd.

“At the end of the day, we know they can only keep [53] guys,” Fitts said. “So we’re all gunning for that top-four or top-five spot. Every day, you’ve got to come out with your best.”

Want your Bears training camp update without delay? Each day of summer practice, Sun-Times Bears’ beat writers Patrick Finley, Adam Jahns and Mark Potash will share exclusive insights on the workout and interviews in a livestream conversation 1 p.m. daily through August 12. Catch their live analysis and ask questions on Twitter: @suntimes_sports or follow Sun-Times Sports on Periscope to be notified of each live report.

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