Taking that one-year contract with the Bears to reestablish himself might have been the best decision of Prince Amukamara’s career. Just when it looked like the NFL had downgraded him from being a top-line cornerback, he proved he had a lot left.
And he still does, even at 30. Amukamara is in better shape and playing better than he imagined he would be at this age. He and Kyle Fuller give the Bears one of the best outside corner pairs in the NFL, and Amukamara thinks this was the perfect place to rejuvenate himself.
“One hundred percent,” he said. “I believe it’s been a huge breath of fresh air, and I’m more of an older, seasoned guy and I have experiences I can share with other guys here.”
Amukamara impressed the Bears enough on that prove-it deal that they re-upped with him on a three-year, $27 million extension through 2020. He had three interceptions, including a pick-six, and 12 pass breakups to earn spot No. 100 on Pro Football Focus’s list of the top 101 players in the league last season.
He has three pass breakups this season and has helped the Bears to an opponent passer rating of 83.6, ninth in the NFL, heading into their game against the Vikings on Sunday.
The Bears pass defense, of course, is a layered product that begins with a vicious push up front. Players like Khalil Mack, Akiem Hicks and Leonard Floyd cut down the amount of time that Amukamara and the other corners are in coverage. The Bears also have an all-pro safety in Eddie Jackson on the back end.
“Our front seven definitely makes my job a lot easier and a lot less stressful,” Amukamara said. “I know if I get beat on a double-move or something, there’s a chance Khalil got to the quarterback or the quarterback can’t make the throw because there’s some other disruption.”
The game has changed for him as he’s aged, though, and that’s often a difficult juncture for players at the speed positions. Some guys adjust, some fall off because they can’t figure out how to compensate for what they’ve lost physically.
Amukamara falls into that first category. Sure, he’s not 24 anymore, but he offsets that with a sophisticated approach to receivers that comes from nine seasons of experience.
“Watching film and being smart and knowing what play’s coming does allow me to not need my athletic ability as much or just rely on that,” he said. “By knowing what’s coming next, I don’t have to be as fast.”
The only issue for Amukamara thus far has been penalties, which he acknowledged have been a problem. Corners are going to get flagged over the course of the season, especially in the offense-driven era, but Amukamara was whistled twice for hands to the face against the Redskins and once in the Broncos game (it was declined).
The Bears have been happy with Amukamara’s play overall, but he needs to squash this issue.
“He’s really aggressive and likes getting his hands on [them] at the line of scrimmage and disrupting that way,” defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano said. “It’s just a technique thing. It’s not malicious.”
That’s been an emphasis with him leading up to the Vikings game, and Amukamara attributed it to simply a mental block he has to get past. It’s not a case of this is how he normally plays and the officials are being extra attentive to it at the moment.
“I’m good for 5-10 penalties a year and I just credit that to pressing,” Amukamara said. “If we have 70 plays, I’m pressing 65 of them. I call it the cost of doing business. I’m gonna get something called.
“But the hands to the face, I’ve just gotta be smarter and lower my target. I don’t know why I’m doing it. Maybe I just need to keep my eye level down.”