Bears rookie safety Jaquan Brisker making good first impression
After an interception by rookie cornerback Kyler Gordon, the second-round draft pick intercepted Justin Fields for a pick-six in practice Friday. He and Gordon are on pace to start Week 1 and could help give the Bears’ defense the takeaway bite it has been missing.
Bears coach Matt Eberflus’ emphasis on takeaways seems like just another new-coach cliché. Every coach wants his defense taking the ball away.
But as we learned from the Lovie Smith era, an obsession with takeaways can make a difference. Under Smith, the Bears were so wired to take the ball away that defenders would scoop up even clearly incomplete passes in training camp and take off for the end zone.
It was almost to an annoying degree, but there was a payoff. Under Smith, the Bears led the NFL in takeaways in 2006 (44) and 2012 (44) and were among the top eight in seven of his last eight seasons (the exception was 2009, when linebacker Brian Urlacher was injured in Week 1).
Now comes Eberflus with his own ‘‘fanatical’’ version of that takeaway mentality. He has a little credibility of his own: The Colts were second in the NFL with 33 takeaways last season and tied for fifth with 25 in 2020 under Eberflus. In his four seasons as their defensive coordinator (2018-21), the Colts were second in the NFL in takeaways with 107.
Eberflus came to the Bears with the charge of putting the bite back into a defense that has had 16, 18 and 19 takeaways in three seasons since coordinator Vic Fangio left to become the coach of the Broncos. The total of 53 ranks 28th in the NFL during that span.
Rookie cornerback Kyler Gordon and rookie safety Jaquan Brisker — two second-round picks — provided a glimpse of the potential they have to fill that takeaway void Friday. Gordon intercepted Justin Fields on the first pass of a red-zone drill. Moments later, Brisker alertly jumped a route by tight end Cole Kmet for another interception of Fields — and a touchdown.
It might turn out that Fields throwing two picks was the bigger indicator. Training camp is a zero-sum game. Until then, however, two rookies who were handpicked by the Bears to make plays making plays carried the day.
‘‘Ballhawks, that’s what they are; that’s why we brought ’em here,’’ Eberflus said. ‘‘A person doesn’t change from college. If they have ball skills in college, they still have it. We enhance them by being fanatical and us practicing the way we practice and the skills we do. But it’s got to be a want-to.
“It’s got to be like ‘Peanut’ [Charles Tillman], when he was here talking to those guys about how to punch it out and the details of that. To me, that’s exactly what they’re doing. They’re taking it to the next level.’’
Gordon’s interception was a reminder of just how contagious takeaways can be with the right players in the right mindset.
‘‘Once he got the first [interception], I was like, ‘I gotta get one now,’ ’’ Brisker said. ‘‘So there’s definitely a competition between everybody in the room, with the corners and safeties and linebackers. I’m definitely trying to be the takeaway king.’’
Like Gordon, Brisker appears likely to start in Week 1 and already has shown Eberflus he’s up to the job.
‘‘You can just see it,’’ Eberflus said. ‘‘I’m a guy that looks at gear change, where he can really speed up, and then body control after he does that to make plays. He has that.’’
Gordon and Brisker arguably will be the first test of general manager Ryan Poles’ ability to get players who are a precise fit for Eberflus’ defense. So far, the obsession with takeaways is a good match.
‘‘Throwing it every single day, every single word they say is probably, ‘Get the ball back, get takeaways,’ ’’ Brisker said. ‘‘Chicago is way more on it than any other place I’ve been.’’