Bears move to solidify defense on Day 2 of draft

Lost in house-on-fire need to get quarterback Justin Fields the draft help he deserved was this sobering fact: the Bears had the worst defense in football last year.

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Miami cornerback Tyrique Stevenson returns a punt in September.

Miami cornerback Tyrique Stevenson returns a punt in September.

Eric Espada/Getty Images

Tyrique Stevenson sat in Bears coach Matt Eberflus’ office during one of the team’s 30 prospect visits allowed by the NFL.

“He [said] the only reason I’m on a ‘30’ visit is because I play the game how it used to be played — very tough and very physical,” the former Miami cornerback said.

No one likes talking about how the game used to be played more than the Bears, whose last 50 years haven’t been nearly as successful as the first 50. Those around the team who deify Dick Butkus and Mike Singletary found last season particularly distasteful. Lost in a house-on-fire need to get quarterback Justin Fields the draft help he deserved was this sobering fact: The Bears had the worst defense in the NFL last year.

No one gave up more points. Only three teams gave up more yards.

The Bears were equal-opportunity terrible. The 7.4 net yards per pass they allowed were the most in the league, and the 4.9 yards per rush they allowed were sixth-most. After they traded linebacker Roquan Smith, things got even uglier. They allowed a 106.3 passer rating, by far the worst in the NFL, and had a league-low seven sacks.

On Friday night, they took steps to try to fix it, drafting Florida defensive tackle Gervon Dexter at No. 53 and — after giving the Jaguars the first pick of the fifth round to move up five spots to No. 56 — Stevenson. They took yet another defender, South Carolina tackle Zacch Pickens, with the first pick of Round 3.

“We want to take a big step [on defense],” general manager Ryan Poles said afterward. “We’ve done that in free agency, and we’ve done it in the draft, too. We get a corner that can come in and compete for a spot on the outside, and then you get those big guys inside to really be in heavy rotation.”

Interior defensive linemen aren’t sexy picks, but Poles has struggled to land a big name. He signed former Bengals end Larry Ogunjobi to a three-year, $40.5 million deal last offseason, only to tear it up when Ogunjobi failed his physical. He looked at free agents Dre’Mont Jones and Javon Hargrave in March but found them too expensive. He could have taken Georgia defensive tackle Jalen Carter at No. 9 on Thursday but balked.

Pickens and Dexter can both play nose tackle and the “three” technique.

“In this defense, you’ve got to be able to run,” Poles said. “We’re younger, more athletic, faster.”

Friday’s haul was exactly what the Bears needed — and, not coincidentally, different from what they’ve done in years past. In a span of about 45 minutes, they took three defenders — as many as they’d taken on Day 2 of the draft from 2017 to 2022 combined.

Two of those earlier picks — cornerback Kyler Gordon and safety Jaquan Brisker — will pair with Stevenson in the backfield. Stevenson will play outside corner, Poles said, with Gordon bumping inside to the slot.

Dexter and Pickens will join a defensive line that was the worst in the NFL last year in both pass rushing and run stuffing, according to Pro Football Focus.

Dexter didn’t begin playing football until 11th grade because he was a standout basketball player. His travel team included future NBA star Scottie Barnes.

“On the basketball court, I was very aggressive, so I was starting to foul out of a lot of games,” he said.

He, Stevenson and Pickens all bring attitude to a defense in need of an adjustment. The Bears believe they began their overhaul when they signed linebackers Tremaine Edmunds and T.J. Edwards in March.

“You’re getting an all-out baller who is coming in ready to make an impact from Day 1,” said Stevenson, who played on Bears offensive coordinator Luke Getsy’s American squad in the Senior Bowl.

He’ll get a chance to play. So will Dexter, who said he was “that guy who can get going and cause havoc and work the game.” When he visited Halas Hall, he got his own lesson.

“Just the history of the defense, of the Bears,” he said. “Just going through, like, all of the background of everything. I just loved it and am definitely proud to be a part of it now.”

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