Gervon Dexter, Zacch Pickens a litmus test for Bears

Scheme fit is everything with Matt Eberflus’ defense, and the two talented but flawed rookie defensive tackles will be a measurement of GM Ryan Poles’ ability to find the right guy and the coaching staff’s ability to develop a skilled player with untapped potential.

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Missouri v Florida

Bears second-round draft pick Gervon Dexter (9) had 55 tackles, two sacks and 4.5 tackles for loss at Florida last season.

Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images

After playing a read-and-react role as an interior lineman at Florida last season, Bears rookie defensive tackle Gervon Dexter lit up when asked about the opportunity to play in coach Matt Eberflus’ one-gap scheme that will ask Dexter to attack, disrupt and get after the quarterback.

“Oh, man, I loved it,” Dexter said. “That’s one of the things I feel like I do best. That’s kind of what I love doing. It’s what I wanted to do. It’s great for me.”

We’ll see about that. After a 2022 Bears season of evaluation and installation, the second year under general manager Ryan Poles and Eberflus is a litmus test of Poles’ and Eberflus’ ability to build a roster to fit the very specific schemes they live by. It’s the first full cycle for Poles, the coaching staff and the scouting staff to evaluate personnel in college and the NFL knowing precisely what the coaching staff is looking for.

And Eberflus acknowledged that gives the Bears a better chance at success this year after the abbreviated evaluation period they had as new hires last offseason.

“Ryan and I have a year under our belt,” Eberflus said. “We got a chance to evaluate our roster — where it was and what we did to the roster going into free agency, then building it back up through free agency [in 2023] and now another year in the draft.

“I think we’re more in line just because of the year [of] experience together. We’re right on point with who we want to add and . . . what they look like and what they do skill-set-wise.”

Dexter, a second-round draft pick (No. 53 overall) and fellow defensive tackle Zacch Pickens, a third-round pick (No. 64) from South Carolina, might be the ultimate tests in the process — a measurement of Poles’ ability to find the right guy and the coaching staff’s ability to develop a skilled player with untapped potential.

Both defensive tackles are enticing talents — nationally ranked five-star recruits whose college careers, while productive, didn’t quite live up to expectations. Dexter was the No. 3-rated defensive tackle in 2020, ahead of Jalen Carter; Pickens was the No. 1-rated defensive tackle in 2019, ahead of Travon Walker.

Poles’ tack is not a new one for talented players whose potential outweighs their flaws — “grading the flashes” in their evaluation, with the expectation of coaching the inconsistency out of a superior athlete. It’s generally a hit-and-miss proposition.

But scheme fit is the key to making both players better in the NFL than they were in college.

“When you have scheme fit,” defensive coordinator Alan Williams said, “a guy that has a skill set and then can turn into your scheme and you’re asking guys to do certain things and they match up — that’s when a guy can really flourish. I think we’ve done that.

“Ryan Poles and coach Flus [have] found great guys that fit our scheme. So we think they’ll be even better than maybe they were before in terms of production.”

Dexter and Pickens are candidates for the all-important 3-technique in Eberflus’ defense. A year ago, the Bears signed Larry Ogunjobi in free agency to fill that role. After Ogunjobi failed a physical, they signed Justin Jones, who started all 17 games and made intermittent impact.

But Dexter and Pickens were chosen even more specifically with Eberflus’ defense in mind.

“They’re big, athletic. They’re smart. They love ball. Everyone that plays in the NFL doesn’t love ball — they do,” Williams said.

Just as he said that, the 6-5, 310-pound Dexter, with his 81-inch wingspan, walked into the interview room at Halas Hall.

“He’s a big linebacker — that’s it,” Williams said. “He’s a big linebacker, and he has his hand in the dirt. That works for us.”

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