Bears’ Jaquan Brisker ready to blossom in 2023 — ‘I feel like myself’

The second-round draft pick was a bright spot as a rookie safety in 2022 — despite thumb surgery, a concussion and the normal learning curve of a first-year player. But now in a comfort zone as a second-year player, he’s eager to make the next step a giant leap.

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Bears safety Jaquan Brisker (9) had four sacks, an interception, two pass break-ups, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery in 15 games as a rookie starter last season.

Bears safety Jaquan Brisker (9) had four sacks, an interception, two pass break-ups, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery in 15 games as a rookie starter last season.

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Bears safety Jaquan Brisker wasn’t just good for a rookie in 2022, he was good by most standards of NFL performance.

The second-round draft pick was a Week 1 starter despite suffering a thumb injury in the preseason opener that required surgery — and made an immediate impact in the opener with a fumble recovery on his fifth NFL snap. Brisker made a minimum of obvious rookie mistakes and looked like one of the most consistent producers on a struggling defense that slumped from seventh to 32nd in the NFL in points allowed in the final nine games.

Despite missing two games because of a concussion, he was second on the team with 103 tackles (in 15 games) behind linebacker Nick Morrow and led the Bears with four sacks — a dubious honor for the team but an impressive one for the rookie safety. Brisker, in fact, was one of four defensive backs in the NFL with four or more sacks and one or more interceptions last season.

Not a bad starting point for a 23-year-old first-year player. But when asked what he was happy about in his rookie year, Brisker was stumped.

“I wouldn’t say really too much, to be honest,” Brisker said. “I really wasn’t happy. We went 3-14. I feel like I didn’t have the year I should have had. I got to finish the year strong. I got to finish the year healthy. I don’t want to miss any games, even in preseason. I want to be out there with my teammates. So I definitely wasn’t happy with anything at all. That’s my truthful answer — there was nothing I was happy about last year.”

He can be happy that he got through it — better than many rookies, actually. And now Brisker is ready to use whatever hard lessons he learned during a difficult 2022 teardown/rebuild season for the defense and the Bears to fuel a big step forward in Year 2.

In theory, if he was effective as a safety in a bad Bears defense that had minimal pass rush in front of him, the aggressive Penn State product should flourish in an upgraded defense in its second year under coach Matt Eberflus and coordinator Alan Williams in 2023.

That’s the theory, anyway. But it’s not like Brisker is some over-achieving undrafted rookie who took advantage of a weak roster to get his opportunity. Brisker is a second-round draft pick (48th overall) who met or exceeded most of the highlights of his draft profile — sound, physical, aggressive and disciplined. (Brisker committed three penalties — a five-yard illegal-contact infraction in Week 2 and two holding penalties that were declined.)

“I felt like I could have been more involved in the defense,” Brisker said. “This year, I feel a lot more comfortable with the coaches, with the defense and the players. I feel like myself. I feel like it’s going to be a way different year than it was last year.”

It’s still early. The Bears just completed their 10 OTA practices and have a three-day veterans minicamp this week at Halas Hall. But Brisker already can see the difference that comfort level is making.

“Last year I was just moving too fast,” Brisker said. “I caught up to the game, but I messed up my thumb. When I came back, I was trying to move too fast instead of being under control, being myself, making plays and not giving up certain things or not being consistent.

“Usually I’m a consistent leader. You see it during the OTAs this year — a lot different energy. I’m flying around playing both safeties. So definitely going to get a different [No.] 9 this year.”

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