Bears CB Tyrique Stevenson’s preseason ‘could’ve been a lot better,’ but he’s ready now

Stevenson held off a challenge from fellow rookie Terell Smith and secured his spot as a starter with an interception against the Bills.

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Bears cornerback Tyrique Stevenson celebrating an interception against the Bills.

Tyrique Stevenson committed two defensive holding penalties early, then rebounded with an interception.

Quinn Harris/Getty Images

The stakes are high for general manager Ryan Poles’ early-round draft picks. He has to be right on nearly all of them to keep his rebuild on schedule.

That means Poles and the Bears have a lot riding on rookie cornerback Tyrique Stevenson, whom Poles picked in the second round (No. 56 overall) out of Miami. Stevenson’s uneven preseason continued in the Bears’ 24-21 loss Saturday to the Bills with an interception and two penalties.

But takeaways trump all with coach Matt Eberflus, and Stevenson’s pick late in the first quarter against backup quarterback Kyle Allen is exactly what the Bears want to see — especially because he didn’t let two defensive-holding flags derail his day.

‘‘As a young player, you’re going to have a lot of learning experiences,’’ Eberflus said. ‘‘The ability to bounce back and have a nice interception and be able to just come back and play the next play [is positive]. And that’s going to happen during the course of the year.’’

Stevenson’s resilience has been tested repeatedly in the last month, and he has survived. He appears to have a strong hold on the starting outside cornerback position opposite Jaylon Johnson. That was the plan when Poles picked him, with second-year cornerback Kyler Gordon at nickel, but quite a bit transpired in between.

Fellow rookie Terell Smith, a fifth-rounder from Minnesota, started cutting into Stevenson’s first-team snaps early in camp.

Then the preseason games filled up both sides of the ledger for Stevenson. He had seven tackles, including one for loss, and a pass breakup against the Titans in his debut but also was assessed a 15-yard penalty for unnecessary roughness for a late hit.

A week later against the Colts, Stevenson was flagged for another late hit and let a would-be interception slip through his hands in the end zone on a touchdown catch by Juwann Winfree.

‘‘It could’ve been a lot better,’’ Stevenson said of his preseason. ‘‘I made some rookie mistakes, but I also felt like I grew in my knowledge and how I understand the game. I’ve gotta improve a lot come Game 1.’’

That’s in two weeks, when the Bears open the regular season at home against the Packers. And while Stevenson is right to scrutinize his flaws — because opponents certainly will — he’s much more poised for the challenge than he was when he got to Halas Hall.

‘‘I understand what’s going on and what the coaches want from me,’’ he said. ‘‘I understand my purpose on this team and what I need to work on to be able to contribute. I’ve got a handle on things now.’’

The interception against the Bills was encouraging in every aspect. Stevenson read the route, made his move in front of receiver Gabe Davis at the right moment and stayed in bounds.

Allen went deep to Davis on an out route to the left sideline, and Stevenson was on him the whole way. He cut off the pass and showed great awareness by getting both feet down before his momentum carried him out.

It was such a good move that he didn’t believe it.

‘‘I didn’t think I had it,’’ he admitted. ‘‘I just knew I caught [the ball]. I was like, ‘I got two feet in? Oh, OK.’ I was just out there having fun.’’

As that piece of Poles’ and Eberflus’ plan materializes, they need the rest of it to come together. Safeties Eddie Jackson and Jaquan Brisker have been out multiple weeks, and the Bears started backups Elijah Hicks and A.J. Thomas in their place.

With Jackson and Brisker sitting, as well as defensive end DeMarcus Walker, Bills starter Josh Allen rolled the starting defense for a 72-yard touchdown drive in his only action. He breezed by the Bears, completing 5 of 7 passes for 49 yards, and running back James Cook ran five times for 20 yards.

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