Bears keeping it simple for Gervon Dexter, Zacch Pickens

Coach Matt Eberflus and the Bears have high expectations for their rookie defensive tackles, but they’re taking a step-by-step approach to get the most out of them.

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Bears rookie defensive tackles Zacch Pickens (96) and Gervon Dexter (98) are making an impact at Bears training camp. “You don’t really notice them being rookies,” linebacker T.J. Edwards said.

Bears rookie defensive tackles Zacch Pickens (96) and Gervon Dexter (98) are making an impact at Bears training camp. “You don’t really notice them being rookies,” linebacker T.J. Edwards said.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Bears rookie defensive tackle Gervon Dexter has a lot to learn, but he’s eager to show off what he already has and already knows. He can’t wait for the preseason opener Saturday against the Titans.

‘‘I’m ready,’’ said Dexter, a second-round draft pick (53rd overall). ‘‘I’m ready to compete. It’s my first NFL game. I’m prepared for it. I’m eager to play the game of football. I’m ready to fly around and showcase my talent.’’

The preseason opener will provide the first game-action glimpse of Dexter and fellow rookie defensive tackle Zacch Pickens, the Bears’ third-round pick (64th overall). The duo was drafted to fill a gaping hole in the middle of the defensive line. But while they eventually might supplant starters Justin Jones and Andrew Billings, it won’t happen overnight.

In fact, Jones and Billings have established themselves as starters in the early going in training camp. Dexter and Pickens are solidly in work-in-progress mode, with the coaching staff trying to mold them into scheme fits that will optimize their natural talent. Both are athletic enough to be good; the Bears want them to be great.

That figures to take time. But as long as Jones and Billings live up to expectations, Dexter and Pickens will be able to wade into the pool instead of being thrown into the deep end.

For the 6-6, 312-pound Dexter, the adjustment to the NFL has been as rudimentary as changing his stance. But he said he has adjusted well and is well-suited for what the Bears are asking. It’s not like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.

‘‘Some of the skill sets that I wasn’t able to do in college, I kind of already was gifted with it,’’ Dexter said. ‘‘I already wanted to do some of the things in college that I get to do here now, but unfortunately I wasn’t able to.

‘‘It was an easier transition because I always wanted to get down in that stance and just get to go. I always wanted to be able to just rush the passer and showcase my talents. That’s some of [what] I get to do now, and I think it’s going to be good for me.’’

Like Dexter, the 6-4, 304-pound Pickens has made the kind of impact in camp that allows the Bears to dream big. But also like Dexter, it’s a process.

‘‘I think he’s going to be good,’’ Jones said. ‘‘I think he has a chance to be a really, really explosive D-lineman because he definitely has the edge for it.’’

Dexter and Pickens are good litmus tests for coach Matt Eberflus and his defensive staff. Both are superior athletes — former five-star recruits in high school — who probably can be good NFL players as they are, but they can be great with a little bit of work.

Dexter, for instance, has to improve his ‘‘get-off’’ at the snap. And he has to play more consistently with a lower pad level, which will allow him to gain all-important leverage over offensive linemen instead of simply using his natural strength to explode through them. That’s not an easy thing for a 6-6 defensive tackle to do.

‘‘He is really strong and can do some things [playing] a little higher and get away with it,’’ Eberflus said of Dexter. ‘‘But if he wants to be elite, he’s going to have to learn how to get off consistently and keep his pads down as he does that. He’s starting to do that. He’s looking better and better every day.’’

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