Jonathan Bullard was upset.
“If you’re not, you’re not a competitor,” he said. “Who wants to stand on the sideline on game day? That wasn’t a good thing.”
Three days after he was banished to the inactive list as a healthy scratch Sunday, the Bears’ rookie defensive end still struggled to explain why. He knows the Bears expect more out of him as a third-round pick, though he hasn’t had a heart-to-heart with his coaches.
“It’s part of the business, but that’s an excuse,” Bullard said Wednesday. “You definitely have to use it as motivation. I definitely gotta go out and prove something that obviously they haven’t seen yet, and make the most out of whatever I get.
“I don’t really get that many reps in a game anyway, so when I do, I need to make the most out of it and be a little more productive, I guess.”
He had been trending downward for a while, playing 38 snaps against the Buccaneers, then 19 against the Giants and 13 against the Titans. His lone sack was two months ago.
Bullard’s benching came at a real cost: the Bears are spending the rest of their lost season trying to learn all they can about their young players.
Rookies Deon Bush, a safety, and Nick Kwiatkoski, a linebacker, played every defensive snap against the 49ers, as did second-year safety Harold Jones-Quartey. Rookie cornerback Cre’Von LeBlanc and outside linebacker Leonard Floyd, the No. 9 overall pick in April, played 97 and 90 percent of the defensive plays, respectively.
“It hit me by surprise, just like I bet it hit a lot of people,” Bullard said. “Obviously they want a little more. They want to see something else more. And I’m sure I’ll get the time to sit down with the coaches and stuff and see really what it is.
“Until then, I’ve just got to go out and work hard and work on the things I feel like I should.”
The coaching staff sent a message to more players than just Bullard.
“He’s a player that we do like, that we’re trying to bring the best out of him like we do all our players,” coach John Fox said this week. “He gets to practice all week just like the other players. Then how they perform in practice sometimes is reflective on what kind of opportunities they get in the game.
“So they have to earn it.”
Young players walk a fine line in their reaction to such demotions, defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said. The team wants Bullard to be upset, but only to a point.
“I think he’s taken it in a good, mature way, and realized that he doesn’t like it,” Fangio said.” He wishes he was out there playing that game and I think he’s taken it in a very mature, professional way, and self-analyzing.”
After playing 12 games at defensive tackle his senior year at Florida, Bullard has learned a new role — an end in a 3-4 scheme — while adjusting to the speed and strength of the NFL.
Fox offered a tepid defense of Bullard — “It’s not like it’s been all bad,” he said — but made it clear he’s looking to jumpstart him for the final four weeks of the season.
He liked how the Bears responded to adversity in Sunday’s win, and hoped that translates to his players on a personal level.
“I would expect the same from any individual player, whether it’s due to injury or maybe coaches’ decision,” he said. “We want guys to prove us wrong.”
Bullard wants to be the one to.
“It’s just one of those things,” Bullard said. “A minor setback for a come up.”