Can rookie Kylie Fitts fill the Bears’ hole at pass rusher?
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To rookie outside linebacker Kylie Fitts, what happened at Utah, stays at Utah. He will not dwell on his injury-plagued past with the Utes.
“I don’t think about that at all,” Fitts said. “That’s all in the past. I got all my injuries over with. It’s just a run of bad luck, and it’s over now.
“I’m healthy, feeling good, and I’m banking on remaining healthy and playing good.”
The Bears seem to be banking on it, too.
Of all the personnel needs that general manager Ryan Pace had to check off this offseason, the outside pass rush remains unmarked. Weak draft and free-agent classes complicated matters. But Fitts can change that. He fits the profile for a low-risk, high-reward selection from Day 3 of the draft.
Fitts (6-4, 260 pounds) was drafted in the sixth round at No. 181 after a broken foot, an ankle injury and other ailments kept him off the field and hindered his production his last two seasons at Utah. But his full college career combined with practices for the Senior Bowl offered glimpses of his pass-rush potential. Fitts also tested well at the NFL Scouting Combine.
Beyond Leonard Floyd, Fitts’ primary competition at outside linebacker consists of Aaron Lynch, Sam Acho, Isaiah Irving and Howard Jones. Other additions are expected, but early playing time should be an attainable goal for Fitts.
“He’s a kid that has a good motor,” coach Matt Nagy said Sunday. “He can bend well, he accelerates well and then he has nice size, too. Really good kid that’s putting it all together.”
Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio excels at manufacturing pressure. Inside linebackers and defensive backs accounted for eight of the Bears’ 42 sacks last season, and first-round pick Roquan Smith figures to improve that mark. Defensive lineman Akiem Hicks also is a force, setting a career high with 8½ sacks last season.
But the Bears desperately need outside pass rushers to emerge. On paper, it’s not an impressive group:
† The Bears’ decision to sign Lynch to a one-year, $4 million contract is intriguing because of his previous success with Fangio, but he’s still a wild card who had 2½ sacks over his last two seasons with the 49ers.
† Acho earned a two-year contract after making 40 tackles and getting three sacks last season, which included 12 starts. But Acho’s three sacks were his most since he had four in 2012 with the Cardinals.
† Jones still needs to prove that his torn anterior cruciate ligament from November 2016 is behind him. The five sacks he had in 2015 for the Buccaneers were a long time ago. Jones had one sack in five games last year for the Bears.
† Irving, an undrafted free-agent signing last year, excelled late in exhibition games as a rookie, but he still cleared waivers and joined the practice squad. He finished 2017 on injured reserve with a knee injury.
† Floyd isn’t a sure thing, either. The 2016 first-round pick’s potential and athleticism are obvious. But similar to Fitts, Floyd needs to stay on the field. Concussions and sprained knee ligaments limited him to 22 games in his first two seasons.
“They got a lot of good pass rushers,” Fitts said. “And I’m just going to come in, do my best and help out as much as I can.”
Again, the Bears need it.
In 2015, Fitts led the Utes in sacks (seven) and forced fumbles (four). He also had 41 tackles, including eight for loss. After that, injuries impeded his progress and hurt his draft stock. Fitts appeared in only two games in 2016.
“One of his biggest issues for all teams — including us — was the durability,” Nagy said. “If he had better durability, he probably would’ve went a little higher. So he knows that. He understands that; we understand that. We’ll focus on that but let him just keep being him as a player.”