Inside the Huddle: Leonard Floyd is Bears’ gain, Giants’ big loss

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Bears OLB Leonard Floyd celebrates vs. the Vikings. (Getty)

Adam L. Jahns’ “Inside the Huddle” column appears in game-day editions of the Sun-Times.

Rookie outside linebacker Leonard Floyd still remembers what he felt when the Bears traded up to select him in the draft.

He was elated but stressed.

“It’s a good thing,” Floyd said. “But it’s also a lot of pressure. I mean, they traded up to get you for a reason.”

That trade takes center stage this week. It’s widely thought that Floyd was a top target for the New York Giants, who owned the 10th pick.

In a bold draft-day move, the Bears jumped ahead of the Giants, acquiring the No. 9 pick from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for the 11th pick and a fourth-round selection.

Coach John Fox downplayed the significance of the decision, referring to all the “bogus” information involved in the draft. But it might go down as one of general manager Ryan Pace’s best moves. Floyd has been that impressive.

After some early struggles attributable to minor injuries, Floyd has blossomed into an every-down difference-maker. He’s the main reason to believe in what the Bears are building.

In the last three games, Floyd has 4½ sacks and three tackles for loss. He also a forced fumble by Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and recovered it for a touchdown.

“He’s obviously a very talented young man,” Giants coach Bob McAdoo said during a conference call with the Chicago media.

The story in New York was that the Bears’ trade left the Giants spinning. It was reported that the Giants had Floyd and offensive tackle Jack Conklin in mind for the No. 10 pick. The Tennessee Titans drafted Conklin with the eighth selection after they also traded up.

The Giants selected cornerback Eli Apple — a move that was heavily criticized at the time. Apple has had typical growing pains. He responded from a Week  9 benching against the Philadelphia Eagles with a more complete performance in a 21-20 victory last week against the Cincinnati Bengals.

“Eli’s done a nice job,” McAdoo said. “He had some bumps in the road a couple of weeks ago. But we dusted him off. We threw him back out there last week, and he played at a high level. He had some production, covered well.”

But Apple’s story also includes his mother, Annie, a writer for SI.com, who has criticized the Giants this season.

“I try to handle my own messaging with the team and not necessarily worry about the noise,” McAdoo said when asked about Apple and his mother. “But he seems like he’s handling it just fine.”

It’s a recurring distraction the Bears don’t have, though. And they also have Floyd’s surging production.

The Giants’ defense only has 14 sacks, the second-fewest in the league. Safety Landon Collins is tied with defensive end Olivier Vernon — the Giants’ free-agent prize who received a five-year, $85 million deal — for the team lead with three sacks.

Floyd still is improving in one-on-one pass-rush situations. But defensive coordinator Vic Fangio has tapped into his skills through designed pressures and stunts.

Overall, Floyd has emerged as a unique and versatile weapon for Fangio, who’s not afraid to have him cover a slot receiver, rush him over a guard or loop him around two teammates on a stunt.

“This is probably the longest stretch of practice and the subsequent games that he’s had since he’s been here [because of injuries],” Fangio said, “so you’re seeing progress on the field.”

But it’s progress highlighted by the production the Bears envisioned since draft day.

“I’ve said all along that there’s an uncoachable skill set that he has, that it’s just a matter of time until he gets comfortable,” Fox said. “He’s going to be a very, very good young player.”

EXTRA POINTS

Go and get it

With Alshon Jeffery suspended, Cameron Meredith is the Bears’ No. 1 receiver, but can he make No. 1-like receiver plays?

Quarterback Jay Cutler said he can and that includes 50/50 jump balls.

“He’s a long guy in one-on-ones,” Cutler said. “His favorite route is a go route, so he can definitely do it.

“We’re going to be in a position going forward in these next four games where we’re going to have to take some shots at some point, and he’s definitely a candidate for that.”

Even though he’s 6-3 and has long arms, Meredith really hasn’t shown it yet.

When Kevin White was placed on injured reserve, Meredith slid into the No. 2 role and the offense didn’t change. But it will with Jeffery out.

Meredith excelled in plays that were typically designed for White.

Before his 50-yard Hail Mary touchdown, Meredith’s longest receptions went for 30 and 36 yards, respectively, against the Colts and Jaguars. But both were short completions, not jump balls.

The 30-yarder was the result of short curl route and broken tackles. The 36-yarder was a well-executed screen.

This rookie will play

Rookie defensive lineman Jonathan Bullard will start his second consecutive game with Mitch Unrein sidelined by a back injury.

Bullard has improved over time, but he’s still not reacting to plays and his reads as quickly as the Bears want. His coveted fast first-step has been slower because he’s over-thinking.

“It’s getting better,” Bullard said. “I still think sometimes about taking certain chances and stuff where they’re telling me to just ahead and play.

“I try to just play now. I still think about certain things that I shouldn’t and that they don’t want me thinking about. But that’s just going to come with time.”

Let this rookie play

Rookie safety Deon Bush’s development has lagged behind other rookies since he injured his hamstring in the preseason.

But the Bears are starting to phase in the fourth-round pick, getting him snaps in the dime package.

It’s only amounted to eight plays over the past four games, but it’s a start.

“He’s doing better, taking baby steps,” defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said. “Maybe he’ll warrant some more action as we move forward.”

NUMBERS GAME

75.7 – The average passer rating of opposing quarterbacks have against the Giants. It’s the fourth-best mark in the NFL.

49 – The total number of penalties the Giants offense has this season. It’s tied for the second fewest with the 49ers.

13 – The number of players the Bears have on their official reserve/injured list after placing right guard Kyle Long on it.

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