Chicago Bears

Bears playing it safe with injured Floyd

Pass rush will prosper if former top pick is healthy

Bears outside linebacker Leonard Floyd is taken off the field during a 2017 game at Soldier Field.[]

Defensive end Akiem Hicks led the Bears with eight sacks last season, and the team finished No. 6 in sack percentage. But when the 332-pound Hicks was asked what could be done to jack up the pass rush in 2018, he put the spotlight squarely on outside linebacker Leonard Floyd.

“I don’t know, I keep bugging Floyd about that,” Hicks said. “He’s just got to rush harder. That’s what I need from him.”

Hicks was only half-joking. But after Floyd got seven sacks in only 12 games as a rookie in 2016, his 4½ sacks last year were less than what was expected from the ninth overall pick in the 2016 draft.

The lanky, 6-foot-4, 240-pound Floyd looks the part of a big-time sack man with an impressive combination of natural strength, athleticism and agility. But injuries have been the biggest obstacle keeping him from becoming an impact pass rusher. He missed
four games as a rookie and six last year with a variety of ailments, the most serious of which was last year’s sprained knee that required surgery.

Floyd was mostly an observer throughout the Bears’ offseason program, which concluded with Thursday’s abbreviated minicamp practice at Halas Hall. But he did participate in some 11-on-11 scrimmaging and 7-on-7 passing drills during the minicamp, although he wore a brace on his right knee, which is not yet 100 percent. Floyd hopes to be playing without the brace, which limited his mobility Thursday, before the season opener.

The Bears believe a different version of Floyd will be on display when training camp begins July 20, and coach Matt Nagy said as much when asked about the progress Floyd has made during the offseason.

“The biggest thing, when you run into a knee issue like that, is just having that trust in the knee and how it’s going to be with some of the different stunts and rushes that you have; the pass drops,” Nagy said. “For him, his strength is his size and his speed. We don’t have the pads on, so he can’t go out there and really show [everything]. He’ll be out there in 7-on-7, and he has to pull up because he can’t do certain moves. So come back and ask me that question in the summer.”

While Floyd’s on-field presence has been diminished for the past couple of months, it hasn’t been wasted time, and he’s confident his behind-the-scenes work will culminate in a healthy training camp.

“I feel great,” he said after Thursday’s practice. “I’ve been up here [at Halas Hall] the whole offseason, working hard, trying to get back in shape, trying to get my leg right so I can be ready for the season. I’m ready to get to training camp, put the pads on and see how I do.”

How Floyd does will go a long way toward determining what kind of pass rush and defense the Bears have in 2018, as his teammates and coaches know. But Floyd doesn’t want to gaze too far into the future or make any predictions for himself.

“I’m going to take it one day at a time,” he said. “I’m not going to throw any numbers out there. My role is to go out and play football, and I’m going to go out with the best of my abilities and try to do my job.”