Bears’ cornerback Kyle Fuller made his first start in over two seasons this past Sunday against Atlanta.
Fuller has regained the trust of the Bears’ coaching staff. Originally the No. 14 overall pick by former general manager Phil Emery in 2014, he looks to have his confidence back on his side.
After having his 2016 campaign wiped out by a nagging knee injury, Fuller looked determined this preseason and in solid in the season opener with six tackles and a pass breakup. The 25-year-old seems to finally be coming into his own in Vic Fangio’s defensive scheme.
Only linebacker Jerrell Freeman had more tackles (10) than Fuller in the 23-17 loss to the Falcons four days ago.
Fuller now has 31 NFL starts under his belt. Prior to this season, he had 119 tackles, 19 pass breakups, six interceptions and three forced fumbles. The Bears declined Fuller’s fifth-year option ($8.52 million) back in April forcing many to assume he’d be left off the roster.
Following the free agent additions of Prince Amukamara and Marcus Cooper it surely seemed like Fuller would be long gone. But he worked his way back to 100 percent and took advantage of injuries to both Amukamara and Cooper in the preseason.
With Amukamara out in Week 1 with an ankle injury, Fuller got the spot start. It appears he could do that again this week against Tampa Bay.
Fuller held his own matching up against the Falcons deep receiving core that features Julio Jones (four catches, 66 yards), Mohamed Sanu (six catches, 47 yards) and Taylor Gabriel (three catches, 36 yards).
He’s surely had his fair share of criticism from Bears’ fans and Fangio. After a rookie season where Fuller started 14 games, generating four interceptions and three forced fumbles it appeared his arrow was pointing up.
However, his second season opened very rough. He was benched early in a Week 2 blowout loss to Arizona in favor of Terrance Mitchell. It turns out Mitchell went on to be a starter for Kansas City.
Following the 48-23 beat down, Fangio wasn’t too pleased with Fuller.
“Kyle’s got to be able to take his game from the practice field to the game field and play with confidence,” Fangio told the Chicago Tribune. “You’re not going to have confidence until you do good things. You can’t just say I’m whoever I am, and go out and play and have results.”
Then came the awkward comments made by Fangio. It seemed as if Fuller would return from minor arthroscopic knee surgery done last August during the Week 16 schedule. Instead, Fuller didn’t suit up and informed the media he wasn’t able to talk to them.
“I would if it got to that stage,” Fangio told the Chicago Tribune last December. “But any time a guy is hurt, there’s three stages to getting back to the field. One is you’ve got to get medical clearance. Two, the player has got to say he’s ready to go and feels confident and he’s champing at the bit to go play. And then the coaches get involved and see if he’s better than what the other choices are, and if he really is back to being able to play. ‘A’ has happened. ‘B’ hasn’t, so ‘C’ is a non-issue.”
Fangio had this to say about Fuller on Thursday. It was a clear change in his belief in Fuller.
‘‘I was pleased with the way Kyle played overall,’’ Fangio told the Chicago Sun-Times. ‘‘There’s obviously some plays he’d like to do over and play them a little better, but I thought he did a good job. I like where he’s at right now.’’
We’ve come a long way from the 2015 benching and strange knee issue a year ago. Fuller is mentally and physically healthy and it is clear Fangio and his staff trust him fully. He is quick to make hard tackles and with his lengthy arms, he’s able to use that to his advantage.
Sunday marked just the sixth time in Fuller’s career that he was able to tally six or more tackles. The last occurrence came on Nov. 26, 2015 against Denver when he had seven tackles.
Whether you like Fuller or not, he’s starting to mature as a pro and the fact that Amukamara has yet to play helps Fuller’s stock.
Amukamara is here on a one-year deal. Fuller is a free agent after this season. The Bears will have an easy decision to make if Fuller continues to play smart football. Generating turnovers is essential for this defense and I fully expect Fuller to be able to do just that like he has in the past.
Thoughts on the Bears? Make sure to weigh in on the comment section below.