It has been quite some time since I considered the Chicago Bears secondary to be anything but a massive, unorganized, slow-moving, Conte-infected dumpster fire, but heading into training camp this summer, I feel pretty great about who we have on the depth chart. Kyle Fuller finally decided to play like a 1st-round pick (strangely, it took him until his contract year to do so) and we just resigned him to a multi-year deal. Eddie Jackson looks to have been an absolute steal in the 4th round last year, as he came in as a rookie and provided a presence at safety that we haven’t seen since Mike Brown in the early 2000s. Adrian Amos is excellent against the run, could still use some polish as a ball hawk, but is serviceable next to Jackson, and Prince Amukamara, who we just signed for three more years, rounds out the crew and despite his absolutely mysterious inability to intercept the football (7 career interceptions in 7 seasons, including an astonishing 0 picks over the last two seasons), plays well enough to be a slightly above-average starter at the cornerback position.
Now our secondary is far from the second coming of the legion of boom or really anything special for that matter, but they all do their jobs well enough and more importantly, no one is a Ryan Gosling level liability at defensive back. Goslings inability to stay in front of a white (read as slow) wide receiver was inexcusable and almost cost Coach Boone his job at T.C. Williams. The Bears have had their share of Goslings over the years, so it is refreshing to be Gosling-free going into the 2018 season.
Heading to the draft last month with a secondary we felt pretty good about, we ended not selecting a defensive back for the first time since 2013. Now, I had no problem with that decision, as we had other areas that needed to be addressed, but in a pass-addicted NFL, I always believe it’s important to infuse young blood into the secondary whenever possible. Enter Bears General Manager Ryan Pace.
Immediately following the draft last month, Pace signed cornerback Kevin Tolver II, who went undrafted out of LSU. In my opinion, this is not just a smart signing, but a slam dunk. Tolver has all of the potential in the world. At one point, he was the top high school defensive back recruit in the country and made an immediate impact at LSU as a true freshman, starting eight games. His elite size (6’3″, 192 pounds) and athletic ability projected future stardom heading into his sophomore year, but that is when things began going south. During his sophomore season, he experienced a number of injuries and dealt with a suspension for missing team meetings. He only started five games and wasn’t nearly as dominant as he was during his freshman campaign. However, he still showed flashes of brilliance and began the 2017 season on the preseason Bednarik Award watchlist (awarded to the best defensive back in college).
Despite the hype, Tolver was never able to fully reclaim the starting spot he owned during his freshman season, starting just five games again. More alarmingly, Tolver played less than a dozen plays in his last game against Notre Dame in the Citrus Bowl. Unsurprisingly, his NFL draft stock, which at one point was Google (trading at $1,081 a share as of yesterday) in quality, now resembled Radio Shack (trading at $0.31 a share as of yesterday). Despite his stock bottoming out, Tolver still decided to declare for the NFL draft. If you wanted to put a positive spin on this, you could chalk his ill-advised declaration for the draft as betting on himself, but most see a kid with the ego the size of an extra large deep dish pizza, who is delusional on his abilities and refuses to listen to coaches because he thinks he has it all figured out. That reason, along with other red flags, are the reason Tolver was available after the draft was long over and Mel Kiper Jr. had already retreated to his underground bunker, only to re-emerge for 2019 draft coverage next spring.
Tolver’s talent has never been in question, as you can’t teach size and speed, but his character experienced an Anton Chigurh-level assassination leading into the draft. A number of former coaches deemed him unteachable and immature. He has been diagnosed as acting entitled and his ego would make Terrell Owens blush. He was disliked by some of his teammates and constantly labeled as a distraction;I think you get the picture. The kid wasn’t winning any popularity contests in Baton Rouge.
Now when it comes to defensive backs, I want them to be cocky. In my mind, they have to have an edge, which usually comes with an ego in toe. The best one’s usually do (do you think Richard Sherman, Deion Sanders, or Ed Reed have ever had a slice of humble pie in their entire life?) and they almost need one due to the responsibilities of their job. Many times, they find themselves one on one against some of the biggest and most athletic skill players in the game and are expected to hold their own in a league who’s rules favor the offensive player.
Now, the rumblings that he was unteachable and immature are different. Those scare me a bit and if he doesn’t clean up his act he will be out of there fast. But the issues on ego; bring me the all the ego in the world. If he is able to back it up with his play, I can look past ego any day. In our division, with top tier quarterbacks in Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford, and now Kirk Cousins, we could use all the egos we need.
Now I am not saying Tolver is going to come in and be the next Charles Tillman. Hell, he might not even make the team. Although he has NFL-caliber talent, every NFL team passed on him in the draft and the red flags surrounding Tolver could all blow up in our faces quickly and make this article look stupid months from now. However, Tolver does have uncommon size and speed for a defensive back and he is already making noise in the Bears rookie mini-camp. He has arrived in Chicago with the perfect make-up for the modern day NFL cornerback and the Bears defensive coaching staff is one of the better ones the league has to offer. Nothing against the coaching staff at LSU, but they are no Vic Fangio. He will have grown men as co-workers who will hold him accountable. If Tolver can stay on a straight arrow and get the most out of his god given gifts, he has NFL-starter written all over him. Prince is signed for the next three years and is serviceable, but Tolver has an “IT” factor he can bring to the table that Prince never has had or will have. Prince gets the job done. Tolver can change a game and with a year or two of seasoning, he has the chance become a playmaker on our defensive. Will Tolver overthrow the Prince? We shall know in due time, but first, he has to make the team.