Leonard Floyd wasn’t on the field much in Thursday night’s 30-27 loss to the Bengals, but it only took the Bears’ 2016 first-round pick one play to show why he’s a key component on a defense looking to ascend to elite status.
Floyd’s pressure forced Bengals QB Andy Dalton to throw too soon to WR John Ross, and Bears CB Kyle Fuller jumped the route, picked off the pass and went 47 yards for a touchdown. Floyd has been brought along slowly as he rebounds from knee surgery, and he didn’t dress for the preseason opener, but the Bears are satisfied that he’s progressing on schedule. He hasn’t missed a single training-camp practice.
“I’m just really proud of the way that he’s practiced,” Bears OLB coach Brandon Staley said. “So much a part of your journey from a surgery is to get through those really tough parts physically. Going through the spring time, he was going through the practices, but it’s nothing like wearing shoulder pads and helmets, so in going through the rigor of padded practices, banging (in the full-contact portions), and he hasn’t missed a practice yet.
“That’s been really exciting for us to see him practice consistently (and) get his legs underneath him. He’s still got a long ways to go, we’ve still got four full weeks left (until the regular-season opener, and I think that we really need all four of those weeks for him to really feel like himself.”
Floyd flashed his pass-rush prowess with seven sacks in 12 games as a rookie despite some nagging injuries, showing the potential that made him the ninth overall draft pick. But he was limited to just 10 games last season, and his sack production dropped to 4.5, which was still second on the team. In the week leading up to the second preseason game, coach Matt Nagy was beginning to see the old Floyd.
“Leonard's real close, if not (already) there,” Nagy said. “You see him in the one-on-ones, and he's got a great burst off that edge. He's got some good moves that he's working on right now. He's in a good spot. I love what (head athletic trainer) Andre (Tucker) and his guys have done this whole time getting him back, and then it's a credit to Leonard for working so hard to get to this point because we need him.”
Floyd has remained low key about his rehab, but he admits he’s already cleared a major hurdle in the long road back.
“It’s going great,” he said. “I’ve got 100 percent faith in my leg. I pretty much don’t think about it when I play. Whatever the coaches want me to do for that day, I try to get it done.”
Staley says the key will be for Floyd to continue stacking practices and increasing his playing time in games until he’s ready to turn it loose in Week One -- not just as a pass rusher, but in all the aspects of his game that make him special. That’s what Staley will be watching for
“Just consistency in his performance,” Staley said. “Consistency as a rusher, consistency in the run game and consistency in coverage. Because one of the things that we love about him, is that he can do all three things really well, and to perform to his capacity on a consistent basis is what we need from him.”
The Bears got a glimpse of that Thursday night, but they’ll need to see a lot more from Floyd if their already-good defense is to become great.