Bears DE Roy Robertson-Harris is No. 2 in the NFL with 3 ½ sacks this preseason.
Sure, it’s the preseason, and sure the Bears have played one more game than everybody else except the Ravens, but still …
“Yeah, I've been told a few times,” said the unimpressed 6-foot-7, 295-pound Robertson-Harris, who was undrafted out of Texas-El Paso in 2016 as a 255-pound outside linebacker. Robertson-Harris led the NFL in sacks when he was asked Monday, prior to Colts DT Hasaan Ridgeway overtaking him Monday night.
“I’d like to see that in the regular season, though. Ain't nobody gonna remember that within the next year.”
They might remember it if he parlays his successful preseason into the starting job at right end on a Bears defense that was a top-10 unit last year but is looking for someone to team with LDE Akiem Hicks and NT Eddie Goldman in the base 3-4.
Jonathan Bullard, the Bears’ third-round pick in 2016, is currently listed as the starter at right end, but the depth chart is written in pencil, and Robertson-Harris could win the job.
“I feel like I can,” he said in his deep-bass voice with more than a tinge of Texas drawl. “At the end of the day, it's not my decision. It's all up to the guys upstairs. I’m just doing my part, doing what I can to make the team first, and whatever coaches decide, I'll be ready to go.”
Defensive line coach Jay Rodgers spent much of training camp evaluating the competition between Bullard and Robertson-Harris, which is likely to continue throughout the preseason before a regular-season starter is named and even then, the RDE position could wind up as a job share.
“It’s on a daily basis,” Rodgers said back in training camp. “Are you having a good day or a bad day? That’s how I evaluate – (and) the games matter. You find out who can put it all together when the lights shine. Every day we grade these guys, and every game we grade these guys, and whoever is consistently doing these things will move up and down on the depth chart.”
Robertson-Harris has shown up at game time as much as anyone. He’s come a long way since he spent the 2016 season on the non-football-injury list following a serious heat-related illness he suffered after becoming dehydrated while training in Houston in July just before the start of his first NFL training camp. He didn’t play that season but added 30 pounds of good weight without losing his ripped physique. He did outgrow the OLB position, though, and was moved to the D-line, where he spent most of his time at UTEP.
In an effort to improve his pass-rush presence in the offseason, Robertson-Harris added boxing workouts to his normal regimen with his personal trainer and worked with former Falcons DE Chuck Smith. The emphasis was on developing better technique with his hands.
Robertson-Harris also pumped up to his current weight by adding 10 more pounds without sacrificing his movement skills.
“Did a lot of strength training,” he said. “Trying to get stronger and make sure I can take on double-teams and things like that. Last year I was at 285. Now I'm 295, and I don't want to be big and fat, so I wanted to make sure 295 is also coming with strength.”
Robertson-Harris played sparingly for most of last season, but he finished strong with two sacks in the final four games and a career-best four tackles in the season finale. With another year to grow into his new, bigger body, another year in defensive coordinator Vic Fangio’s system and a chance to compete for a starting job there’s never been a better time for Robertson-Harris to establish himself.
“I definitely feel more comfortable than I did a year ago,” he said. “OTAs a year ago, preseason, I was still trying to get used to the defense. (Having) played a whole year in the defense, I know what I'm doing. At this point, I’m just working on technique stuff to be in the best position to make plays and be a part of a good defense.”
If he carries his impressive start into the regular season, Robertson-Harris could help make the Bears’ defense a lot better than “good.”