Entering Year 4, Leonard Floyd still seeks his first double-digit sack season, but his new position coach didn’t have to search very hard to find that potential.
Bears OLB coach Ted Monachino, who worked with future Hall of Famers Robert Mathis and Terrell Suggs in his past two NFL posts, made waves recently when he said that Floyd has a “bigger toolbox than anybody else I’m coaching right now.”
In the rare chance that a few of our readers took the past 18 months off from football, yes, that includes another likely future Hall of Famer, Floyd's running mate Khalil Mack.
“I want everybody to understand what I just said, right?” Monachino said recently. “The better rusher right now is 52 [Mack]. But the natural pass-rush ability, the pass-rush gene, 94 [Floyd] has it.”
Floyd, 26, the No. 9 overall pick in the 2016 draft, was named a Pro Bowl alternate last season and recently had his fifth-year, 2020 option exercised at a cost of roughly $13 million. Floyd's last eight games easily qualifies as his most complete stretch of football in the NFL.
It’s not as if Monachino, then, has delusions of grandeur regarding his new pupil's talent level.
Still, after amassing a career-low four sacks last season, when he started all 16 regular-season games, after being limited by injuries to 11.5 sacks in 22 combined starts in 2016-17, Floyd could be on the cusp of a considerable productivity spike by improving in a couple key areas.
“Pass rush is about effort and violence, that's what it's about, and it's all about how we finish at the top of the pocket,” Monachino explained. “Because guys don't run around other players in this league. Players are too good. So we've got to get him really good at how's he going to clear, and how's he going to finish.”
Monachino said only a few moments later that he’s already seen the violence from Floyd, who’s listed at 6-foot-4 and 251 pounds but appears even more svelte this offseason. Anyone who has studied Floyd’s relentless game knows his effort isn’t a concern. And it should be equally clear one of the best athletes on the best defense in football doesn't lack in speed and explosiveness.
“Right now we're focused on just a couple of things with Leonard — and it's not because he can't handle more, it's because we want to build his toolbox in a way, this is my go-to and this is the counter off it.”
Whereas two of the best closers of our generation — Mathis intermixing his wicked bull rush with patented spin moves, and Suggs stunning tackles with his length, strength and savvy — left no doubt regarding their preferred QB paths and secondary tricks, Floyd’s still appears to be crystallizing.
His speed and suddenness in space are obviously huge assets, but on their own, they’re not enough. Floyd is unlikely to ever be rag-dolling blockers in confined areas the way Mack can. Again, it’s about finding the ideal finishing touch that fits Floyd’s blend of length and athleticism.
“If you put him in a phone booth against a big offensive tackle, yes, power and strength is a problem,” Monachino said. “But his length and his explosiveness in a short space, those things negate all of that other disadvantage. As a power rusher at the top of the pocket, I don't think he's going to have any problem. I don't think he's ever been groomed that way.”
Was Monachino taking a shot at former Bears DC Vic Fangio or Floyd’s previous OLB coaches, Brandon Staley and Clint Hurtt? Hardly. But there’s more than one way to skin a cat, and it’s possible the Bears’ new experienced defensive staff will reach a talented group of players including Floyd in different ways than the last.
“As guys buy into that idea they start to relish that, they start to gain from it because the more they can be exposed to good people, the better they're going to be, the better they're going to play and the longer they're going to be in the league,” Monachino said. “Really, at the end of the day, that's all they want, right? They want to stay in the league as long as they can and they want to win the championship, right?”
Naturally. And the Bears’ most natural pass rusher, according to Monachino, unlike his more established bookend in Mack, is still seeking the security that comes with the former. See, Floyd’s 2020 option is guaranteed for injury only, meaning the Bears theoretically could be in the market for Mack’s new partner in crime as early as next offseason. Or Floyd could realize his full potential under a new staff and become one of the Bears’ next priorities for a contract extension. At a premium position, of course, the latter requires premium production.
“I think the sacks will come,” Monachino said. “As he gets better at one or two things, his numbers will go up. And the thing that may happen first are the effective rushes. He may affect the quarterback, he may move a guy off the spot, but the more of those that come along, the more productive rushes are going to happen, the more he's going to get home and finish.”
That’s what stands between Floyd and becoming a finished product.