Entering a likely make-or-break season with the Chicago Bears this year, a knee injury during the preseason is really not what the doctor ordered for third-year cornerback Kyle Fuller.
While it’s being called “soreness” and doesn’t seem to be overly serious, this setback will keep Fuller out of this week’s joint practices with the New England Patriots in Foxborough as well as Thursday’s preseason matchup with the Pats.
Head coach John Fox indicated that this issue isn’t new for Fuller, either. Here’s what he said to the Chicago Tribune:
“It’s something he (Fuller) kind of was fighting through during the offseason, has fought through so far in camp,” coach John Fox said. “I’ve always been a fan of not (being in crisis mode), so we’re going to look at it a little bit more in depth and see how that materializes.”
Given his rather pedestrian showing last year in Vic Fangio’s defense and the disappointing play he has displayed for the most part since the first few games of his rookie year, these preseason reps actually mean a lot as far as Fuller. Make no mistake: while he likely won’t be released, he’s in for a year-long fight to keep his starting job right now.
And with his injury, we’re going to see a lot more from the guys that will fill in for him while his injury persists/could eat into his snaps later in the season.
First up? Well, based on last Thursday’s contest, the Bears’ first instinct could be to move Bryce Callahan outside and put Demontre Hurst at slot, though this might have just been them sticking to the depth chart—Callahan is listed as second-string right corner behind Tracy Porter.
To be honest, that would be a lazy fix to continue to employ in my opinion given his performance against the Broncos.
Yes, he made a great play out in space to tip a pass that linebacker Jerrell Freeman then intercepted, no doubt about that. But his technique looked atrocious on the touchdown pass he gave up to Demaryius Thomas on what was not much more than a straight fade route against what appeared to be Cover 4. Here it is again, if you have the stomach for it:
That’s pretty bad. So forgive me if I’m not enthused about him covering one of the other team’s top two receivers on the outside ever again.
The next two guys on the list I’d expect to fill the void left by Fuller are largely unproven but intriguing options: De’Vante Bausby and Deiondre’ Hall.
Bausby in particular has been a surprising development for the Bears, an undrafted free agent that started out with the Kansas City Chiefs last year before breaking his collar bone and subsequently being released. Since the Bears picked him up this offseason, he has been repeatedly making plays on the ball and drawing positive reviews for his man coverage ability.
Additionally, though this might not be set in stone, Bausby was listed in the Bears’ first unofficial depth chart as the second-string cornerback behind Fuller, with Hall listed as third-string.
That said, the buzz is likely going to be all about Hall this week after his back-to-back pass breakups in the endzone against the Broncos. His game wasn’t perfect—he got beat on a shallow crossing route by Cody Latimer, and even on his pass breakups, receivers gained separation on him due to lack of great speed—but his ability to make plays on the ball with his exceptional length was undeniable.
Nice finish by Hall. Play the pocket. Get the ball out. That's two in a row from the rookie vs. the fade route. #Bears
— Matt Bowen (@MattBowen41) August 12, 2016
Said Fox about Hall to the Chicago Tribune after the Broncos game:
“In his first test he earned more time, and we’ll see where that takes us.”
Assuming the Bears stick to the depth chart as they did in the Porter-Callahan case, we’ll see Bausby out there first against the Patriots, but I have a feeling Hall will get thrown in for a few snaps with the Bears’ first unit just to see how he responds.
A sleeper in this rotation: Jacoby Glenn, who received a good amount of playing time with the Bears’ second-team defense last Thursday and is well-liked by John Fox and the coaching staff. After spending most of last year on the practice squad, Glenn has been trying to outplay the fourth-string depth chart spot he’s been assigned, even breaking up a pass intended for Alshon Jeffery in practice Sunday.
Fox had this to say about Glenn prior to the first preseason game, via ChicagoBears.com:
“We liked him last year. He’s a young player that we saw improve as we went. He has done that and we’ll see how he does in a game setting Thursday night.”
The cornerback position certainly looks thin after Fuller and Porter, and it would make sense for the Bears to target free agents in the coming weeks to supplement their very young depth on this roster.
But if one or two of these young cornerbacks can make the most of the extended playing time they’ll probably get Thursday, it could both reassure the team—and fans, of course—that the Bears can survive an injury to their starters as well as promote a true sense of competition at a currently troublesome position.