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Bears Playbook - Darryl Sharpton, MLB

Phil Emery quietly signed Darryl Sharpton in late September, but the middle linebacker made plenty of noise in his Bears debut. Let's break down his skill set.

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

I came into the week with a plan to take a look at undrafted free agent Christian Jones, but after watching all the defensive film, it was a different linebacker who was popping off the tape play after play: Darryl Sharpton.  After four years as a special-teamer and spot starter for Houston, Sharpton made his way over to the Bears late last month to help bolster the Bears' anemic special teams.  After his first start on defense, however, you have to wonder if this mid-season addition won't become the Bears' new middle linebacker.

With the flashes of power, speed, and savvy he showed against the Falcons, Sharpton proved he is more than just a cheaper version of Blake Costanzo.  Let's start by taking a look at his power against the block. While you can assume anyone signed for his special teams skills is able to beat a block, Sharpton was blowing up anyone in his way behind and beyond the line of scrimmage.

On this first play, take a look at what the blitzing Sharpton (53) does to the hapless Atlanta running back trying to block him:

Darryl Sharpton Blows Up RB, CHI @ ATL 2014

Sharpton gets a great jump off the snap - a skill he showed down after down - and reads the incoming block well.  He lowers a shoulder, establishes position and leverage with his lower body, and levels the running back on his way into the pocket.  And while Matt Ryan does end up completing this pass to Devin Hester on a slant, Sharpton doesn't make it easy on him, taking a well-timed jump and nearly batting this ball down.

We see Sharpton showcase his speed on this next play, which also features the linebacker shooting a gap and making things difficult for a running back:

Darryl Sharpton Shoots Gap, CHI @ ATL 2014

Again, Sharpton gets a great jump on the snap count, breaking through the line before the Atlanta center had time to pull off of his double-team and block him.  Sharpton's read off of the snap practically put him in position to receive the handoff from Matt Ryan, and while Sharpton isn't able to make the tackle for a loss, he gets Steven Jackson turned around enough that Jeremiah Ratliff makes an easy tackle at the line of scrimmage.

Admittedly, it has been reported that Mel Tucker's message to his makeshift linebacker group last week was to keep it simple and play your assignment, resisting any temptation to react to the offensive formation, motion, or last-second reads.  And while this "keep it simple" approach paid great dividends for all the linebackers on the field last week, I don't think we can write off Sharpton's performance as merely being put in the right place by Mel Tucker.

The best selling point for this "Sharpton for middle linebacker" campaign was his work in pass coverage, and while he was indeed in the right position to make plays, he showed a veteran's skill moving around in his zone and locking down his receiver.  While D.J. Williams knows the playbook as well as anyone, when was the last time you saw him make plays in pass coverage like these next two?

Darryl Sharpton Blows Up Roddy White, CHI @ ATL 2014

On this first play, we see Sharpton make a fluid drop, read the quarterback, and then pop Roddy White hard enough to force the incompletion. Speed, football smarts, and an ability to bring the pain?  My kind of linebacker.

This next play is even more impressive.  The Bears bring an extra rusher and switch into a Cover 1, meaning that every defender in pass coverage is pretty much on their own.  This puts Sharpton in man coverage against Julio Jones out of the slot, and Sharpton gets one over on the Pro Bowl receiver:

Darryl Sharpton Locks Down Julio Jones, CHI @ ATL 2014

Sharpton gets a good read on Jones coming out of his break, and gets into perfect trail coverage with the knowledge that he's got safety help over the top. Sharpton's positioning forces Matt Ryan to deliver a perfect throw to take advantage of what should have been a favorable matchup for Atlanta.  But with Sharpton on Jones' hip and Chris Conte screaming in over the top, Jones is not able to reel in the low pass from Ryan out of fear for his good health.  Another incompletion for Atlanta, and another defensive stop for the Bears.

I'm not going to crown the guy after one game, but Sharpton looks to be the real deal.  With D.J. Williams still showing up on the injury report, I'd be more than happy to see the old vet take another week of rest and give Sharpton another chance to prove he deserves the starting nod on a full-time basis.  He's not going to be Brian Urlacher, sure, but having a smart veteran with legs enough to convert that knowledge into defensive stops would give the Bears something they haven't had at middle linebacker since 54 passed his prime.