What the Bears possess on the defensive edge is the understandable envy of many NFL teams. Khalil Mack, a perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidate routinely in the conversation for football’s premier faces. Robert Quinn, a former All-Pro and underrated complementary partner. A duo every pair of offensive tackles understands they’ll have to reckon with, but will somehow, as always, still be unprepared for the actual onslaught when it arrives. The Mack and Quinn together comprise Chicago’s greatest strength. The two 29-year-olds are the Bears’ roster’s strongest trump card against many an inept quarterback, and should offer a steady comfort for a good while.
But as special and as talented as Mack and Quinn are together, it’s never too early to monitor the incoming pipeline. Or, in a singular case, perhaps eye an immediate contributor.
The Bears drafted Trevis Gipson in the fifth round of the 2020 NFL Draft not necessarily because they believe he will be a superstar from the jump. They drafted him because they believe in his natural ability and propensity to develop. They drafted him because they believe even more in the professionals, the who, he can stand to learn from every day of his early career.
A late bloomer. An underrated rising star. I spoke to Underdog Dynasty’s Steve Helwick to get a deeper understanding about what Gipson brings to Chicago, and where, just maybe, this chaotic ball of energy finds his place.
1. As is the case for many late bloomers, Gipson didn’t see the field much until his final season with Tulsa. How would you describe his collegiate career as it progressed to that stage? What held him back? What helped him elevate? How could this kind of experience help Gipson in the NFL, where he’ll also likely be a project?
Steve Helwick: When Trevis Gipson first committed to Tulsa, he was hovering around 200 pounds. But over the years, Gipson worked into the athletic 6-foot-3, 261-pound frame he exhibits today. Then, his progress became noticeable on the field his junior year. Gipson started as a special teams role player and eventually worked his way into becoming a permanent defensive starter in 2018. Once given the opportunity, Gipson was known as one of college football’s best havoc-causers. He wrecked opposing backfields with five forced fumbles (second in the FBS) as a junior, while managing four sacks and nine tackles-for-loss. With a year of experience under his belt, he elevated those numbers to 8.0 sacks and 15.0 TFLs as a fully-developed senior. By then, his maturation was obvious to everyone.
2. What are Gipson’s strengths and weaknesses as a player? Where is he already ahead of the curve, and where could he stand to grow and mature? What’s an apt professional comparison for him in terms of play style?
SH: One of Gipson’s primary strengths is his quick jump off the line of scrimmage. He’s a ball of energy and displays an aggressive persona immediately after the ball is snapped. Gipson never seems to lose speed or stamina, and he sustains his explosiveness until each play’s conclusion. The principle area of focus in his development should be pass-rushing technique. He needs to piece together more strategic moves to memory in order to expand his arsenal and become an established NFL defensive end. After working under professional coaching and behind the league’s best pass rusher on the depth chart, Gipson’s technique should flourish in the near future as he gains more knowledge.
In terms of play style, the player that Gipson mirrored at Tulsa was Jabaal Sheard. While Gipson won’t be a Week 1 rookie starter as Sheard was in Cleveland (a 2011 second-round pick), the two demonstrate similar aggressiveness in their pass rushing techniques and are experts at forcing fumbles from opposing ball carriers. Gipson (6-foot-3, 261 pounds) produced 49 tackles, eight sacks, 15 tackles-for-loss, and two forced fumbles as a senior at Tulsa. Sheard (6-foot-3, 268 pounds) registered 52 tackles, nine sacks, 14.5 tackles-for-loss, and four forced fumbles in his senior year at Pittsburgh in 2010. Strikingly similar profiles from production and physical standpoints.
3. As one of two Tulsa players (the other Reggie Robinson) selected in this year’s draft, Gipson is one of the few Tulsa prospects to be drafted into the NFL in almost over a decade. What happened to the Tulsa pipeline in the years prior? What makes Gipson an exception to a school traditionally not known for top-level football players?
SH: Following Tulsa football over the years is like riding an air-powered roller coaster in the dark at Six Flags. The Golden Hurricane haven’t shown much stability as a program, and they regularly alternate between impressive peaks (three 10-plus win seasons in the 2010s) and repulsive valleys (four 9-plus loss seasons in the 2010s). Despite one of the Golden Hurricane’s worst three-year stretches in program history, Tulsa produced multiple draft picks this season for the first time since 1994 after an eight-year drought with zero draft selections. Even in Tulsa’s glory years (2007-12), producing draft picks was a tall task for the program.
Typically, Tulsa thrives as an offensive-based team. That makes its premier prospects quarterbacks, running backs, and receivers (e.g. Dane Evans, G.J. Kinne, D’Angelo Brewer, Keevan Evans) who often fly under the radar in comparison to other skill positions. What makes Gipson different from other Tulsa products is that he’s an elite pass rusher. The program hasn’t seen Gipson’s 2019 sack total replicated on campus since 2012. Elite collegiate pass rushing numbers tend to draw more eyebrows from scouts than elite rushing or receiving numbers. Gipson benefits from that aspect.
4. For the moment, the Bears are set on the edge. Khalil Mack is one of football’s premier stars. Robert Quinn should be a perfect partner opposite him. How do you see Gipson factoring into this equation as a rookie? Can he buck the trend and make an immediate impact? If you were a member of the Chicago defensive coaching staff, how would you optimize his abilities?
SH: As a fifth-round pick, Gipson is probably a year or two from earning serious snaps at the NFL level. But if there’s ever a position I’d bet on a late-bloomer to succeed, it’s defensive end. Look at Maxx Crosby on the Raiders. Crosby was a high school linebacker with one FBS offer from Eastern Michigan, and four years later, he trailed only Nick Bosa for Defensive Rookie of the Year voting at the 2020 NFL Honors. Gipson is still a project, but his athleticism, hustle, and explosiveness add plenty of potential to that project.
However, the Bears’ 3-4 defense might not be the best fit for a 6-foot-3, 261-pound defensive end without ample linebacking experience. Although Gipson served on the defensive line of a 3-3-5 defense at Tulsa, players of his size typically don’t anchor NFL 3-4 defenses. Chicago’s current defensive ends, Akiem Hicks and Bilal Nichols, starkly contrast with Gipson in terms of build and overall play-style. Thus, it will be interesting to see if Chicago converts him to outside linebacker to back up Khalil Mack and Robert Quinn. But, immediately, the Bears should insert him into the punt and field goal block units because of his ability to explode off the line and swarm past linemen. Players with full hustle on display at all times typically thrive in those roles, and several defenders (including the Bills’ Lorenzo Alexander) have channelled special teams success into full-time starting positions.
5. With Gipson’s college career over, what is one unique story or personal anecdote you would attribute to him that captures the essence of his stay with Tulsa?
SH: When he was first inserted into the starting defensive end role, the copious amount of energy Gipson brought to the Tulsa defense was evident. I covered the Golden Hurricane’s matchup with Texas in Week 2 of the 2018 season, and I vividly remember my introduction to Gipson. Trailing 21-0 on the road, Tulsa’s defense desperately needed a stop in the third quarter. Gipson shook off Texas’ right tackle and then outran the Longhorns’ mobile quarterback Sam Ehlinger, who was scrambling toward the first down sticks. With one punch, he ripped the ball out of Ehlinger’s right arm, and Tulsa recovered the loose fumble.
That play by Gipson seemed to reinvigorate Tulsa on both sides of the ball. While the Golden Hurricane eventually fell to Texas, they outscored the Longhorns 21-7 in the second half. Gipson fed off the hostile road environment, and he proved to be a difficult assignment not only for the opposing offensive line that night in Austin, but for all opposition during the rest of his tenure at Tulsa.
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