Prior to yesterday’s preseason-opening 23-17 win by the Chicago Bears, I wrote about how important it was for some key young players to play well in this game. On the defensive side of the ball, several players jumped out, and that will make for an interesting next three weeks as Chicago prepares for the 2023 NFL season.
After playing well his first two seasons, Trevis Gibson regressed last year and was clearly in danger of not making this year’s 53-man roster. It was imperative that Gipson have a strong preseason and play the way a challenged player should. In short, it may have been one of the best games of his career. In about a half of play, Gipson had five total tackles, a sack and three quarterback hits. Not only did he rush the passer very well, but his run defense was equally good. He was strong setting the edge and was able to get off blocks very quickly. His aggressive demeanor was just what we needed to see.
Dominique Robinson started off quickly last year, then faded. Part of the reason was that he was a relatively new defensive lineman and needed to get stronger. Robinson came to camp a little bigger and much stronger, and it showed yesterday. He only played the opening two defensive series and didn’t do much as a pass rusher, but his run defense was outstanding. He stood firm at the point twice, shed quickly and moved inside to make tackles for no gain. While it may seem minor to some, those were “wow” plays to me because he couldn’t do that a year ago. As for the pass rush, he didn’t get many opportunities, so we will need to see that next week at Indy. I feel Robinson is in for a big year playing in the defensive end rotation.
Terrell Lewis has become a fan favorite during training camp because of his edge speed while rushing the passer. On the hoof, he looks like an edge pass rusher should look. He’s tall, long, fast and athletic. Lewis continued his strong pass rush in the Tennessee game with two sacks and a caused fumble.
Lewis is very quick off the ball and has a good bend and lean to run the hoop. As good as he rushed the passer, he didn’t play the run very well. He failed to set the edge on one outside run and let himself get hook-blocked on another. Yes, rushing the passer is important, but he must also play the run if he wants to make the 53.
Last year while at Florida, Gervon Dexter was consistently late off the ball. It is the one major area that needed improvement. In his first NFL outing, I only saw one play in which I felt Dexter was even a little late reacting to the snap.
Dexter only finished the game with two total tackles, but his ability to hold the point and not give ground was very impressive. He played hard every snap and also showed a high degree of toughness. Late in the first half, it looked as if he hyperextended his knee when getting caught up in a pile. He showed his “want to” by staying in the game for another play before the coaching staff pulled him out so that the training staff could take a look at the knee. Obviously, it was minor, as he was back in to start the second half.
The one area where Dexter needs to improve is with his pad level. Though he is a lot quicker off the ball, he gets tall too soon and exposes his body to blockers. When he learns to stay a little lower, he will be even more effective than he was.
The rookie defensive lineman that stood out for me was Zacch Pickens. Pickins played mostly as a 1-Tech but consistently got penetration in the run game and also worked a stunt well with Dominique Robinson to get a sack. In about a half of total playtime, he recorded four tackles and a sack. Those are impressive numbers. Pickins is a powerful player and will only get better with experience. My feeling is that he will be a third-round steal.
There was supposed to be a battle between Tyrique Stevenson and Terell Smith for the corner job opposite Jaylon Johnson. That battle never materialized yesterday, as Smith did not play due to a minor injury. Stevenson stood out! He got off to a rough start on Tennessee’s first pass play as he had a blown coverage on a crossing route giving up a long gain. After that, his play was excellent. Tyrique is very physical for a defensive back, and that showed with his hitting ability, run support and tackling. He also closed quickly to get a PBU on a pass play. What I like about Stevenson is he didn’t let one negative play affect his overall game. That is a trait that corners need to have in order to be successful in the League.