Bears coaches can't let Kyle Fuller fail

Mike Mulligan
Chicago Tribune
Bears cornerback Kyle Fuller needs help — from coaches and pass rushers.

A secondary is only as good as a team's pass rush. That's a nifty attempt at shifting blame from the Bears' terrible Legion of Whom onto their equally indiscernible outside linebackers.

Kyle Fuller, in particular, needs a helping hand. Coach John Fox, defensive coordinator Vic Fangio and defensive backs coach Ed Donatell — brilliant teachers and strategists all — need to become facilitators, enablers and concerned listeners when it comes to the Bears' struggling second-year cornerback.

While at it, somebody might want to point out Fuller wouldn't have to commit a costly pass-interference penalty every week or allow multiple touchdowns if the guys up front would sack a quarterback once every couple of games. Jeez.

It's important to hold players accountable, and the Bears did just that by benching Fuller in the fourth quarter of a wretched loss to the Cardinals on Sunday. But in this crucial week, before going to the decidedly hostile environment in Seattle on Sunday, the healing must begin.

The Bears brain trust didn't draft Fuller, but they absolutely better make sure things turn around for the guy. This team can't afford any more draft busts or lose any young players of promise. It's time to work some magic and coach some confidence into a guy who appears to be scuffling in that area.

The alternative is unpleasant. Vulnerability is blood in the water to rival teams, and Fuller will be attacked relentlessly at the hint of trouble.

How do you help a cornerback? Sack the quarterback, for starters. There are already 94 players in the league with at least one sack and another 15 with half a sack. Sadly, none of them is a Bear.

That's a sickening fact when you consider the team has poured a lot of its resources into outside linebackers. Jared Allen ($12.5 million cap hit), Lamarr Houston ($6.99 million), Pernell McPhee ($6.67 million), Willie Young ($3.2 million) and Sam Acho ($550,000) combine to count nearly $30 million in cap space or 20.58 percent of the team's total cap cost, according to spotrac.com.

That's the second-most cap space at the position in the 32-team league behind only the Packers, who write Allen-sized checks to Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers.

How many of the current outside linebacker corps will still be on the Bears by the time they are good enough to challenge for a playoff spot? McPhee alone?

Fuller is supposed to be a cornerstone for the Bears after opening last season like he was going to be the defensive rookie of the year. Now he has three tackles, one pass breakup, two pass-interference penalties that have cost 76 yards and a series of terrible plays dating to the preseason.

Fuller counts just over $2.2 million against the cap, less than the $3 million Alan Ball makes opposite him. The Bears have invested less than all but nine teams at cornerback. But the No. 14 pick they used on Fuller in 2014 raises expectations.

Is he struggling in man coverage after opening his career in zone? Is he just uncertain about what to do in the new scheme? Is he biting too hard on double moves?

The 42-yard penalty against Cardinals speedster John Brown is an excellent example of how close things have been for Fuller. Brown got behind him and the cornerback had to race after him without being in position to turn his head.

The only thing to do in that case is to time a slap at the receiver's arms to correspond with the arrival of the ball. Fuller went too early. He needed to catch a glimpse of the ball falling and instead guessed based on the receiver's eyes.

Was it merely a question of timing or a form of panic? A player anxious to show his skill is intact can become impetuous and lose just enough control to make a bad mistake.

Very few players in any sport are immune to the worm of doubt that can burrow into the mind. Fuller is a tough kid with open-field tackling skills, the ability to blitz like a linebacker and enough ball skills to succeed in the NFL.

There is plenty worth saving. The No. 1 rule of coaching is that people with talent have a place on a team. If it doesn't work out, it's the coach who has failed as much as the player.

Special contributor Mike Mulligan co-hosts "The Mully and Hanley Show" weekdays from 5-9 a.m. on WSCR-AM 670.

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