Fuller's skill set gives Bears options

With Kyle Fuller, the Bears drafted a multi-faceted defensive back in the first round. His skill set gives the team numerous options in the secondary, both in the short- and long-term.

Immediate contributions are expected from any NFL first-round prospect. For former Virginia Tech cornerback Kyle Fuller, selected by the Chicago Bears with the 14th overall pick in the 2014 draft, it's no different. Despite the fact Chicago's defense boasts two Pro Bowl corners, the Bears expect Fuller to be on the field plenty his rookie season.

"Obviously, a player picked this high we expect him to contribute this first year," said GM Phil Emery. "With the number of multiple-wideout sets that you face, and multiple receivers – whether that's two tight ends with two wideouts – we expect him to come in and contribute right away."

Fuller was a four-year starter for the Hokies, starting 42 of 50 games played – 14 as a nickelback/whip linebacker and 26 at cornerback. His versatility, size and tackling ability have led some to believe Fuller could even transition to safety at the next level. Yet Emery downplayed the idea of a position switch.

"He is a corner. That's how we see him," Emery said.

For his part, Fuller said he's never lined up at safety.

"I haven't actually played safety," said Fuller. "I haven't played it, but I played corner and nickel and I feel like I can do that."

In the short-term, the plan is for Fuller to play in the slot as the club's starting nickelback – if he can't beat out Kelvin Hayden for the job, he shouldn't have been drafted in the first round – before transitioning out wide after Charles Tillman retires.

"We expect him to come in and contribute right away [at nickelback]," Emery said, "and as time permits – and our roster will change over time, like all do – to be a starter on the outside."

The Bears see Fuller as the club's No. 1 cornerback of the future. He has very good size (6-0, 190) and speed (4.40 40-yard dash), which the team feels wills serve him well squaring off against Calvin Johnson, Jordy Nelson and the other elite wideouts in the NFC North.

"[Fuller's skill set] allows you to put players in a position [with good] matchup situations," said Emery. "For the level of player, we feel better about some of those matchups that we weren't able to match-up in the past. His length and athleticism, particularly against bigger inside receivers is one of the things that attracted us toward him.

"I think he's equally as good in both [man and zone coverage]. That's due to his football instincts being very good. He's got patience. Just like all players, occasionally they're overly aggressive. I'd rather see him overly aggressive than not. He has confidence as a coverage player in both those situations. He's really good with his hands in press-man. That comes from those long arms and that comes from his willingness to be physical. And being well coached, as he was at Virginia Tech, in terms of hand placement and knowing when to release those hands."

Yet Fuller is even stronger against the run, where his toughness and physical style of play truly show up on game film.

"I was at a game, live, that I got to watch Kyle and I knew that day, that's the type of player that I wanted to represent the Chicago Bears," Emery said. "He was playing Georgia Tech that day and they lined him up as an inverted safety and ran him through the A-gap against an option team to crash the mesh point between the quarterback and the fullback and he repetitively did that. This is one tough football player. This is a player with length, skill, athleticism, versatility, productivity.

"He's crashing through gaps, which means he had to go through offensive linemen to get to the ball and he did it repetitively. That's very impressive. You don't see too many 190-pound guys willing to do that. So that just tells you a lot about him as a football player and giving it up for his team."

Fuller's bio shows 14 starts at "whip linebacker", which is a hybrid "rover" position. Expect the Bears to deploy Fuller in that role also, serving as an extra in-the-box enforcer.

"He did play an invert," said Emery. "Virginia Tech has been famous for their 8-man fronts and they had double-inverts on the outside, or strong safeties with a 4-2 front and he played that in 2011, and that's when he had all that tackle-for-loss production. So he's a player that will do anything and everything for his team to help them win."

Despite his inexperience at the position, don't rule out the possibility Fuller eventually plays some safety. Emery said the team sees him as a corner but he left open the option of sliding him on the back end.

"We see him as a guy that has a lot of versatility in terms of coverage," Emery said. "In terms of covering different types of athletes, that's where his length really helps him. You can see him on tape covering the North Carolina tight end (Eric) Ebron. You see him cover inside slots or bigger receivers. You see him cover outside. So that versatility of coverage is a big attraction for Kyle."

Fuller also expressed confidence in potentially switching positions.

"We didn't talk about it specifically, but coming in, I feel like they know I can play corner or nickel, possibly safety. Whatever it is, I'm a versatile player," Fuller said. "Some of the things we did at Virginia Tech was some safety stuff. My skill set, as far as being able to play safety, I'm tough, physical, can come up and tackle."

Four safeties were selected in the first round yesterday, including two most considered second-round talent: Northern Illinois' Jimmie Ward and Washington State's Deone Bucannon. In a weak draft for safeties, that leaves very few starter-level players. In fact, it can be argued that only one or two safeties remaining have the potential to start this season.

Odds are likely the Bears won't be able to land a Day 1 starter in this draft. If that happens, the club enters 2014 with four less-than-ideal options at the safety position: Chris Conte, Craig Steltz, Ryan Mundy and M.D. Jennings. If no viable starting duo emerges from that group, there's a very good chance defensive coordinator Mel Tucker will give Fuller some run at safety.

Wherever he ends up playing, there's no doubt Fuller is a rare talent whose tough, hard-nosed style of play should pay big dividends for the Bears both this year and beyond.

"That's a really good player with a lot of versatility in his coverage. He's got run-support toughness," said Emery. "There wasn't any reason not to take Kyle Fuller."

Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is in his fourth season covering the Chicago Bears full time. Follow Bear Report on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Bear Report Web site or magazine, click here.

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