Uphill climb for Ferguson

Bears second-round defensive tackle Ego Ferguson is a player full of upside but he may need some time before he fully develops into an impact player.

Ego Ferguson is a big man. At 6-3, 315, he'll make any buffet manager cringe.

On the Halas Hall practice field during Chicago Bears Rookie Minicamp, he stood out on girth alone. And during one particular snap, he showed how that size can be a weapon.

During 11-on-11 drills, Ferguson lined up shade right on the center. At the snap, he shot into the A gap with authority. The center and right guard double-teamed him, yet Ferguson ripped his arms upward and drove both blockers into the backfield three yards deep.

Do you want to know what most people believe about Ferguson? That he needs to get stronger.

So in essence, this display of power he showed during minicamp was nothing more than the strength with which he was born. It's tough to imagine the explosive force he could become if he dedicates himself to his body.

"I just think he's got to continue in the weight room," Trestman said during minicamp. "It starts there with strength and conditioning."

Building strength is just one of many starting points for Ferguson. He was a one-year starter for LSU, accumulating just 3.5 tackles for loss and one sack. He's raw and most believed he would benefit from staying in school his senior season. Yet an injury to his mother forced Ferguson to enter the NFL Draft following his junior year.

"She was a juvenile detention center worker," Ferguson said. "She was breaking up a fight and fell on her back the wrong way and she's been rehabbing since."

Despite flashing raw strength on occasion, Ferguson did little else during rookie minicamp. In fact, his lack of technique in the positional drills was borderline alarming.

Yet the Bears knew they were taking on a project when they used the 51st overall pick on Ferguson a few weeks ago. They drafted him based on his potential, not for what he did at LSU.

"He's got excellent size, he's athletic, he's light on his feet, he's got a strong punch and a good anchor, really good balance and body control," defensive coordinator Mel Tucker said. "He's got some juice, he can explode and close in a short area, and he's shown he's got some pass-rush ability as well. There's tremendous upside. I think with good coaching, determination and grit and persistence on his part, I think he can reach his full potential here."

The Bears know what they have in Ferguson and they appear in no hurry to rush him onto the field. Right now, he's a bit wild and untamed, and it could take new defensive line coach Paul Pasqualoni years to fully tap into his potential.

"I'm a firm believer that it takes time to learn how to play, regardless of what the position is," Pasqualoni said. "I'm not a guy that thinks you go out there and this stuff comes easy. There's the old adage of, for 95 percent of the population, it's reps and it's learning. There's very, very few who just walk out there and they're great. I think that's 1 percent of the population, really. It's 10,000 reps, it's deliberate practice, specifically, exercise is very specific."

The good news is Ferguson won't need to be a Pro Bowler this year. The Bears have four other options at defensive tackle this year: Jeremiah Ratliff, Stephen Paea, Nate Collins and third rounder Will Sutton.

There's reason to believe all four of those players will have a strong impact this year. Paea should be fully recovered a turf toe injury that hampered him for most of last season. The same goes for Ratliff, who was on the shelf for more than a full calendar year due to a torn hamstring.

Collins was emerging as a competent 3-technique last season for an ACL tear ended it prematurely. If he's back at full strength, he too should take a step forward. Sutton looked trim and quick at minicamp and could have immediate value on passing downs.

So there's no need to rush Ferguson. The goal is for him to be the complete package in 2016, when Ratliff's contract expires. The Bears would be elated if he flipped the switch sooner but it's not entirely necessary at the moment. For now, he can work his way into the defensive line rotation at nose tackle, or 2-technique.

"[Pasqualoni] brought me to the office and we were basically just talking ball for a long time," Ferguson said of his pre-draft visit to Halas Hall. "He asked me, ‘Can I play that 2-technique? Can I do it? That's what they want me for.' They showed a lot of interest."

With second-round picks, it's easy to become impatient when they don't contribute right away. It's the reason so many folks have given up on Jon Bostic, who struggled his rookie season.

Yet with Ferguson, patience will be key. He's a work in progress and the Bears are basically starting from scratch. It's going to take time before he reaches his ceiling but if that happens, he could potentially develop into an extremely disruptive force for Chicago's defense.

"I think the sky's the limit for me," said Ferguson. "I just think that if I keep working the way I've been working and keep staying humble, I can do anything."

That may be true but one thing is for sure: it's not going to happen right away.


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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