Chicago Bears defensive tackle Will Sutton has made an immediate impact his rookie season. The third rounder out of Arizona State – the two-time reigning Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year – has started the past two contests in place of Jeremiah Ratliff (concussion).
Yet Sutton established himself as an integral part of the defensive-line rotation well before Ratliff’s injury. Sutton has been taking reps with the starters since OTAs and said this week he’s not surprised at how quickly he’s developed.
“A year ago would I have seen myself out there, playing so much? Yes, definitely,” Sutton told Bear Report. “I’ve always been confident and felt ready to step in at any time. In my opinion, the way a football team is built is on the philosophy of ‘next man up’. I wasn’t surprised at all and I definitely prepared myself for that opportunity.”
Through four games, Sutton has played 141 snaps, accumulating seven tackles, one for a loss. He also has six quarterback hurries, third most on the team according to Pro Football Focus.
“I see my role as coming in there and stopping their running, disrupting their passing,” Sutton said. “It’s been a great opportunity to have so much on-field time. As a rookie there is nothing more important for your development, for your learning curve, than actually being down there on the field in a game-day situation.”
Sutton has yet to earn a sack but his effort during one pass play in Week 2 flushed 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick into the arms of fellow rookie defensive tackle Ego Ferguson, who is tied for second on the team with 2.0 sacks.
“It’s definitely fun when Ego and I are out there together. Two rookies in tandem trying to help the team get that win,” Sutton said. “We became friends early on. Playing together was what we talking about in minicamp, during training camp, and in the preseason games. The shared experience helped each of us raise the level of our individual games.”
Both Sutton and Ferguson have shown dramatic improvement the past few months.
“There’s a lot of things that we see on tape and in practice and game tape on those guys. There’s been tremendous amount of improvement since they’ve been here,” defensive coordinator Mel Tucker said this week. “Ego has played with better footwork and better pad level as of late and it’s really paid off for him in practice and the games. Now that’s just an example of some of the things you look for that help guys produce.
“Will, the same thing. Will’s using his hands better. His contact balance in the run game, things like that. Just really improved and you can see a noticeable difference since the day he got here to where he is now.”
For Sutton, taking advantage of the opportunities as they’ve arisen has been key in his development and impact.
“Somebody is hurt and goes down, you’d better be ready and able to step into his shoes. If not, why would anybody want you to be on their team?” Sutton said. “I’ve learned from the best in the league. Just watching guys like Ratliff is an education in itself. All the vets on defense have been extremely generous with their time any time I might have a question.”
Those opportunities will continue this week against the Carolina Panthers, as Ratliff will miss his third straight contest due to a concussion. As a result, Sutton will again be inserted into the starting lineup.
“Practice has gone smoothly this week. The game plan is in place and we’ve spent considerable time watching film on Carolina,” said Sutton. “So far I haven’t seen anything terribly surprising. They are coming off a loss just as we are so I know they’re going to want to make a positive statement in their home stadium.”
With Sutton, Ferguson and first-round cornerback Kyle Fuller emerging early in their rookie seasons, the future is bright for Chicago’s defense.
The next step for these youngsters will be corralling and containing Panthers quarterback Cam Newton. If Sutton can penetrate gaps against Carolina’s beat up offensive line, the Bears will likely return home 3-2 on the season.
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