The Chicago Bears addressed the need for an explosive interior defender in the third round of this year's draft with the selection of former Florida defensive lineman Jonathan Bullard.
Bullard played both defensive end and defensive tackle in Florida's 4-3 system, and finished his senior season with 66 tackles, 17.5 for loss, and 6.5 sacks, which earned him third-team AP All-American honors.
To get a better feel for Bullard's skill set and how he'll improve Chicago's defense, I broke down film from three SEC contests last season. Here's what I found.
-2:15, Bullard fires off ball, demonstrates explosiveness and the ability to anticipate snap count, forces guard to double team, which allows ILB to roam free. 3-tech technique, 5-tech results.
-2:24, he again explodes off the snap, guard and tackle forced to double team, running back has to help, takes three guys to block him.
-4:35, doesn’t extend arms but is able to still separate from the block and make the tackle. That’s pure power.
-5:10, explodes into C gap, OT has to tackle him to stop him from disrupting the play.
-6:07, tries to swim around the block, gets driven to the ground. Bad decision, bad balance.
-7:12, Bullard is shot out of a cannon, drives the the right guard five yards into the backfield.
-8:21, shot of a cannon again, drives the guard six yards into the backfield.
-8:38, stands up RG, keeps eyes in backfield, sheds block and makes tackle for loss.
-2:07, drives blocker down the line of scrimmage, disengages and makes tackle for a 1-yard loss. Very impressive display of power and leverage.
-3:05, Bullard comes off the ball lightning quick and shoots the gap immediately, three guys try to block him yet he’s still able to make the tackle for loss. This is an exceptional snap.
-3:20, the Vols again try to use a reach block on Bullard, yet he fires into the gap, drags a blocker on his back and make the tackle for an 8-yard loss.
-5:02, initially locked up, Bullard keeps eyes on QB and sheds block, forcing the outside cut. He then tracks him down and makes the tackle for loss.
-5:45, works up outside shoulder of guard, then puts it into second gear and goes right around the blocker. Bullard has an easy sack but he’s unable to get the QB to the ground.
-6:10, fires inside and beats the double team, carries the guard on his back and make the tackle for loss.
-6:42, drives two blockers into the backfield, seals edge and forces QB back inside. Bullard then sheds the block and makes the tackle for loss.
vs. Ole Miss
-4:35, Ole Miss decides not to block him and Bullard brings down the sweep play for a seven-yard loss.
-7:51, Bullard lowers his shoulder into the center and puts him on his back, doesn't allow QB to step into throw, pass comes up short and is intercepted.
-8:52, shot out of a cannon, goes around the outside shoulder of the right guard, turns the corner and dumps the QB, forcing the incompletion.
Bullard's best attribute is his quickness of the ball. When he pins his ears back, he absolutely explodes off the snap and rocks blockers on their heels.
His burst is made more effective by his clear ability to time his rush and manipulate opposing snap counts, something he discussed during rookie minicamp.
"My get-off and my play recognition [are my strengths]," he said. "I do a good job of reading offensive linemen, kind of knowing what they're saying, kind of learning that throughout the game and getting the upper hand where I can shoot gaps and kind of expect blocks."
When watching film, it's easy to recognize the situations in which Bullard has read the play pre-snap, as he's in the backfield at the exact moment the ball is being snapped. Also, notice how he's fully aware of when the blocker across from him is going to pull, as that's when he really tries to penetrate into the backfield. That's some serious intelligence and awareness from an interior defender.
There's no doubt that Bullard can be a very effective 3-technique defensive tackle in nickel sets for the Bears. His get-off should allow him to collapse the pocket in the face of opposing quarterbacks, an area in which the Bears have struggled for years.
Against the run, Bullard is inconsistent. When he reads the play and fires into the gap, he's extremely disruptive. But on plays in which he's locked up at the point of attack, his impact is minimal. Much of that has to do with his lack of arm extension, as he far too often allows blockers to get into his chest. His upper body strength allowed him to fight off those blocks in college but that won't be the case in the NFL. He needs to learn how to consistently create and maintain separation through arm extension.
Also, Bullard does not have a full arsenal of pass-rush moves and relies almost exclusively on his bull rush. If he could add a quick swim and rip, he'll be even more effective on passing downs.
As a 5-technique in base sets, Bullard might struggle against NFL-level offensive linemen. In college, he was often turned away by double teams, and it won't get any easier in the pros. During his rookie season, he might be limited to passing situations.
Overall, Bullard's explosiveness is going to be a major weapon for Chicago's defense. No other player on the roster has his burst off the ball. That, combined with solid pass rush off the edges, could make life miserable for opposing quarterbacks.
And if he ever improves his technique against the run, Bullard should be able to develop into a quality all-around defender.