In the second round of the 2003 draft the Bears took a flyer on a tall cornerback out of a smaller school. Now they have gone a similar route, hoping to land another Charles Tillman.
At the very least they secured a tall cornerback from a smaller school who WANTS to be another Charles Tillman.
Deiondre’ Hall, 6-2, 190 pounds, became a Bear with the team’s third pick in the fourth round of the 2016 draft. Hall comes out of Northern Iowa with 13 career interceptions, six returned for touchdowns, with another 28 passes broken up.
In the Tillman tradition he also finished with four forced fumbles, three of those his senior season.
His role model, “for cornerback, me personally, I’ve always loved him, is Charles Tillman,” Hall said. “Just being a ballhawk and getting that ball. That’s something that’s been huge to me throughout my time at Northern Iowa… .
“I’ve always kind of tried to model my game after him. Like I said, just being a ballhawk and getting that ball out. That’s one of the key emphasis throughout my time at Northern Iowa. Not basically mimicking his game but taking bits and pieces and adding it to mine.”
The turnover bits and pieces of his game will be welcome additions for a team that totaled just 17 total turnovers last season and whose cornerbacks (Kyle Fuller, Tracy Porter) combined for just three interceptions.
But Hall has started at linebacker, is a physical defensive back, and is likely to get at least a look at safety as well. There his football template changes.
“For safety positions, I’ve always kind of saw myself as a ‘Honey Badger,’” Hall said, referencing Arizona Cardinals All-Pro defensive back Tyrann Mathieu. “Being able to play a little corner, coming down in the slot and guarding those quicker guys and being able to stay up top and cover ground. That’s huge in the game these days.”
In one of those ironies of NFL life, Miami safety Deon Bush frequently worked with fellow Hurricane and NFL veteran Antrel Rolle. Now Bush is on a vector that puts him on a possible roster collision course with Rolle.
Rolle was hampered by injuries all year, starting just seven games before finishing the season on injured reserve.
“I grew up watching Antrel Rolle, and while he was down here in Miami I was working out with him, so he's kind of like a mentor to me,” Bush said. “He's been in the league for a long time and I want to be in the league for a long time, so there's a lot to learn from him. It's just great having another player from ‘The U,’ being like a family, like a brotherhood and it'll be great playing with him.”
Where Bush fits warrants watching, with Adrian Amos ensconced at free safety but the other position is very much shrouded in doubt.
That has become something of a Bears tradition at safety.
In 2014 the Bears selected Minnesota safety Brock Vereen in the fourth round. By the end of that season Vereen was starting alongside Ryan Mundy.
But the Bears signed Rolle early in free agency and Vereen lost the starting job almost at the outset of training camp, eventually released in late September. Mundy went on injured reserve with a hip injury and was done for the year.
Last year the Bears drafted Amos out of Penn State in the fifth round. He became a day one starter alongside Rolle.
Bush projects as an immediate fit for special teams but also has shown the speed (4.48 sec. in the 40) to work in coverage, a critical skill set for a position once viewed more in terms of run support. Bush collected 103 tackles and three interceptions over his junior and senior seasons, in addition to forcing five fumbles in the 2014 season.
“I take big pride in being a big hitter, that's how I grew up playing the game,” Bush said. “I've been trying to be the best hitter on my team (since my early days). I just take pride. That's how I like to play the game of football. I like to play tough, I like to put fear in my opponent and that's a big thing in my game.”
Keeping in step with the twin themes of the Bears’ 2016 draft, GM Ryan Pace started Day 3 exactly as he did Days 1 and 2 – with a trade – dealing up in the fourth round to select West Virginia linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski, who immediately dials up the competition level at inside linebacker.
And some good feelings. Former Mountaineers teammate Kevin White, the Bears’ first-round pick in the 2015 draft, immediately tweeted:
Yea kwittttttt!!!!! Wvu #BearDown— Kevin White (@mrkevinwhite) April 30, 2016
“I’m pretty close with Kevin,” Kwiatkoski said. “He came into West Virginia as a junior-college player, lived two doors down from me, and have stayed close with him. I lived with his brother Karon at West Virginia this past year.”
Kwiatkoski, 6-2, 241 pounds, fits the template for inside linebackers in the 3-4 scheme of John Fox/Vic Fangio, with mobility enough in his senior seasons to post three interceptions, 10 tackles for loss, three sacks, seven passes defensed and a team-high 86 tackles. He had six interceptions and 14 passes defensed in his four West Virginia seasons.
“My junior year I played a lot more of the sub packages," he said. "This past year, I played them but not as much. But I feel like I can stay on the field for a third-down guy and different sub packages. This year I’m transitioning to outside backer so I was in coverage a lot more than I was the prior year so that definitely helps contribute to that.”
Kwiatkoski also goes into a competitive cauldron with offseason signees Danny Trevathan and Jerrell Freeman in addition to ILB holdovers Christian Jones, Jonathan Anderson and John Timu. Pace has said throughout the offseason that increasing competition was a goal, and the nature of the picks has followed that lead.
The Bears gave the St. Louis Rams the sixth-round draft pick they’d acquired from Carolina in the Jared Allen trade early last season. The deal allowed them to move from No. 117 to No. 113, another move pointing to the Bears targeting best players available on their board and moving to get them.