Football / Sports

Bears expecting big things from cornerback Kyle Fuller

CHICAGO -- The Bears selected a defensive back with the 14th pick in the NFL draft Thursday night, but Kyle Fuller will not be plugged into the hole at safety.

General manager Phil Emery selected the Virginia Tech cornerback in the first round, a pick after the Rams snagged Pitt defensive tackle Aaron Donald, whom several NFL decision makers believed the Bears were hoping to land.

"We decided on Kyle Fuller the player," Emery said when asked why the Bears didn't choose the first safety of the draft, either Louisville's Calvin Pryor or Alabama's Ha Ha Clinton-Dix.

The plan is for Fuller to remain at cornerback, and while the Bears still are in search of a safety, it would be short-sighted to say cornerback wasn't also a need. Charles Tillman, 33, is on a one-year contract and missed eight games last season. Before a torn triceps sent him to injured reserve, he was held out of practice with a recurring knee issue.

Emery repeatedly referred to Fuller's length, an attribute that will give defensive coordinator Mel Tucker options. Fuller is 5-foot-113/4, 190 pounds and his arms measured 327/8inches at the combine. In comparison, Tillman has 31-inch arms and former offensive lineman Chris Williams, the Bears' first-round pick in 2008, has 33-inch arms.

What do long arms mean? Fuller has the ability to cover big targets such as Lions tight end Eric Ebron, Detroit's top pick from North Carolina whom he tangled with in the ACC. But Fuller isn't going to be confined to the middle of the field.

"We see him as a guy that has a lot of versatility in terms of coverage," Emery said. "Covering different types of athletes. That is where his length really helps him. You can see him on tape covering Ebron. You can see him covering inside slots or bigger receivers. You see him covering outside. That versatility is a big attraction."

Tillman has been the defensive back the Bears have used to match up on bigger targets such as the Lions' Calvin Johnson. Fuller provides another strategic option. He is the first cornerback the Bears have selected in the top three rounds since Tillman was a second-round pick in 2003.

Emery referenced 231/2 tackles for a loss in Fuller's college career and a game in which he saw him live last season against Georgia Tech.

"They were lining 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 fullback and he repetitively did that," Emery said. "I knew that day that is the type of player I wanted to represent the Bears."

Fuller instantly is the leading candidate to be the nickel back, but that doesn't mean he will not get a shot to push for a starting job. Isaiah Frey was on the field for 48.7 percent of the snaps as the nickel last season.

"Obviously a player picked this high, we expect him to contribute his first year," Emery said.

The Bears had an official interview with Fuller at the combine, brought him in for a pre-draft visit and sent Dwayne Joseph, their assistant director of pro personnel, to work out Fuller. He went to Torrian Gray, Fuller's position coach, for information.

"Kyle's biggest strength is his versatility," said Gray, who was an assistant under Lovie Smith with the Bears in 2004-05. "He can play press man, he can play off man, he'll come down and diagnose things and tackle well. He can mentally handle all of those things because he has a great football IQ. He is a guy who is the total package."

Emery said the Bears had three players on his list of six available when the pick arrived and called Fuller the top-ranked cornerback on their board. Oklahoma State's Justin Gilbert was the first to be selected, No. 8 by the Browns.

"When the Giants turned in their card (LSU wide receiver Odell Beckham at No. 12), I knew we were going to get a good player," Emery said.

It will be interesting to see what unfolds in Rounds 2 and 3. The Bears have needs at safety and defensive tackle, but the strength of the draft is on offense. If Emery has a superior grade on a running back or wide receiver, could he pass one up? He also is expected to be in the market to trade down and accumulate picks. One NFL source said the Bears are looking to add at least two picks.

On this night, the Bears believe they added another piece in the rebuilding of the defense.

"This is a player that is universally loved in our building," Emery said.

(c)2014 Chicago Tribune

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