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3 things we learned from Bears defensive coaches

ngakoue-stevenson-082223

Bears defensive position coaches spoke to the media Tuesday at Halas Hall. Here are three things we learned during those sessions:

(1) Defensive line coach Travis Smith is thrilled to reunite with Yannick Ngakoue, a top defensive end Smith coached with the Raiders in 2021.

"I had one year with him, which is awesome," Smith said. "When these situations come up where you have an opportunity to add someone to a group like him who has the history of, No. 1, the disposition and the production that he plays with, that he treats the way that we rush in a four-man group—[which] he's done consistently over his career—you're very excited. And then, two, it's just about adding to the group and being ready to go."

Ngakoue registered 10.0 sacks in his year with Smith in Las Vegas and 9.5 last season while playing in a similar system with the Colts. Ngakoue's familiarity with the Bears defense is enabling him to make a smooth transition. 

"I have already been with him for a year," Smith said, "so all the language I'm using, all the terminology, all the techniques, all the pass rush, how we rush games, how we rush protections, is the same stuff he has heard for the last two years."

Ngakoue was an elite pass rusher before he joined the Raiders, playing for the Jaguars (2016-19), Vikings (2020) and Ravens (2020). In fact, he is the only NFL player to register at least 8.0 sacks in each of the last seven seasons. 

The 6-2, 246-pounder isn't the biggest defensive end in the league, but few are more driven. 

"You look at his size; it doesn't matter," Smith said. "It's about heart. He's had constant production from a pass rush element, no matter what team and system he was on. He's been in multiple systems; it did not matter. The one thing is about his ability to shoot his signature rush and get to the X, and then also make sure he's not just a one-trick pony: playing the run, setting edges, playing violent, playing vertical and finishing on the ball in the run game.

"If you look at that and you watch his résumé, it's been consistent. It's not one year on, two years off. It's been consistent for the 6-7 years he's played."

The Bears were back at practice Tuesday at Halas Hall as they prepare for Saturday's preseason finale against the Buffalo Bills at Soldier Field. Special guests at practice included former Bears running back Matt Forte and Reverend Jesse Jackson.

(2) Cornerbacks coach/defensive passing game coordinator Jon Hoke is impressed with rookie Tyrique Stevenson's traits and intangibles.

The Bears selected the 6-foot, 214-pound cornerback in the second round of the draft out of Miami. He excelled in the preseason opener Aug. 12, amassing a team-leading seven tackles, one tackle-for-loss and one pass breakup in a win over the Titans at Soldier Field.

"He's got a lot of potential," Hoke said. "He's passionate about football. He understands football. It's just trying to get him to be consistent every day, day-to-day, consistent, consistent, consistent."

Stevenson has displayed ball skills, instincts and physicality throughout training camp but has drawn unnecessary roughness penalties in each of the Bears' first two preseason games.

"I like his physical style of play," Hoke said. "You can't have penalties. But he does have a physical presence on the field. Obviously, his size helps him in those things, but he also has his mindset. He's a physical type of football player, and that's always welcome here."

Hoke has been pleased with the strides that Stevenson continues to make.

"He's learned every day, gotten better every day," Hoke said. "Gotten better with situational football. Still not there, but he is growing in that part of it, so that's exciting to see from him."

(3) Linebackers coach Dave Borgonzi is encouraged by what he's seen from rookies Noah Sewell and Micah Baskerville.

A fifth-round selection from Oregon, Sewell has compiled six tackles and 1.0 sack in the Bears' two preseason games.

"When we drafted him, we liked him a lot," Borgonzi said. "He's always had a ton of physical talent. He's really strong. He's different from some of the other guys because he's 260 pounds. In the run game, you can really feel his power, whether it's block protection or tackling. As we progress with him, it's coverage and it's playing space where he's going to keep making strides. Happy where he's at, and there's a lot of room to grow."

An undrafted rookie from LSU, Baskerville made plays on defense and special teams last Saturday against the Colts. He tackled receiver Josh Downs at the 18 after a 14-yard return of the opening kickoff and later broke up a pass that safety A.J. Thomas nearly intercepted.

"[Baskerville] is always around the ball, and he's got really good coverage instincts," Borgonzi said. "You could see in the Indianapolis game he almost got the pick on the in-cut. He's got a really good feel for playing linebacker, reading his keys and always being around the ball."

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