Around this time last year, Bears safety Jaquan Brisker was engrossed in 2022 NFL Draft preparation with no knowledge of where he'd land or how his next several months would look.
After wrapping up his collegiate career at Penn State in December 2021, the All-American immediately began training for the NFL Combine then spent weeks flying to team interviews, leaving him with minimal time for his typical drills and personal work.
Now a year removed from being an NFL prospect and no longer classified as a rookie, Brisker feels refreshed coming off his first true offseason.
"The difference is I could really work on myself this year," Brisker said, "work on my weaknesses and strengths and being able to take my time instead of always being in a rush. Last year I had like six or seven visits, so I was always flying. I couldn't really work on my technique. I really couldn't settle down. So I felt like everything was just moving too fast.
"But I feel like right now I'm comfortable. I'm back to where I've always been, making sure I take care of what I need to take care of and just moving forward, just being where my feet are."
The former second-round pick grew into a playmaker for the Bears' young secondary in 2022, starting all 15 games he was active for and compiling 103 tackles and a team-high four sacks. His 73 solo tackles were the third most among all NFL rookies during the regular season.
While Brisker's stat sheet proves his rookie year was a success, the Pittsburgh native felt his performance last season didn't meet personal expectations, adding: "just looking at what I did last year, I know that wasn't me. I could have been better."
His biggest disappointment was not playing in all 17 games, as he missed Weeks 12 and 13 in concussion protocol. He also dealt with an injury in the preseason, limiting his training camp reps. Brisker said he can't remember missing a game since his sophomore year of high school and believes "availability is the best ability."
After finishing out the 2022 season healthy, Brisker went into the offseason with an emphasis on taking care of his body. With more time to himself the last few months, the safety has been able to "get back to the drills that I always used to do," and focus on eating right and strengthening certain parts of his body to prevent future injuries.
That offseason work included training in California, Chicago and at his alma mater, Penn State. Brisker said he spent time working with three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year and fellow Pittsburgh native Aaron Donald along with former college teammates Joey Porter Jr. and Ji'Ayir Brown.
Staying connected to his teammates throughout the offseason was another focus for Brisker as he wanted to keep building on relationships established in the locker room last season. When Brisker was back in Chicago throughout the offseason, he often worked with veteran safety Eddie Jackson, who he grew close with during his rookie season, and saw teammates like quarterback Justin Fields at Halas Hall.
"Just keep building the chemistry, that's always important because we all have the same goals," Brisker said. "But it's even better when you're working out with each other and obviously you're having conversations and going to each other's houses and things like that. It's also important to train with the best players in the league and just really getting a feel for each other and things like that, always learning from each other and always taking something away."
While Brisker spent much of the last three months concentrated on football, he knew it would be beneficial to take some time away before ramping up for the 2023 season.
Prior to returning to Chicago last Monday for the Bears voluntary offseason program, Brisker was back home in Pittsburgh for 12 days and hosted his inaugural toy giveaway April 7. Brisker said he was proud of the event's turnout and saw "a lot of smiles on kids' faces," as the "kids really enjoyed themselves."
Brisker said adding a positive influence to his hometown community has been a priority of his even before entering the NFL. Finally having the opportunity to serve as a role model and give back to kids in the area where he grew up was a monumental moment for Brisker, who often searched for someone like that during his childhood.
"When I was a kid, I always felt like I needed someone in my position to come around or to always give back or just wondered where those players were," Brisker said. "I feel like with me, I always wanted to give back. I've always said that. You never know, you could change one, maybe five, ten people's lives just by showing up.
"So I just feel like as a kid, that's what I always wanted. And not too many people give back. Especially for my city, kids don't see guys like me come back and actually be face-to-face with them and do things like that. So I feel like that was very big, especially to help kids in need and kids who don't have two parents or however the situation is. I was one of those kids before, so I know how it feels."