With each rep that Jonathan Bullard gets in a game or practice, the Bears rookie defensive end gains more of the experience that will help him make the most of his natural ability.
"Understanding the defense and what the guys are doing around you is so valuable and so important," said Bullard, a third-round draft pick from Florida. "It allows you to know when to take chances and when you can do certain things.
Jonathan Bullard was selected with the 72nd pick in the 2016 NFL Draft.
"So now that I've got a few games under my belt, a few more practices and getting way more reps than I was, I'm starting to understand the defense and understand what the guys are doing around me so I can play much faster and start making the plays that I'm used to making."
Coach John Fox has seen signs that Bullard's familiarity with the Bears defense has grown.
"I think he's more comfortable in our scheme, what's being asked of him by his coaches and transforming that into playing fast in game situations," Fox said. "Obviously, if you're not thinking, you're performing and you're not being slowed down by the mental aspect."
Bullard returned to practice Thursday after being excused Sunday through Wednesday for personal reasons. He told reporters that he intends to play in Saturday's preseason game against the Chiefs.
The Bears selected Bullard with the 72nd pick in the draft after he set career highs with 66 tackles, 17.5 tackles-for-loss and 6.5 sacks last year at Florida. The 17.5 tackles-for-loss were the most by a Gators player since former Bears defensive end Alex Brown had 18 in 1999.
"He's a tough-minded player," Fox said. "He's a tough player physically. From a trait standpoint he's explosive, which helps obviously in pass rush situations. That's a lot of the reasons why we drafted him. And I just kind of liked his mindset and how he [has gone] about his business thus far."
Complete player: Entering his second NFL season, Jeremy Langford is confident that he's becoming more of a well-rounded, three-down running back.
"I think I'm definitely getting better at that," said the 2015 fourth-round pick from Michigan State, "just really playing through contact and catching the ball when I get the opportunity to do so, and just showing my pass blocking ability. I think I'm making strides toward that real good."
Langford acknowledged that it took him a while to adjust to the NFL game last season as a rookie and now feels much more comfortable than he did in 2015.
"It really took the whole season," Langford said. "I felt like it was still fast. There was a lot going on for me as a rookie—learning the offense and playing receiver and the blocking schemes. I had to play special teams. All last year was pretty fast for me. I think toward the end of the season it slowed down a little bit. But now when I came into training camp [this summer], I feel like it all slowed down. I'm way more comfortable."
Assimilation process: The learning curve continues for backup quarterback Brian Hoyer, who has completed 11 of 24 passes for 166 yards with no touchdowns, two interceptions and a 34.4 passer rating in the Bears' first two preseason game.
"I think he's getting more comfortable," Fox said. "May I remind everybody that he's going into his third preseason game ever with the Chicago Bears. So I think with time and practice and even preseason games there becomes more of a comfort level and we're still engaged in that."
Sick bay: Cornerbacks Tracy Porter and Kevin Peterson did not practice Thursday because they were sick. Players who returned in limited fashion after missing Wednesday's workout with illness included tackle Bobby Massie, receiver Derek Keaton, cornerbacks De'Vaunte Bausby and Deiondre Hall and fullback Darrel Young.
"We've got a little 24-hour thing running around, but hopefully we get that under control.," Fox said.