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Talented young secondary sparking Bears defense


Since the start of OTA practices last week, the Bears' talented young secondary has exuded swag, confidence and cohesiveness.

"That's really part of a function of us playing the young guys, rookies fast," said coach Matt Eberflus, "putting them in there and playing them right away."

Four of the Bears' key defensive backs have started since Day 1 after arriving as second-round draft picks: Cornerback Jaylon Johnson in 2020, nickel back Kyler Gordon and safety Jaquan Brisker in 2022 and cornerback Tyrique Stevenson in 2023. All four have gained valuable experience and are 24 or 25 years old.

Last season the secondary played a major role in the Bears tying for the NFL lead with 22 interceptions. Stevenson and Johnson—who was named to his first Pro Bowl—matched linebacker Tremaine Edmunds for the team lead with four picks, while Gordon registered two and Brisker had one.

The Bears added a seasoned veteran to their defensive back room in March when they signed ninth-year safety Kevin Byard III, a two-time Pro Bowler with the Tennessee Titans whose 28 career interceptions are tied for the fifth most among active NFL players.

Byard has enjoyed working with his new teammates in the secondary.

"It's been pretty cool," he said. "I'm the elder statesman now, so I don't have as much energy as all those guys. But it has been exciting. Jaquan is a really vocal guy who has a lot of energy. Same thing with Kyler; he has his Spider-Man swag. I like that a lot. And then Jaylon and 'Rique on the outside, those guys are lockdown, so it's been exciting. It's been a lot of fun. Just communication, doing different things on the back end. I expect us to be really good this year."

Take a look at the Bears hitting the Halas Hall practice fields during the first week of Organized Team Activities.

Byard is especially excited about pairing with Brisker and believes they both possess the versatility to play the strong and free safety positions.

"I don't want teams to get a bead on, 'Hey, you're in the box' or 'I'm deep' or anything like that," Byard said. "Let's both do the same things so teams can't really get a bead on what the coverage is. He's been really good with that. He's vocal like I am about wanting the details with different coverages with the coaches. He's fun to play with, and all the guys in the secondary are like that. And the confidence that he has going into Year 3 reminds me of myself."

Byard joins the Bears having appeared in 130 NFL games with 121 starts over eight seasons with the Titans (2016-23) and Eagles (2023). He has recorded 749 tackles, 28 interceptions, 66 pass breakups, four fumble recoveries, three forced fumbles, 15 tackles-for-loss, 4.0 sacks and two touchdowns.

Byard has also started all eight playoff games he's played, compiling 49 tackles and one interception, picking off Lamar Jackson in a 28-12 divisional win over the Ravens Jan. 11, 2020, in Baltimore.

"I've been aware of Kevin for a while," said Bears first-year defensive coordinator Eric Washington, a veteran NFL assistant. "His production speaks for itself. From afar, you see a safety who has that type of ball production, and then you get him here, you see the command, the intelligence and his ability to communicate very quickly, especially as we need to make adjustments before the ball is snapped.

"I just like him. He's got a great personality. He's had a lot of [success] in his career. But he's a humble person and very receptive, very open."

Byard's transition to the Bears has been a smooth one.

"This locker room has embraced me," he said. "It's been pretty easy, honestly. I played with a few of the guys who are already in the locker room anyway. It's just being myself, being in meetings and being engaged. All those things are the ways you gain the respect of your teammates and the coaching staff."