Some call it trial by fire. Others say it's like being thrown into the deep end of the pool. Whatever phrase is chosen, it's a way to describe what happened in Week 3 to a handful of Bears rookies in Sunday night's 31-17 loss to the Dallas Cowboys.
Because of injuries to key veteran players–cornerbacks Kyle Fuller and Bryce Callahan, linebackers Danny Trevathan, Lamarr Houston and Pernell McPhee, and nose tackle Eddie Goldman all were out for the contest–the Bears relied heavily on some unproven first-year players in important spots on the defense. Many of the players asked to contribute hadn't been major factors in NFL games before, meaning the primetime stage was their coming-out party. While growing pains are commonplace in professional football, and there are certainly issues to correct, many of the Bears rookies did an impressive job of proving themselves, giving a small glimpse to what may a bright future for the group.
"We can't make excuses for guys being out," said second-year safety Adrian Amos. "Everybody is here for a reason. Everybody is out playing ball. Regardless of who is out there, we just have to execute better."
Chicago's starting defensive lineup had just two rookies in it: linebackers Leonard Floyd and Nick Kwiatkoski. Floyd, the team's first-round selection, had seen extensive playing time in the first two games of the season. But for Kwiatkoski, the matchup with Dallas was his professional debut after being inactive the first two weeks.
The linebacker out of West Virginia was credited with one tackle, but he made a few plays that won't appear in the box score. On of them, midway through the third quarter, Kwiatkoski blitzed Dallas' rookie quarterback, Dak Prescott. Using a bull rush, Kwiatkoski knocked Cowboys left guard into La'el Collins backwards, directly towards Prescott. That forced the quarterback to rush his throw, which was eventually incomplete, thanks in large part to Kwiatkoski's strength and ability to collapse the pocket.
Floyd finished with five tackles in the game, chasing after Prescott and yet another rookie, running back Ezekiel Elliot.
Several other first-year Bears were active despite not being in the starting lineup. Defensive end Jonathan Bullard was rotating regularly on the defensive line before leaving the game with a left foot injury. Cornerback Cre'von LeBlanc made a tackle and was in coverage for parts of the contest. Rookie safeties DeAndre Houston-Carson and Deon Bush also saw snaps versus the Cowboys.
The Cowboys offense finished with 447 total yards while possessing the ball for more than 35 minutes against the young Chicago defense.
While Dallas started out the game strong, the Chicago defense got better as the contest went along. In the second half, the Bears forced three punts and forced a fumble. The all-around play wasn't good enough to earn the victory, and that's the most important thing. But there were signs of improvement.
Head coach John Fox pointed at the scoreboard for the overall issue with how the defense fared on Sunday, saying, "Anytime you give up 31 (points), it's not good enough. We have to look at that hard and over teach on how to do it and just get better."
Most of the Bears out Sunday with injuries are expected to return to the field. When that happens, the rookies will no longer be forced to swim in the deep end, per say. But the experience they gained versus the Cowboys will be valuable as the Chicago defense looks to improve as the season goes along.
"I believe in my team; I am a team guy," cornerback Jacoby Glenn said. "We are going to go to practice and get better every day, and come out and play next week. That is how it is going to be."