Aaron Lynch Looks To Back Bears' Belief

September 20, 2018 - 3:06 pm
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LAKE FOREST, Ill. (670 The Score) -- On that final Saturday of the preseason, when league coaches and executives cut their rosters down to 53, it was hard to imagine the Bears keeping outside linebacker Aaron Lynch.

Signed to a one-year "prove it" deal, Lynch had endured injuries to his ankle and hamstring during the offseason program, arrived at training camp in July and suffered a hamstring injury in the first practice. He missed the entire preseason, meaning he had almost nothing to make a case for staying in Chicago.

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That same day, the Bears acquired a superstar at Lynch's position in Khalil Mack. The writing seemed to be on the wall for the 25-year-old Lynch, who hadn't been productive since 2015. But it turns out there wasn't much debate at Halas Hall that Lynch would be a part of this team.

"The decision was pretty easy," coach Matt Nagy said. "Now, you know he obviously didn’t play a whole lot in training camp. But he’s familiar with (defensive coordinator Vic Fangio's) system. Vic knows him well. So there’s a comfort level. 

"The biggest question mark for him was health-wise -- was he going to be OK? And once we got that squared away and knew, he was going to be fine."

Added Lynch of cut-down day: "(Shoot), it feels amazing to be playing, playing for the Chicago Bears."

Lynch first practiced with the Bears again during their Week 1 preparation, playing 21 snaps against the Packers and 30 against the Seahawks this past Monday night. He recorded a sack of Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson in his Soldier Field debut and has already been utilized in a versatile role in Fangio's defense.

Among the leading influences in Lynch landing with the Bears was Fangio, who coached him to a strong rookie season and recognized the potential there. Lynch was a five-star recruit to Notre Dame who transferred to South Florida and struggled to fulfill his capabilities, ultimately falling to the 49ers in the fifth round of the 2014 draft. Fangio has been one of Lynch's greatest believers all along.

But one of Fangio's common phrases is that the greatest ability is availability, and that's what the Bears hope for from Lynch, knowing the talent is already in place. Lynch had played in just a combined 14 games over the last two seasons before arriving in Chicago, recording only 2.5 sacks in that stretch.

Then came the hamstring setback in July, which left him riding the exercise bike off to the sidelines of practice.

"It was tough because I wasn't playing; I was working on getting better mentally and physically," Lynch said. "But it was frustrating not being able to be out there with the guys, not being able to show your talents."

Fangio downplayed his presence in the decision on Lynch, saying that the Bears likely would've stood by their investment regardless. But certainly having the backing of Fangio was important.

The Bears took a chance on Lynch not only because of what they had seen on tape from years ago in San Francisco but also the word of Fangio as to what makes him click.

"When he was out there, which wasn’t a lot, obviously you do see his potential and what we’d like to get from him," Fangio said. "He just has to stay healthy. He’s slowly rounding into shape. 

"He's still rounding into shape, both in efficiency of execution and just his body being in shape. Hopefully he’ll keep improving, and I think he will."

Rookie linebacker Roquan Smith settling in nicely with Bears defense

Fangio has balanced both his experience with Lynch with the player he sees in the present, using him as more than just a pass rusher on the edge. Lynch has also lined up with a hand in the dirt in nickel situations and offered a presence inside with the threat of a bull rush through the interior. Fangio is using him as a complement to the likes of Mack, Leonard Floyd, Danny Trevathan and Roquan Smith.

Lynch explained that his confidence level is now high -- "It's up there," he said. "It's really up there" -- after beginning to prove his place with this defense. He has proved to be a natural fit, helping to create disruption in the backfield and bolster the Bears' budding defensive identity.

Backed by the Bears' belief, Lynch is just happy he's getting this opportunity.

"Once we can all be a four-quarter team, we're going to be pretty tough to deal with," Lynch said.

"You just got to think stacking the plays, stacking the games on top of each other."

Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for 670TheScore.com. Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670.​​