Joniak's Journal: Healthier Leonard Floyd Ready To Break Out

Floyd has ditched a big hard cast for a lighter apparatus on his fractured right hand.

Jeff Joniak
September 20, 2018 - 5:51 pm
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(WBBM Newsradio) On Thursday, the Bears (1-1) continued preparations for a road game against the Cardinals (0-2) on Sunday afternoon. Here's the notes and observations of the day.

First impression

A fractured right hand with surgically repaired index and middle fingers hasn't prevented Leonard Floyd from starting at outside linebacker for the Bears in the first two games. It has prevented him from fully use of his hand and made it more difficult to win some hand-fighting battles with offensive linemen. And even without as firm a grip as usual in making tackles, Floyd has managed just fine.

The expectation is he will perform even better now. A new apparatus allowing for the use of his fingers is replacing the protective club cast in time for Sunday. 

"It will help him," defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said. "He’s still not 100 percent. He’s still got a thing in his palm that will restrict him some. His first two games, in light of the circumstances that he’s played with, with one hand, he’s done fine."

Floyd has five tackles, one for loss, a pass breakup and a fumble recovery so far. He hasn't recorded any quarterback hits or sacks yet, which would be the next step in the process. With so much attention given to outside linebacker Khalil Mack and defensive lineman Akiem Hicks, the big game is coming for Floyd. 

Second thought

On the topic of hand use, cornerback Prince Amukamara admittedly has come a long way. His swipe-and-score against Seattle was his first interception since September 2015. Tape study, another season in Fangio’s system and  daily use of the JUGS machine converged into the perfect storm at the perfect moment Monday night, as his big play sealed a 24-17 win.

"It helps a lot just the feeling the ball, the speed of it and catching it at different angles, and me running it at different speeds, it starts to create that muscle memory," Amukamara said. 

Secondary coach Ed Donatell pushed Amukamara hard toward the JUGS machine and after thousands of catches, more interceptions could be on the horizon.

Third degree

Carolina and Arizona were the NFL’s top blitzing teams in 2017 in terms of frequency. Steve Wilks coordinated the Panthers defense and is now the Cardinals head coach. Arizona has already blitzed 43 times in two games. Bears offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich is preparing second-year quarterback Mitchell Trubisky and the offense for consistent and persistent pressure from the Cardinals. 

"They’re really good at it," Helfrich said. "They bring it, and it's impressive how well they cover out of it."

Ten different Cardinals defenders have produced 13 pressures on the quarterback, according to Arizona’s statistics. Eight different players have totaled 19 quarterback hits, led by veteran defensive end Benson Mayowa with six. Reigning NFL sack leader Chandler Jones has one sack and three hits so far, while star cornerback Patrick Peterson has the team’s lone interception.

Peterson is a big reason the pressure can be unleashed given his unique coverage abilities.

We have all seen how well Trubisky throws on the move and in particular to his left, prompting questions for Nagy and Helfrich about implementing more rollouts of this nature for him. This might not be the game to do it regularly. 

"He’s really good at it," Helfrich said. "He’s comfortable with it. He’s confident in that aspect of his game for sure. As for as employing it, that depends. A big-time edge pressure team -- for instance the Cardinals -- there’s a ton of edge pressure or even the appearance of edge pressure, it’s harder to do that against."

The best way to curb some of this expected pressure from the Cardinals defense will be to stay out of third-and-long scenarios. 

Fourth-and-short

Two young punt returners may be key figures in creating field position or points Sunday. The Bears' Tarik Cohen is averaging 17.2 yards on his six returns, including a 42-yard gem in Green Bay.   Cardinals rookie receiver Christian Kirk went for 44 against Washington in the opener, fueling a 22-yard average. Kirk only has two returns, but in three years at Texas A&M,  he produced six punt return touchdowns and averaged an eye-popping 22.0 yards in his career. Bears special teams coordinator Chris Tabor has his radar activated. 

Jeff Joniak is the play-by-play announcer for the Bears broadcasts on WBBM Newsradio 780 & 105.9 FM. Follow him on Twitter @JeffJoniak