Bears News: Washington breaks down Booker, Dexter’s bigger role for defense

Bears News: Washington breaks down Booker, Dexter’s bigger role for defense

by - Correspondent -

CHICAGO - After head coach Matt Eberflus effectively served as the defensive coordinator for almost all of last season, the Bears have a new defensive coordinator in Eric Washington who got a look at edge rusher Austin Booker in Chicago’s rookie minicamp.

“Austin Booker looked terrific, excited about what he’s going to add, what he’s going to bring to our football team, our defensive line and that pass rush that we’re in the process of assembling and building and turning into a formidable part of our defense,” Washington said. “So, everything’s going extremely well.”

After the Bears drafted punter Tory Taylor with the No. 122 overall pick in the 2024 NFL Draft, they were out of picks, and it seemed like they would not address their need for an edge rusher in the draft.

However, Chicago traded back into the draft and used the No. 144 overall pick to select edge rusher Austin Booker out of Kansas.

Booker’s appearance in the 2024 NFL Draft was a bit surprising. He only played 18 games during his three years in college. In his only season with Kansas, after spending his first two with Minnesota, Booker recorded eight sacks, defended a pass, and recorded two forced fumbles.

Draft analysts viewed him as someone who could be a first-round pick if he had another year to develop in college. This is part of what made him such a great acquisition for the Bears because he has shown the talent to become a star in the NFL.

“He has a tremendous amount of energy. He never seems out of the play, either early or as the play extends with the quarterback, especially as a rusher. When you talk about slippery, it’s just hard for the protection, either the person assigned (to) him or whatever, to get a solid shot on him,” Washington said. “He’s always rotating and flipping his hips at the right timing so he can continue to advance toward the quarterback. So, he’s got that innate feel and ability. You’re not going to be able to get a consistent shot on him, so that’s going to help him to continue to advance toward the quarterback. It’s a great thing.”

While there were a lot of changes on the offensive side of the ball, there were not as many for the defense. Chicago’s defense was one of the best in the league in the second half of last season. The Bears recorded 22 interceptions, tied for the most in the NFL, and returned two for touchdowns. They also allowed the second-least amount of rushing touchdowns with only eight. The weakness on Chicago’s defense, once again, was sacks, as they only recorded 30 last season, bringing them to a total of 50 sacks in the past two seasons.

Booker was drafted to help solve this problem. They also started working on this last season by drafting defensive lineman Gervon Dexter out of Florida with the No. 53 overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft.

With defensive lineman Justin Jones, someone who started all 17 games last season, no longer on the team, Dexter’s role is expected to increase in the upcoming season to help build those sack numbers and improve the pressure on the defensive line overall.

“You could really see him becoming more and more comfortable because early in the season, like a lot of young players, especially on the line of scrimmage, they’re behind because the tempo is just a lot quicker,” Washington said. “They’re trying to find a way to not only keep up but to find a way to play ahead of the football play, and so, as the reps and the experiences started to accumulate, you saw him start to impose his will a little bit more.”

Dexter never did accumulate too many sacks during his collegiate career. His 2.5 sacks last season with the Bears tied for the most he has had in his second season in college. He played minimally in the first half of the season, allowing Chicago to ease him into the speed of the game at the NFL level. In the Bears’ second-to-last game of the season against the Atlanta Falcons, he had three quarterback pressures, one hurry, and 1.5 sacks.

From what he did last season, particularly in that game, and working with him throughout this offseason, Washington feels confident Dexter will be ready for the season opener against the Tennessee Titans on Sept. 8 (Noon / FOX).

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