Jaquan Brisker

Jaquan Brisker, Kyler Gordon becoming who Bears always knew they'd be

The young DBs Year 2 rise is the best evidence of the needed growth the Bears had to show under Matt Eberflus in 2023

Kyler Gordon, Jaquan Brisker

LAKE FOREST, Ill. – Kyler Gordon and Jaquan Brisker take the responsibility and privilege seriously. It has fueled them since they arrived in Chicago, guided them through rookie growing pains, and remains a point of pride for the Bears’ two young defensive backs.

When general manager Ryan Poles and head coach Matt Eberflus took over a marquee franchise in need of a rebuild, they tabbed Gordon and Brisker as their first two key pieces.

“From the beginning, we’ve always said that they brought us in here to come change things around,” Gordon told NBC Sports Chicago. “Let’s do everything in our power to do that in whatever way possible.

“We’re doing everything we said we would.”

The 2022 season saw both rookies experience the typical NFL reality check given to young DBs.

The Bears asked Gordon to move between the slot and outside corner depending on the defensive package. The Washington product gave up 63 catches on 77 targets for 795 yards and four touchdowns last season. Opposing quarterbacks had a passer rating of 110.8 when targeting him.

Brisker flashed more than Gordon, but he still missed 14.7 percent of his tackles and allowed opposing quarterbacks to have a passer rating of 104.1 in coverage. The Penn State safety took poor angles and surrendered multiple big plays by playing the wrong gap.

Gordon said it took him a while for his mind to slow down during his rookie season. Brisker said the key was to be efficient in his movement and allow his natural speed and ferocity to take over.

As Eberflus and Poles constructed their defense, they did so with the belief that Gordon and Brisker were precisely who they believed them to be in the pre-draft process.

A leap, the Bears believed, would come this fall.

Gordon broke his hand in Week 1. Brisker suffered a concussion that cost him two games. As a whole, the Bears’ defense didn’t get fully healthy until Week 10, which almost perfectly coincided with the Week 9 arrival of star defensive end Montez Sweat.

Since Sweat’s arrival, the Bears’ defense has been near-elite. Brisker returned in Week 10, and he and Gordon have blossomed.

Since Week 10, Brisker leads all NFL safeties with 25 tackles, per Pro Football Focus, He ranks third with a missed tackle rate of just 5.7 percent. During Sunday’s 28-13 win over the Detroit Lions, Brisker notched 17 tackles in a tour-de-force performance.

“That's amazing,” Eberflus said of Brisker’s performance after the win. “What Brisker brings is the reason we drafted him. Ryan and I always talk about guys we acquire and bring in here. They have to love football. What does that do, loving football? It brings a passion and a juice to everybody else. If we get enough guys like that, which we have a bunch of guys like that, then you can tangibly see that on the field. You can feel that energy, and that's what he is.”

Brisker is still the same physical, violent safety he was coming out of Penn State. But it’s a precise, detailed violence that’s the product of settling in, trusting your instincts, and studying the opponent.

“It’s the play recognition,” safety Eddie Jackson told NBC Sports Chicago about the key to Brisker’s rise. “He’s always been smart but he’s starting to see more stuff, react to it quicker. Brisk is just being Brisk. He’s going out there and making plays. I feel like he’s a playmaker. He’s always been a good tackler but he has improved that. He’s just flying around and trusting himself.”

“Just a combination of IQ and confidence,” cornerback Jaylon Johnson said. “Him believing in a sense what he feels he’s able to call out, what he’s expecting, what he sees. Also trusting it and going and being able to be aggressive. I feel like, coming in, we new what he was able to do physically. So, I mean, just now being able to put that with the mental game, mental IQ, I think he’s been able to take that next step.”

This is Jackson’s seventh year in the NFL. He’s 29 and playing some good football as he heads toward 30. He sees the possibilities ahead.

“He can go as far as he wants,” Jackson told NBC Sports Chicago. “That’s one thing that’s special about him. He’s still young. It’s a lot of room to improve. The ceiling is no limitations. It’s crazy how far he can go.

“We can be one of the greatest duos ever. We say it all the time. We can be the greatest safety duo ever.”

As good as Brisker has played over the last month, Gordon's leap this season has been even bigger.

Since Week 10, Gordon leads all slot corners (min. 76 coverage snaps) in passer rating allowed when targeted at 54.7. He has given up just 10 catches on 16 targets for 102 yards and has not allowed a touchdown. He has one interception and has also been proficient in run support.

Things started to click for Gordon toward the end of last season. He said he watched his mistakes repeatedly in the offseason to catalog them and understand why he made them and how to avoid them in the future.

He’s a different player in 2023.

“I’m just not thinking about it, honestly,” Gordon told NBC Sports Chicago. “I’m just out there chilling. I’m having fun. I’m don’t want to say I’m relaxed – I’m tuned into everything that’s happening. Everything is just at a constant flow. I’m at peace doing whatever I am doing. I just feel like I’m able to control whatever I need to control. I’m in balance. I’m in order.”

Brisker and Gordon are emerging leaders for a Bears team with the arrow pointing straight up no matter what they do at quarterback and coach this offseason.

Their development, both on the field and in the locker room, is the most significant evidence of the growth Eberflus has been pounding the table about for the past three months.

“Brisker loves ball. He is ball,” center Lucas Patrick said. “Like, everything about him. And he gets the impact plays that ball players get. When somebody does that and they step out and have a game like he did and brings it every play, brings it in practice, you can't not respect him. I know he's a second-year player and people can say, what? But like, he does not act like a second-year player. He's earned the respect of us and he's tougher than nails.”

As he and Brisker continue to ascend as integral parts of Eberflus’ defense, Gordon has big dreams for what they can do together. A dream that seems more attainable with each passing Sunday.

“We can be the best defense in the league. One hundred percent, “Gordon said. “We will be. Like, you see the stuff we’ve been doing. You see it week-to-week, consistently, multiple turnovers. We’re shutting down the offenses. The mindset is just to continue that and make us a lockdown defense.”

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