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Yannick Ngakoue out to prove he’s not a one-trick pony

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Bears defensive end Yannick Ngakoue was curt, but not impolite, when asked what he says to critics who question his run defense — a career-long knock on Ngakoue through seven seasons in the NFL.

“They’ll see this year,” Ngakoue said, quickly turning his head to move on to the next question. 

Indeed they will, one way or another. Despite being branded as a one-trick pony — all he does is rush the passer — Ngakoue will be an every-down defensive end for the Bears. Bears coach Matt Eberflus was very direct about that Friday, while also tacitly acknowledging the reputation isn’t exactly a myth. 

“We see him as an every-down end, so he’s gonna have to play in those situations,” Eberflus said. “And he’s done it. He’s been good at it and we’ve got to make sure that he sharpens that part of it as well. And he will do that. And we’re excited where he is in terms of being an every-down defensive end for us.”

Ngakoue’s weakness against the run is magnified on a Bears defense that finished 31st against the run last season (27th in yards per carry). The Bears are counting on a fortified run defense in Eberflus’ second season that mirrors his defenses with the Colts that finished eighth, seventh, second and 10th against the run in his four seasons as defensive coordinator. 

Therein lies the key to using Ngakoue on all downs. Eberflus’ defenses rely on the defensive ends being disciplined enough to funnel ball carriers into run-crashing linebackers. The Bears feel they have loaded up for that tack. Middle linebacker Tremaine Edmunds led the Bills in tackles last season (102). Weakside linebacker T.J. Edwards led the Eagles in tackles (159). And strong side linebacker Jack Sanborn’s 54 tackles in his five complete games from Weeks 9-13 ranked second in the NFL in that span. 

Bears defensive coordinator Alan Williams, who was a secondary coach for Eberflus with the Colts, dismissed the notion that Ngakoue’s run defense would be a liability in the Bears’ defense. 

“He’ll be just fine,” Williams said. “He can choke a guy out — believe me about that. That’s our first thing. We are going to stop the run and earn the right to rush the passer. He’ll be a part of that, too. I’ve watched the tape [on Ngakoue], and he’ll choke a guy out, too.” 

Williams said Ngakoue’s reputation is a little exaggerated, and was confident the Bears coaching staff can mold him into the kind of defensive end that works best in Eberflus’ defense. 

“Are his poor run defense numbers because he’s so focused on getting to the quarterback? No. I think you can do both,” Williams said. “Some people like to say, ‘This guy is a pass rusher.’ Just like they say, ‘This guy is a cover corner.’ In the NFL, you have to do both. Your skillset may be higher at one place than another. But I don’t think he gets enough credit for what he does in the run game. If you look at the tape, he has been productive —productive enough to win football games.” 

For the record, more than half of Ngakoue’s 65 career sacks (33) have come on second-and-long or third-and-long (seven or more yards to go). But 21 of them have come on first-and-10. Every down is a passing down in the NFL these days. 

Ngakoue, who has played for five teams in the previous four seasons, is counting on being at the right place time with the Bears. In a scheme he has flourished in — and familiarity with Bears defensive line coach Travis Smith, his position coach with the Raiders — he is in a comfort zone. It’s up to Eberflus, Williams and Smith to make the fit work — against the pass and the run.



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