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Emma: Bears' Leonard Floyd Proved His Place In Rookie Season

By Chris Emma--

(CBS) First impressions of Bears linebacker Leonard Floyd didn't necessarily inspire confidence.

He arrived at Halas Hall looking more like a first-round small forward selection as his tall, slender frame was set to match with some of the NFL's top tackles. Floyd's southern drawl came in a soft tone as he was attempted to explain his potential after being drafted No. 9 overall last spring.

How would Floyd go out and beat a Joe Staley off the edge? He went out and proved it this rookie season.

"The sky is the limit for Leonard Floyd," Bears general manager Ryan Pace said of his 2016 first-round pick. "I think you guys saw that. His athleticism, his quickness, he's 100 miles per hour to the ball every play."

Pace was confident enough in Floyd to move up two slots to snatch him in front of the Giants, who were a threat to select him. The pick was met with plenty of skepticism.

At Georgia, Floyd played a jack-of-all-trades role at linebacker, lining up all over the defense before each snap. He wasn't a pure pass rusher by any means upon his selection. The Bears believed they could make him into a 3-4 outside linebacker.

Floyd's frame was a natural cause of concern. He initially measured at around 235 pounds, with the Bears putting him on an nutritional plan to bulk up his frame. Floyd declined to say his exact weight gain this season, though he did manage to bulk up as the season arrived. With his speed becoming so effective, his size didn't matter as much.

When the 24-year-old Floyd lined up opposite a tackle, he had to be viewed as a threat. During the Bears' snow-covered contest with the 49ers at Soldier Field in early December, he was overpowered by Staley early in the contest. Later, he burst by Staley in the third quarter and threw down Colin Kaepernick.

Though Floyd's rookie season was a learning experience and work in progress, he finished it with 7.0 sacks in 12 games. As it turns out, Floyd was able to win the wars on the edge.

"He's just refining his technique as a pass rusher, so his hand use, and that's going to continue to get better," Pace said. "But he has some special things that we saw in the draft that you can't coach. He's the right kind of person, too."

Floyd's rookie season was marred by two concussions, the first of which forced him from MetLife Stadium on a backboard and into an ambulance. Pace stated there was no history of concussions for Floyd when he was at Georgia and that the team plans to monitor his health carefully.

As for the cause of those concussions, Floyd has to improve his tackling angles. Both injuries were caused by his head positioned poorly.

When his season was over, Floyd left an impression that he was well worth the ninth overall pick. He finished third among rookies in sacks and showed he could impact a series with his natural athleticism. What's exciting for the Bears is that he's only getting started.

Raising Floyd in his rookie season was a team effort. The loss of outside linebackers coach Clint Hurtt will be tough, but Floyd's development is just beginning.

Floyd arrived at Halas Hall looking like the Bulls' new draft pick and showed the sky is indeed the limit for his Bears career.

Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago's sports scene and more for Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670 and like his Facebook page.

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