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How key Bears rookies can turn Lions meltdown into long-term rebuild positive

How key Bears rookies can turn Lions meltdown into long-term rebuild positive originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

LAKE FOREST, Ill. — It’s hard to take a meltdown loss like the one the Bears had in Detroit last Sunday and turn it into a positive.

It’s impossible.

The Bears outplayed the NFC North-leading Lions for 54 minutes. They pushed them around and were on the verge of the first signature win of the Matt Eberlfus era. That everything unraveled in six minutes showed the warts of this rebuild and should lead to some difficult conversations about its direction.

The Bears are past the point of moral victories. They need to win games in which they outplay their opponent. There are no more excuses for a lack of execution in critical moments.

But as demoralizing as the Motown Meltdown was, it can be a force for good as the Bears project forward.

The loss in Detroit was a breakout game for rookie cornerback Tyrique Stevenson. It provided critical learning moments for two other building block rookies that the Bears believe are foundational pieces of this rebuild.

It has been a trial-by-fire season for Stevenson. That’s often the case with rookie corners. Kyler Gordon went through it last season in Chicago. Jaylon Johnson remembers taking his lumps in 2020.

Stevenson entered Sunday’s game having given up 52 catches on 72 targets. But the Miami product didn’t allow a catch in 35 coverage snaps against the Lions and picked off the only pass sent his way.

While the stats might not show it, the Bears have seen Stevenson take the hard lessons of the NFL cauldron and quickly apply them to his game to become a better pro. It’s a big part of why they believe the rookie has the potential to be an elite shutdown corner.

“It’s been really good. It’s been solid,” head coach Matt Eberflus said of Stevenson’s growth. “You play corner in the NFL as a rookie, first of all, they’re going to highlight you and they’re going to come at you the first half of the season. They’re going to test your water and see what it’s like. And I think he’s responded. He’s had some battles. He’s lost some of those battles. He’s won a good portion of those. The biggest thing with him is you have to learn. You have to keep learning and put it in your file so you become a better pro.

“What’s really good about him is he plays one play at a time. He flushes the play and goes to the next one, good, bad, or indifferent. That’s what you have to be as a corner — you have to have a short memory and keep moving. Every single week, it’s a different set. Every single down, it’s a different set of people you’re covering. Everybody puts a different set of circumstances in front of you in terms of their skill level. He’s learned how to adapt his skill to the people he’s covering and what’s effective against that particular receiver.”

While Stevenson had a marquee day for his growth in Detroit, two other rookies were given critical lessons in crunch time.

First-round right tackle Darnell Wright played an excellent 58 minutes against Lions star pass rusher Aidan Hutchinson. But on the first play of the Bears’ attempted game-winning drive, Hutchinson beat Wright off the ball and stripped quarterback Justin Fields. Wright kicked the ball out of the back of the end zone for a safety.

“It’s frustrating,” offensive line coach Chris Morgan said of Wright’s day ending on that play. “There’s 70 plays, 100 plays, 60 plays, and they all count. He did a really good job, but they all count. He’s excited. He’s going to learn from it. He’s such a competitor. It’s been a really cool rookie season for him because he’s played some of the best pass rushers in the league over and over and over.

“He’s going to take off, man. He’s going to keep getting better. It’s because of the kind of kid he is. He likes to play and compete. He wants to win every rep. Like everything else, he has to learn from it.”

Minutes before Wright got beat by Hutchinson, rookie wide receiver Tyler Scott had a chance to ice the game but “misjudged” a beautifully thrown deep ball from Fields, and the pass fell incomplete.

Scott is still very early in his wide receiver development. A former high school running back, Scott has a lot to learn and fine-tune to reach his astronomically high ceiling in the NFL. He has elite speed, plus the work ethic and desire to be great.

An error like the one Scott made in Detroit can either break him or harden his resolve. It can be a teaching moment that serves as a launching pad to success.

That’s the hope and belief inside Halas Hall. Scott has spent the week staying later after practice to work on his deep-ball tracking with wide receivers coach Tyke Tolbert.

“The more he plays, the better he gets,” Tolbert said. “Tyler, the same guy that misjudged that ball, is the same guy who, in the last game we won, caught a crucial fourth down between two defenders. He just got racked and caught the ball, made the fourth down conversion. It’s the same guy.

“I’ve always said, you can learn by mistake at somebody else’s expense,” Tolbert said later. “You don’t have to go through that to learn. I hope he doesn’t have to go through it again to learn. But because he did go through it, yes, he will learn from it.”

The Bears won’t be able to judge the resolve of Wright and Scott until they take the field Monday night in Minnesota against the Vikings. But there’s unshakable confidence that both rookies will respond to their trials and tribulations in the same way Stevenson has all season.

By elevating their games and proving they have the unbreakable resolve the Bears need in two key building blocks.

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