Jaquan Brisker, Kyler Gordon igniting resurgence of Bears' secondary

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Chicago Bears safeties coach Andre Curtis watched Mac Jones’ pass hang in the air Monday night before his eyes shifted to safety Jaquan Brisker. For a second, Curtis thought the rookie had misjudged his attempt to make a play on the ball.

Brisker leaped and reached his right hand as high as it would go, snagging a one-handed interception that was the first of his career.

“You rarely see it like that,” Curtis said.

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Brisker’s teammates watched in awe, and at least one was reminded of another famous one-handed catch.

“I’m not going to lie, I was like, ‘Oh, my God, OBJ on defense!’” Bears rookie cornerback Kyler Gordon said. “Shoutout to him. That was a beautiful play.”

Two quarters later, Gordon came away with his first interception when he cut in front of a pass intended for New England Patriots receiver Tyquan Thornton. Gordon -- and several of his teammates -- thought he should have scored, but the speedy Thornton pushed him out of bounds at the 10.

The contributions Chicago has received from its top rookies have mitigated some of the doubt over general manager Ryan Poles dedicating high draft capital toward rebuilding the secondary instead of surrounding quarterback Justin Fields with more talent.

The Bears rank third in interceptions (8) and passing yards allowed (180.3) per game. The turnaround for one of the league’s worst secondaries from a year ago can be attributed to the contributions from second-rounders Brisker (No. 48 overall) and Gordon (No. 39 overall).

Through seven games, Brisker has allowed 77 receiving yards and zero touchdowns and has notched 42 tackles, two sacks, one fumble recovery and an interception.

Brisker has quickly developed into a foundational, tone-setting player on defense for the Bears.

It’s been more challenging for Gordon. Chicago’s highest draft pick emerged quickly in training camp as the starting nickel corner, a notoriously difficult and important position in coach Matt Eberflus’ defense.

Gordon admittedly struggled during the early part of the season. Without veteran cornerback Jaylon Johnson for three games because of injury, Gordon had to play over 99% of the snaps on defense through seven weeks.

“We put a lot on his plate playing inside and outside, and that takes a lot of mental toughness,” Poles said. “Especially playing DB in this league, it’s a grind. There’s a lot of space to cover, so he’s doing good, and will continue to improve -- I truly believe in that.”

In the Bears’ first five games, Gordon allowed 29 receptions on 36 targets for 397 yards and two touchdowns. In Chicago’s past two games, against Washington and New England, he yielded 31 receiving yards on eight targets, no touchdowns and his first interception.

“He had to tip it to himself there, and then the return,” Eberflus said. “Did a nice job with that. But that fosters confidence, the ability to take the ball away. I think that's a big part of winning football.”

Poles spent three of Chicago’s top five draft picks on defense, and the return is paying off. Earlier this week, the Bears traded defensive end Robert Quinn to Philadelphia in exchange for a 2023 fourth-round pick. The confidence Poles had to pull off this move was rooted in the players he saw perform alongside Quinn for seven games, notably fifth-round defensive end Dominique Robinson.

Robinson has been in on 12 tackles (2 tackles for loss) and has 1.5 sacks in seven games. He tipped a pass thrown by Patriots quarterback Bailey Zappe in the fourth quarter that resulted in an interception by linebacker Roquan Smith.

Robinson figures to have a bigger role in Chicago’s rotation of pass-rushers with Quinn gone and a chance to prove himself like his fellow rookies in the secondary.

“My confidence has been building ever since I got here,” he said. “I came in during the rookie stuff, kind of a little nervous, but once I saw I could play with some of these guys, I was, ‘OK.’ And then as the weeks keep going on, my confidence continues to build. So keep trying to stack and do what I do best.”