Bears rookie DL Jonathan Bullard adjusts to NFL life

Bears rookie defensive lineman Jonathan Bullard practiced Thursday after missing a couple days for personal reasons. AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- First-year defensive lineman Jonathan Bullard relied heavily on an explosive first step in college.

That approach worked at Florida, where Bullard won unanimous First-Team All-SEC honors in 2015 prior to the Chicago Bears drafting him 72nd overall (third round). But upon arriving in Chicago, Bullard learned quickly that life is different in the NFL.

“That's all I was doing was being a penetrating guy,” Bullard said on Thursday. “I got a lot off of that penetration, off of getting off the ball so fast that I shock them. I’m not the biggest guy (6-foot-3, 290 pounds). I'm probably the littlest defensive lineman we've got, so I use that to my advantage. I had to learn to be stouter than just getting off the ball.”

Bullard is accepting the coaching given to him.

One of the 2016 rookie-class standouts, Bullard is pushing hard to crack the starting lineup, along with 2015 second-round choice Eddie Goldman, free-agent pickup Akiem Hicks and veteran Mitch Unrein.

“I think he’s more comfortable in our scheme, what’s being asked of him by his coaches, and transforming that into playing fast in game situations,” coach John Fox said. “Obviously if you’re not thinking, you’re performing and you’re not being slowed down in the mental aspect. I think you just get more comfortable.

"He’s a tough-minded player; he’s a tough player, physically. I think from a trait standpoint he’s explosive, which helps, obviously, in a pass-rush situation. That’s a lot of the reasons why we drafted him. I just kind of liked his mindset and how he goes about his business so far.”

Bullard rejoined the team Wednesday evening and practiced on Thursday after being excused for a couple days in order to fly home and deal with a family issue. The time away is not expected to be much of a setback.

"I kept up on my iPad at home, so I’m up to speed on everything," he said. "And I met with defensive-line coach Jay Rodgers and he got me caught up, so I’m fine.”"