‘Better with repetition’: Chicago Bears rookie DT Gervon Dexter keeps hitting quarterbacks

Dexter has 6 QB hits in past 5 games

Minnesota Vikings quarterback Joshua Dobbs (15) runs from Chicago Bears defensive tackle Gervon Dexter Sr. (99) during the first half of an NFL football game, Monday, Nov. 27, 2023, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Bruce Kluckhohn)

LAKE FOREST – Bears rookie defensive tackle Gervon Dexter fought and fought. He had a one-on-one matchup with Vikings right guard Ed Ingram on a Monday night in late November.

Dexter fought off Ingram’s hands and shed the block. He found himself face-to-face with Vikings quarterback Josh Dobbs, and he wrapped up the quarterback with both arms and took him to the ground, hard.

The problem was Dobbs released the football a split second earlier. The pass sailed out of bounds, but the refs threw a flag for roughing the passer. It was nearly Dexter’s first career sack. Instead, it was a 15-yard penalty. Dexter had done everything right to put himself in position to make a play, except he landed with his weight on the quarterback, perhaps a beat too late.

What did he do well on the play?

“He converted quicker,” Bears defensive line coach Travis Smith said. “Everything we’ve been preaching in pass rush is to create momentum. Starting with get-off, playing with length, but it’s also converting off that momentum, converting quicker to get off the edge.”

Smith said the 22-year-old second-round draft pick has to do a better job of lowering his target and rolling off the QB before driving him into the ground.

Even though that particular play was a net negative for the Bears, it was yet another sign that Dexter is progressing in the right direction. Two weeks later, Dexter had his first career sack (half a sack, technically) against the Detroit Lions. He added another half a sack Sunday against Cleveland.

Dexter has now had at least one quarterback hit in five consecutive games, per Pro Football Reference. Six of his nine QB hits on the season have come in the past five games. When Dexter looks at the first half of the season, he sees missed opportunities.

“To be honest, I had missed a couple,” Dexter told Shaw Local. “I wouldn’t say I was closer and closer, I just missed a couple. I had like two or three of them where I had the quarterback wrapped up in the backfield and I just didn’t follow through.”

Now, those near misses are turning into sacks.

The Bears selected Dexter with the 53rd overall pick in the draft last spring. He was the second of four Bears selections within the top 64. At 6-foot-6, 312 pounds, Dexter has the size and length that the Bears are looking for in their defensive tackles.

When he arrived in Chicago, the No. 1 thing he needed to work on was his first step. It needed to be quicker. Smith and Dexter spent a lot of time focusing on that during OTAs. The results are starting to show themselves in recent weeks.

When you create that momentum, play with your length, [you] then convert quicker so that the ball comes out quick. Everything with us is it’s a race to the quarterback.”

—  Travis Smith, Bears defensive line coach

“When you create that momentum, play with your length, [you] then convert quicker so that the ball comes out quick,” Smith said. “Everything with us is it’s a race to the quarterback.”

Dexter is playing nearly half the Bears’ defensive snaps. Considering there are two veterans in Justin Jones and Andrew Billings ahead of him on the depth chart, that’s a pretty solid amount of playing time for the rookie.

The Bears also drafted defensive tackle Zacch Pickens with the first pick of the third round. Since coming to Chicago, those two have been pretty much a package duo. Where you find one, you will probably find the other.

Chicago Bears defensive tackle Zacch Pickens (left) and defensive tackle Gervon Dexter Sr. listen to a coach during their preseason game against the Tennessee Titans Saturday, Aug. 12, 2023, at Soldier Field in Chicago.

Pickens isn’t playing as much as Dexter (about a quarter of defensive snaps), but coach Matt Eberflus thinks both of them are showing progress.

“The length at which they play and then, obviously, the hits on the quarterback,” Eberflus said. “And those are all starting to pick up. Again, those are first-year players that we brought on, and again, they’ll be better next year. It’s important for those guys to get more reps and get experience. Really learn from the veterans.”

The defensive line as a whole has played well since the Bears traded for defensive end Montez Sweat in late November. It’s probably no surprise that Dexter has too.

“I feel a lot more comfortable,” Dexter said. “I’ve gotten better with repetition. You always get better once you’re out there. Being wrong or right, just being out there, you get better with your mistakes. That’s how I’ve been looking at it.”

Sean Hammond

Sean Hammond

Sean is the Chicago Bears beat reporter for the Shaw Local News Network. He has covered the Bears since 2020. Prior to writing about the Bears, he covered high school sports for the Northwest Herald and contributed to Friday Night Drive. Sean joined Shaw Media in 2016.