With one day remaining in the Chicago Bears’ voluntary offseason program, there’s little question new coach Matt Eberflus has gotten his “HITS” principle across to players.
The hustle — or at least the intensity — in some previous OTAs led to the NFL docking the organization a planned day on the field Tuesday. The Bears were back at it Wednesday at the Walter Payton Center with fewer collisions and less contact than they’ve had in these sessions, which are without full pads.
Safety Jaquan Brisker collided with wide receiver Velus Jones on a play in the flat for a pass breakup, with both players going to the ground, but that was about the only notable contact that teams are supposed to avoid in rules collectively bargained for the purpose of player safety.
The defense was the big winner on the day. Cornerback Jaylon Johnson also had a nice pass breakup (without a collision), and safety DeAndre Houston-Carson intercepted quarterback Justin Fields twice. Eberflus noted that the offense was victorious in Monday’s session — held without media — and said he counted 11 chunk pass plays.
Eberflus said neither he nor the organization was fined by the league. One issue the Bears face: The NFLPA will be on the lookout for potential repeat violations.
The players association had a representative at an OTA in May, when sessions were too physical. The Bears were warned, and when video of subsequent OTAs showed similar issues, the NFL forced them to cancel Tuesday’s session.
Future penalties could be more severe — the team could lose minicamp dates. In some instances draft picks have been stripped.
“Hustle can be there and it is, and you can see that,” Eberflus said. “You guys were at practice. They run on offense. They run on defense. Man, we run.
“But the intensity part. The focus part of intensity can be there but not the physical part until we get the pads. Once we get the pads on in training camp, that’s when we’re going to focus on how we play the intensity piece. That cannot be done this time of year.
“We’re excited where we are with that. There’s guys, they’re flying around, they’re really moving to the ball. It looks fast to me.”
Third-year tight end Cole Kmet said a significantly younger roster with a lot of new faces eager to impress a new front office and coaching staff has created more vigorous sessions at a time when more veteran and established programs don’t have the foot on the gas pedal.
“We’re going 100% and you’re being asked to go 100% and you want to show out for a new staff,” Kmet said. “You have young guys and guys like me that want to stick around here and be around here. … And I think it’s a balance.
“As players … we’ve got to learn as a group how to practice correctly and take care of each other and keep guys off the ground. And practice in a way that’s beneficial for everybody, where we’re able to go 100% full effort, which you can do in these things, but still keep everybody safe and everybody off the ground.
“I think since Day 1 … it’s just been night and day with how we’ve been practicing.”
Left guard Cody Whitehair said it’s difficult to go full speed as a lineman in practice when not wearing pads.
“But this team is young and we need that intense practice and expectation from the group,” he said. “We do have a lot of young guys and the expectations are high, so you’ve got to expect an intense practice. I feel like the guys have really worked hard and have gotten a lot out of it.”
Despite the penalty, the players have a pretty good understanding of what coaches will expect at training camp, when legitimate football evaluation begins.
“When we get pads on, it’s going to be full go,” said Kmet, who used his unplanned day off Tuesday to play golf. “We’re going to be going at it, and it’s going to be good for everybody. We’re building up to that right now.
“We’re getting this break here soon. It’s going to be on everybody to take care of their bodies during this time and make sure they’re staying in shape and ready to roll when Day 1 comes around.”