Lance didn't practice today. He was out there running around a little bit. Jay was limited; you saw that. Anthony Walters was limited but looks better. Kyle, Major and Brandon all worked. So that was good.
Outdoors today, may have been one of our best practices. I know I come up here always pretty much positive about the way we worked, I commented to our players after practice, our demeanor throughout the day was excellent. We went outside, the focus from the walkthrough in the beginning of practice, through practice and the walkthrough after was not good, it was excellent. There was energy out there.
Our execution in the weather was very good. The ball was seldom on the ground. Our offense practiced well, our defense also in the scout team periods was working to the ball, had some turnovers, which was great to see. Special teams was clean throughout the day. Even through the last 15 minutes of walkthrough, as I watched and moved around, I thought guys were really locked in and worked very hard and prepared like a team that was preparing to win a game on Monday night, no doubt about it.
I heard Josh talking about Coach Ditka, I had a chance to speak with him. Since he was here, I've had a chance to stay in contact with him and stay connected with him, and that's been great. He's talked to me by phone, he's conversed with me through text. He's been very supportive. I wanted him to know that I was excited about the ceremony he'll have on Monday night and that I probably wouldn't be able to see him much because we'll be busy, but I wanted to take the time to congratulate him on that. I'm hopeful and I believe that our team will come out and play with the kind of passion and love for the game that he did as a player and a coach. That's what we're preparing to do this week.
WHAT DO YOU APPRECIATE ABOUT DA COACH?
I watched him as a player, as a young boy, and certainly as a coach, being on the other side of the field being an assistant coach coaching against him, his sincere passion for the game, obviously. His love of people, his genuineness, he's a genuine guy, he's a very real person. You can see why this community and this area, they love him because he's that kind of person and he's very passionate about the game of football, obviously, we see that each and every week, and sincere on an individual basis. I've had a chance to know him on an individual basis and it's a privilege just to have the opportunity to connect with him the way I have and get to know him in the way that I have.
WHAT DO YOU REMEMBER OF HIM AS A PLAYER?
It's a little bit, but I remember him as a tight end, I remember him breaking tackles, I remember him making catches. It's a flicker in the back of my mind, but I do remember that. And then to see the transition as a coach, I can remember him on the sideline when he was with Dallas as a coach, to my recollection. I know he was there as a player, minimally, to my recollection as well. Mostly as the head coach of the Chicago Bears and his love for the game. Knowing some of the assistant coaches who coached with him at the time, how much he loved them and showed them his appreciation for them in different ways. The guys that worked for him loved to coach with him.
DITKA WOULDN'T HAVE WANTED HIMSELF AROUND – YOU?
That's his way of looking at things [laughing]. I said ‘it'd be a privilege to get to meet you' and one thing we want to do here is stay connected to our alumni and to reach out more as we move along. It's hard to do the first year to really do service to all the players that have played here over the years. There's so many players who are alumni, so many great players. What better way than to start with coach Ditka? A player, a coach, a Super Bowl coach and we started that way and encouraged him, that not only the players would want to shake his hand, but the coaches as well. So we're glad he did and I'm appreciative we were able to stay connected through the season.
IMAGINE YOURSELF EVER BEING DA TRESSSSS!
I'm not going there. We're just working every day to get our football team better. We're not going to see what happens in the future. The future's now, each and every day, and you don't work for the future. You engage and serve the guys that are here and provide the environment so they can be the best they can be in all different areas.
I think we're getting the effort and the passion we need out of our players. We've just got to play better. That's the issue right now. We've got to play better at the right times – fourth downs, special teams, at those moments. That's where we have to get better. We don't have to get better from the standpoint of the work ethic, the preparation, the focus we have on winning. We're doing that on a daily basis. We just have to, in those moments of the game, we've got to do it right, do a better job and that's the focus right now.
We did work this week when backed up, when offenses are coming out, to do a better job of stopping offenses that are coming out. We did a fourth-down period today, to do a better job on fourth down and different situations. We had everything from fourth-and-3 to fourth-and-15. You tend to better on things you focus on. We always focus on third down. Two weeks ago we had two third-and-medium periods and over four weeks, we improved dramatically in our third downs. We stepped back last week only because we didn't execute. We felt, looking back at our third downs, we should have had three or four more at least.
That's how you do it. You focus on the things you're not doing well and make them a point of emphasis. It starts in the meeting rooms by making sure everybody has a clear understanding of their assignments. It extends to walk-through's, we walk through it, we talk through it, we rep it, we do it quick against ‘air' and then we do it against each other in a competitive environment.
HOW DID JAY'S ANKLE RESPOND TO PRACTICE?
I didn't ask him how he felt this morning. He worked consistently today. He did not seem to be any more inhibited today than he was yesterday. I didn't have any sense … the work he put in a limited fashion yesterday, it didn't look like he was inhibited at all today.
WHEN QB GETS HURT, HOW DO YOU TELL YOUR TEAM?
I made it clear. The only example I can give you is the most recent one. When Jay sprained his ankle, early in the week, I said jay would be week to week and josh would be taking over the position and if there's a change, I'll let you know. The clarity and the community is very important. That's why I was very specific early in the week: the decision had been made on a week-to-week basis that jay would not be playing. The team knows that, and sees that josh is taking every rep. we're not going into any week with players being distracted by positional situations. If there's something under consideration, I'll just let the players know. But in our meeting rooms, in our team meeting room, the players know exactly where we are regarding personnel decisions.
IMPACT OF DEZ BRYANT? WHAT DO YOU HAVE TO BE AWARE OF?
He's a big strong guy that can do it all, so we've got to plan for it. He runs all different kinds of routes — slants, gos, deep ins. He makes some dramatic catches at times. So we have to focus in on the things he does most of the time, and try to defend those things first, and then make decisions on how we're going to do that. I don't know if that answers your question. That's really the essence of it — what's he doing to have success? And then what can we do to neutralize that, to take that away? So he has to do something else to get it done. There's no guarantee. But you have to stop the difference-makers first, and he's certainly one of the three difference-makers, or more, on the offense — if you include Witten, who's certainly the go-to guy, and Tony.
DALLAS HELPING OUT ROMO
I think that the defense creating turnovers has helped. When you get those kinds of turnovers there's less stress on the offense to go the distance. Certainly his rating is excellent. He's 97, 98 in his rating. He's 65 percent in completion percentage. So a credit to the staff in terms of trimming things down and putting a system or cleaning up a system that was already in place to make him more viable. They're giving him a little running game, which certainly helps as well; takes a little bit of heat off, and the pressure off. Those are just some of the things. He's playing very efficient football, there's no doubt about it. He's probably been as efficient this year as he's ever been.
I think their skill sets are similar in terms of their athleticism, their ability to move the pocket, make all the throws, make things happen late in games. We saw that from Jay earlier in the season; his ability to move the football team and make fourth-quarter decisions that are good decisions and help win games. I think Tony Romo is one of those guys in the league certainly that in the fourth quarter, he's never going to be out of it. He's got that kind of personality. He's wired that way. I think those are similarities.
I thought our players did a great job of it today. We're going out there and we're practicing. Everything we're doing is a dress rehearsal for Monday night. We can't control the digits out there in terms of what the weather is. But we can go out there and work and practice fast and do it efficiently. That's what we did today. We had benches out there. We had heaters out there. There's an ebb and flow to our practices. We had five six-play periods. We switch it out: defense comes on; offense comes off. Sometimes we do it competitively. So those are the things…today, the weather really wasn't a factor. What's a factor in a game is the wind. The cold isn't a factor like the wind can be a factor, and that comes to play calling, game decisions, special-teams decisions and things like that. But the weather as it is or the cold weather if the wind is minimal, really should not affect the game. It's when the wind comes up you've got to make the decisions throughout the game: deferring, not deferring, those types of things, kicking it, punting it, going for it, whatever it might be in those situations on field position. Those are the big decisions that you always have to talk about, and we always talk about preceding the game.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is in his third season covering the Chicago Bears full time. Follow Bear Report on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Bear Report Web site or magazine, click here.