The only thing I can tell you about practice today is I thought the guys came out and there was good energy, very good competition. We limited some of the reps with the veteran guys today because we've got such competition going on, we wanted to get some of the new guys and younger guys a few more reps and we did that.
ACCOMPLISHED THE PAST MONTH?
I think that it's been through the [off] season, since April when came together. We came together and got to know each other pretty well as far as how we work, got to know each other on a personal level, being able to relate to each other. I think Mel and the defensive staff did a good job of integrating our defense throughout. We've watched how the progression of teaching has gone on and the movement of players, and getting enough on tape of everybody, fundamental and technique work. I think we've established ourselves between coaches and players, defensively, on how we do things here. It's really going to help us get off to a fast start in training camp.
OFFENSIVE LINE RETURNING
I don't have analytics on it but I would say that teams where their offensive lines stay together throughout the season have a tendency to improve offensively throughout the season. To be able to bring them back again, continue to progress, add to the system, is certainly a benefit. We've got young guys that are still developing, some veteran guys to help them along, and we've really answered the question, feel very fortunate, but there's guarantees that we'll play as well. Certainly the guys practiced well, work that way and meet that way. They're focused on trying to be the best offensive line that they can be. They know they get better. And we've got some new guys in the mix that are competing as well, not necessarily for starting positions but for positions on the team. So it's a positive thing.
Number one he really is the consummate professional. As high-motor as he is, as outgoing as he is, when he comes in he's really all business. When he's on the field he's all business. He works hard. He doesn't say much. He runs to the ball. He sets the tone for guys around him how to do it. We're very lucky to have him. In the locker room he's got a great personality. You guys have had a chance to meet him. He's wide open, he's honest. At the end of the day, he walks on the football field and he's all business. He's really set the tone amongst the other guys. What we saw him do in Minnesota and how we saw him play, we're seeing that without pads on but we're seeing the effort and the energy and certainly he's got the football intelligence and experience. I think he's in a good place. We're lucky to have him.
TUCKER SAID DEFENSE IS SALTY
We're practicing with an edge. I think we've got coaches around them who are tough coaches, good coaches, they do it the right way. They are no-nonsense guys. You can't play in the National Football League without being tough and having an edge and having a saltiness to your demeanor. We want to get to that point where we're consistently doing that. We're certainly seeing it from the offensive side. Our practices without pads are highly competitive. We're getting better. When Jermon Bushrod has to play against Jared Allen every day, and Jordan Mills has to play against Lamarr Houston every day, or Willie Young, that's pretty competitive. Then you've got Ratliff inside and the guys that are working inside. I think the mentality starts with how we sell it. These guys, they care about football. They want to be great. They know to win in this league you've got to play with an edge. Salty helps as long as your fundamentals and techniques are right, you're fundamentally sound and you're structured. But tough guys without system doesn't work very good. It all goes together. That's what makes great defenses. We think we've got the ability to do that and the right guys to do it. We'll see. We've got a lot of work to do.
Brock has not looked out of place. He's got certainly room to grow. He's got a very high football intelligence. He seems to have found a way to be in the right place during the course of practice. He's verbal, which is important on the back end. He's a good communicator. And he's a live. He's working hard. He's got guys showing him how to work. He's got the instinctive ability to know what it takes to work. He's progression, we feel good about that. He's ascending and he's competing to play to start. That's where he is. He's in a competitive position to win a job. We've got a long way to go but he's shown us that he should be in that position to be competing. Again, we've got a long way to go. When you get to training camp, there's a way to see where guys are, young guys are able to ascend and continue to ascend. And there's a way, you see that after about 8, 9, 10 days of it, players start to level off because they're not quite ready to take it to another level. We're not going to anoint anybody yet but to answer your question MOON, we're excited about what we've seen of Brock.
CHALLENGE FOR VEREEN TO CONQUER VERBAL ELEMENTS
I think that's just the way he's wired. He's a communicator. He understands the game. He's got some good people showing him the way, and he's taking advantage of the opportunity. But we still have a long way to go and it would be unfair to him to say anything more than, ‘We like what we've seen, and we're looking forward to seeing where it goes.' We're excited to have him with us.
DID THE DEFENSE LACK TOUGHNESS LAST YEAR
We weren't the tough team we wanted to be for a lot of different reasons. We want to accentuate it this year. Playing football and being a Chicago Bear, we brought a lot of former alumni in here, and the universal language hasn't just come from me. It has come from those people. We're a team that wants to play—even offensively—with a defensive mentality. And there's a way to play football in Chicago and that's to be tough and physical, set a vertical edge, violent shed and run to the football. We've got to practice that way every day to be that team we want to be. We're not there yet. We know that. We're trying to get there because that's the way every team plays in the National Football League. The best defenses play tough and physical. And games are won—we talk about it every week—there's a lot of different ways to win, but you seldom win a game (in which) you don't win the line of scrimmage. There's a seldom a game you win where you can't at least somewhat run the ball effectively and stop the run. It all starts with the line of scrimmage. That has been a big point of emphasis.
TOUGHNESS STARTS AT LINE OF SCRIMMAGE?
I think you can go overboard here with this discussion of toughness because—you could make that a highlight if you want—to play in the National Football League, you've got to be tough. Both sides of the line of scrimmage got to be tough. You have to be mentally tough. We all know that. So to start writing stories about toughness, I think, is just over-exaggerating what really is, and that is: We've got to set the edge and the line of scrimmage, and there's a toughness and fundamentals that it takes to do that. And we're just making it a point of emphasis. Our guys, the one thing we've done this year, we've tried to bring, tried to do a little bit more—because we've got so many new faces—and what being a Bear is all about, you know? Being a Bear starts on the defensive side of the ball, and with the mentality of what a Bears defense plays like. You still got to have fundamentals and techniques. You still have to have a talented group of players, but we've done a little bit more of that. We brought Mike Singletary came by. Otis Wilson came by. Mike Ditka came by. Gayle talked about it the other day when he was in, and we just want to reinforce that. We've got a lot of new guys, and understanding what it is to play for the Bears means, and one of them means play tough defense. That means doing the technical and fundamental things it takes to play the game.
IS IT HARD TO EVALUATE WHEN YOU HAVE SO MANY RETURN GUYS?
It's good to have the competition, but it is a challenge, no question, to have that many guys. But we have a lot of experience back there. I think there's a lot of talent and that's really what you want when you're evaluating.
WHO HAS STOOD OUT?
They've all done a really good job so far. Weems and then the Williams kid, Spurlock being added to the mix. So there's been quite a few guys back there and we'll see how it goes.
WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING FOR FROM YOUR RETURNERS?
The first thing is returner mechanics. You want a guy who can make all the catches. You want a solid punt return guy that can square up his body, make sure he's makes the right decisions, because that's really the biggest part of being a returner is making the right decision, in my opinion. And then the second thing is the talent with the ball in his hand. If you can identify a guy that can make plays in open space, that's really what you are looking for. And it happens in different ways. Devin had great speed, that's why he was good. And there's been other guys that have excellent vision and they're good, so you just have to find what that guy is good at and try to tailor the scheme towards him.
HOW BIG OF A BLOW WAS LOSING DOMENIK HIXON?
It's a tough break. I think the last time I talked, he was one of the guys that right before it started, we were really looking forward to seeing. It's just a tough break for him. He's been a very productive guy in the league as far as a returner. Just one of those things that happens. It's too bad for him and too bad for us.
HOW HAS Shea McClellin LOOKED ON SPECIAL TEAMS?
So far, it's been very positive. He's moved around really well. He didn't play a lot of special teams here in the last few years because of his role as a defensive lineman, so it's something new for him, but he's really adjusted well. His drill work has gotten better every week and I think he's on the right track. I don't know how many plays he's going to play, that will all shake out when we get to training camp and see who's the starters and who the backups are, but he's on the right track.
PUNTS ARE HITTING THE ROOF… HOW DO YOU EVALUATE THAT?
We've been outside quite a few number of times. Obviously that's something that's good, by the way. If it hits the roof in there, that means they are hanging the ball. If they don't hit the roof that's usually not a good thing because that means it's coming right back at you in the return form. I'm glad that it's hitting the roof, let's just say that. But you can evaluate also there because you can film it and see a tight-line shot of them and see exactly what their strengths and their weakness are as far as their drop, as far as their catch of the ball, everything that comes into play. SO we can get a lot of work done in there, but obviously outside is better than inside for us right now.
HAS EITHER GUY KICKED THE BALL BETTER?
I think it's going to be a heck of a competition. I think when we drafted Pat for whatever reason Tress really picked his business up. He's really punted well and it's going to be a heck of a competition.
IS IT PSYCHOLOGY THAT TRESS PICKED IT UP?
No I've seen some guys fold and some guys rise to the occasion and obviously you want the guys that are going to rise to the occasion. You want a guy that knows how to compete and that's what we've seen so far so hopefully that continues.
He's been involved in all the drill work on special teams. We've played him in some different spots right now. We'll just have to see where that goes. Impressed. He's worked at it. He's watched a lot of film. And he's done everything we've asked of him. So we're looking forward to him for sure. I know Chicago is, that's for sure. I live downtown. Every place I go they're always asking me about Jordan Lynch so I know they want him to make it, that's for sure.
HOW DO YOU THINK HE'S DOING WITH ALL THE INCREASED MEDIA ATTENTION?
I think he's a down-to-earth kid that's just a heck of a kid personally. It's nice to be around a guy like that. He's a nice guy plus he's worked his tail off. Coming from the position he was in, now having to go down and make a tackle, having to go hit bags and do the things that we're asking him to do right now, it's been impressive.
It's obviously going to be a challenge, just like the return game for us. So we're going to have to keep massaging that and seeing how that's going to work out. I've got all the respect in the world for him. Like I said the last time, whatever decision he makes is going to be the best for him and his family and we have to make the same type of decision for the Bears. And the two guys that have been working here have done a great job in the offseason. We still have to see how it's all going to work out and how it's going to pan out.
WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE IT DECIDED BEFORE CAMP?
Again, it's really going to be a situation where Pat's comfortable and we're comfortable. People say deadlines, I don't know if there's a deadline to be honest with you. I just know we want to do what's best for Pat and we want to do what's also best for the Bears.
PEOPLE JUST BRING LYNCH UP TO YOU? WHAT DO YOU TELL THEM?
I'm serious. I was in a restaurant the other night and they just started coming up. They knew who you were and I had about three people come up to me and say, 'hey how's Jordan Lynch doing? How's Jordan Lynch doing.' I mean, I was like, 'wow.' So it's cool for him to see that. It really is. It's neat. I'm glad it's happening for him and I hope it goes well. I know he's competing hard and we'll see where it goes.
CHRIS WILLIAMS GETTING DINGED UP A REASON TO BRING IN SPURLOCK AND EDWARDS?
I think Phil does a great job of trying to identify things that we need extra people at. And really, he tries to bring in the best player at all positions and let it compete out and let it play out like it's supposed to. I think all 3 of those guys -- and I didn't mention Armanti just because he hasn't has as many reps yet, he hasn't been here as long -- but he's got some real talent. You saw it in Carolina. We'll see what happens.
CHEMISTRY ON DEFENSE
I feel like it's pretty good so far. The guys today, they had a lot of fun out there. All the groups are playing fast. We're running three and four groups a day, and from top to bottom guys are having fun. They're flying around. We see progress and improvement at every position. So it's a work in progress, but I think so far, so good.
Brock has done a nice job. He has great attention to detail. He's very sound from a technique standpoint. He's smart; he plays fast. He does not make a lot of mistakes. That's good to see. So I think it's arrow up with him. He's doing an outstanding job so far. We'll see how it goes. We have competition there. There's nothing set in stone. So we'll just continue to monitor him and the rest of the guys and we'll end up with a good group I think.
CONTE INCREASES COMPETITION?
The more guys you add to the mix, the more competition there's gonna be. So we're looking forward to getting Chris back out there, getting Steltz back out there. We'll roll those guys through and it'll be a fluid situation all the way through training camp.
WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED ABOUT LBs SWITCHING THEM CONSTANTLY?
Well, those guys are versatile athletes and we're training most of those guys to play multiple spots. They've handled that well. Shea's made the transition. Up to this point he's done a nice job with that. He looks like he's comfortable playing linebacker in coverage and in rush. So it's just a versatile group with great competition. They're very competitive, and we move them around quite a bit. They know that on the front end.
LONG-TERM VALUE OF HAVING GUYS SWITCH SPOTS
When guys go down, you can just plug a guy in. Especially if you're gonna be a four and a five linebacker or a six linebacker and you're going to play special teams, you've got to know multiple spots. You can't be a backup and know only one spot.
I think Bostic is a lot more comfortable in what we're asking him to do. He's a lot more consistent. He plays fast. He looks like he's having fun. I don't see a lot of frustration with him in terms of what he's been asked to do and why. He's getting lined up quickly. He's making his calls and he's playing fast. Those are the things that really come with experience in the scheme and that type of thing. I think he likes the group that he's in. It's a good room. We have a really nice mix of veteran players and young players. We have good coaching. I think it's a good environment for him to become the best he can be in there.
DIFFERENCE BETWEEN WHAT YOU ASKED HIM TO DO LAST YEAR AND THIS YEAR
We're slowing his progressions down a little bit in terms of his run fits. We're asking him to stay square a little bit longer and just mirror the ball, and fill when needed and then fall back when needed. So I think that's allowed him to just be more of a natural linebacker off the ball.
We all know that in order to have a great defense, it starts with the defensive line. So there's been a lot of focus there. You mentioned Jared Allen. He's done a fantastic job so far. He's a real pro. When he practices, he practices at a high level. He's good in the classroom. He leads by example. Ratliff is very, very stout and rugged inside. He's hard to handle in there. He's got great experience in there. You add Willie Young, Paea, Lamarr to that mix and the other young guys that we have, and we have great competition at that spot too; a mixture of young players and veteran players. It's a salty group. The focus with the d-line this season has been hand use, pad level, setting a vertical edge in the run game and then being able to play your gap and half of another gap. That's a violent-shed situation. I like the group so far. It's a lot of competition. There's a lot of guys in there that we think can make this team and we have to make sure we get them reps in training camp so we know who are the right guys for us.
IS McCLELLIN MORE OF A SPECIALIST THAN A FOUR-DOWN LB?
A specialist? Um. He's going to be a typical 4-3 linebacker for us. I see him as probably more of a blister than maybe a four-down rusher. But he will have some edge rush opportunities. I think you saw some today.
He's pretty much what we thought was. He's a high motor guy. He's passionate about the game. What you see is what you get. And he's really a no-nonsense guy. He's going to come to work. He's going to put his work in and lead by example. And he's very knowledgeable about the game. He's a good teammate. And he's very coachable. And I think that's what we thought we were getting. So he hasn't disappointed us.
DO NEW GUYS BRING SWAGGER TO DEFENSIVE LINE?
Well, we're putting a premium on toughness and being rugged and being stout. And having tremendous anchor in our d-line and being able to control blockers. That violent shed and get off blocks and make plays and push the pocket in the passing game. And then win them one-on-ones. And in order to do that, you have to be tough and you have to be physical. It's the trenches. And that's what we're looking for and that's what we have with those guys and that's just the way it's got to be in the front with those guys. You can't play any other way in the front if you don't have tough guys in there who are willing to scrap and fight and toss guys around to win one-on-ones. We're not able to do a lot of that yet because we don't have the pads on yet. But we can see some of that with our hands, our violent shed and things like that.
DEFENSE IS SALTY? IS THAT A COMPLIMENT?
I think it's a compliment. I don't know. You can ask them if they think it's a compliment or not. Coach Tuck called you a salty group. You'd have to ask those guys. They're rugged. They're good guys. You can tell them that. Coach Tuck said you're good guys too. So no. We need to be tough in our front,, in our front seven and throughout our football team and throughout our defense and it starts up front. We preach that every day and they seem to want to be like that. That's their nature. So I think it's good.
In our over 4-3 scheme right now, Shea's playing the SAM spot. That's where James Anderson played last year. But he also was lined up at MIKE there. And then in our nickel packages, he's also played MIKE in nickel. So we'll move him around as needed. Bostic, obviously has played MIKE in base; he's played SAM and WILL (inaudible). And he plays both spots in the nickel package. So. D.J. Has played primarily MIKE.
CAN CHARLES TILLMAN REGAIN 2012 FORM?
He's worked hard to get back, and when he's out there competing and the reps that he takes, he looks good. None of us are where we need to be right now, and so these next weeks before training camp are going to be critical for us so we can be in the best shape we can be when we come to training camp. We'll take it from there, but Charles loves football, he loves his team, he has a tremendous amount of pride, and he's worked very hard to get to the point where he is today, which allows him to take reps and compete, and he's done a nice job with that.
ON WHAT QUALITIES YOU SEEK AT THE NICKEL POSITION
Well, the nickel spot for us can be complicated at times, so you want a guy that has very good football IQ, good instincts, and a guy that has a good demeanor in terms of poise inside. You need a guy that can play tight man coverage when you need to get off the field in third-and-medium type downs; a guy who can break on the ball in zone and match patterns in zone; and a guy that can give you something as a blitzer, just a credible threat off the edge to create one-on-ones for other guys and if he can get on a back and win on an edge or things like that, that's what you look for at that spot, amongst other things.
HOW HAS JENNINGS PROGRESSED IN THAT ROLE?
We were just talking today, it's a rep-to-rep process with those guys because he's playing corner one snap, then playing nickel the next snap, and he goes back and forth. It's just a matter of becoming comfortable and playing at a high level at either spot, and he's working to do that. But he has the traits. We played him some there last year in practice, and he has that in his background, so I think he gives us an excellent chance to have production at that spot. So it's just a matter of getting the reps and making sure that he continues to work that – and he'll do that. These guys, they want to be great, and they have a tremendous amount of pride. And when you ask a guy to do something new, they want to be great at it right away – that's just how they are. So that's his approach; he doesn't want to just be a guy that goes in there and hangs out and maybe make a couple plays – he wants to be an excellent nickel and be productive, and then go out at corner and be excellent there. So that's what you're looking for at that spot – that's what it's going to take – because you're going to spend half, if not more, of your snaps there during the season in sub packages. That's just the way the league is right now.
TRADEOFFS OF HAVING A BLITZER FROM THE NICKEL SPOT
When you add another guy to the rush, whether it's a nickel or linebacker – you take someone out of coverage – typically you're going to create more one-on-ones if you add someone to the rush. And so, hopefully, you can win those one-on-ones when you create more of those. Obviously, you have to speed up the quarterback's clock because you have less guys in coverage, so the rush and coverage have to work together. You want guys that when you call their number, they can get home and help guys win one on one. We look for mismatches, look to attack protections with linebackers and defensive backs – corners and nickels – and we want everyone to be a threat to come from every spot.
MORE EQUIPPED TO ACHIEVE THAT THIS YEAR?
I think we're going to be better one-on-one with a four-man rush, obviously, but then when you add guys to the rush I think you have more opportunities. I think we'll be able to win – I think we'll have good coverage behind it. We've added a couple different schemes and packages, and a couple fronts, and things like that, that are going to help, but at the end of the day we need to be able to get pressure with four guys, and we're going to work to do that, but when we call guys numbers, add someone to the rush, in the run game or in the pass game, it's for a reason – we're not going to do it just to do it.
KYLE FULLER AGAINST MARSHALL AND JEFFERY EVERY DAY?
He's done a good job. Kyle is a guy who doesn't back down from a challenge, he's always going to look to make plays, he's around the ball quite a bit and he looks like he belongs out there. I don't have any issues about him when he's out there, we've just got to keep getting him better and he's got to learn the system and learn where his help is and what technique we want him to play here and then continue to progress. He has what it takes I think to be a god player out there for us.
NEW COACHES PASQUALONI AND HERRING?
Those guys, I've know Coach Pasqualoni for a while and we've cliniced together and spent some time together talking football and done some things so I really knew what he was all about. In terms of the front we want to play a certain way, we want to align a certain way, we want to use our hands a certain way, there's a certain way we want to play blocks to make sure that we can control the line of scrimmage and make the plays we need to make. So that's important and we're on the same page there. He's a, Coach "P" first and foremost is a great person but he's a hard- nosed, tough guy, no-nonsense guy. From the time those guys first step on the field pre practice to the time they leave he's working them. Same way in the classroom.
You know Coach Herring again is a guy that I've seen coach over the years and I know what he's all about. From a coaching standpoint he has a tremendous amount of experience and he knows from being in a 4-3 and a 3-4, he knows how we want our backers to play, and the technique and fundamentals and how we fit in the run game and how you have to play these zone schemes that we're seeing. You know the run game in the NFL right now is zone plays, you know inside and outside zones. Hard zone, flat zone, and it's not just isos and powers. We have to understand and we do understand that from a front seven standpoint we've got to get our hands on guys, we've got to play blocks on the linebackers, we've got to be square, we've got to shuffle, mirror, fill and fall back period. Regardless of whether we're in cover two or cover three or whatever we're in. That's how we're going to play and so we understand that as a group and we coach them that way, and I think the players are responding to that.
END-OF-SEASON CONVERSATIONS WITH EMERY AND TRESTMAN
We talked about this a few weeks ago. It was just pretty much what do we need to do moving forward to get to where we want to go. So I laid out my vision for the group and what I thought needed to be done and it was in line with what they thought as well. So it was just a matter at that point of putting the pieces together from a staff standpoint and from a player standpoint, you know whatever possible and then going to work and rolling the sleeves up and they have confidence in me to get that done, so that's what we're doing.
We'll see, I'll wait until camp rolls around and I'll get a report and they'll let us know who's available and how much they can do, you know that's pretty standard. And whenever he's available we'll start working him in and get him up to speed and get him the reps. He's been n the meetings so he knows what we're doing. We're going to start over pretty much in training camp with our installation so a lot of it will be review and then we'll add some things as we go that we didn't cover in OTAs and the coaches sessions but you know it's going to be, he's gotten the mental work in, in the classroom and thing like that so it'll just be getting the physical reps and when he's ready he's ready, so we'll work him in. I told Chris I can't wait to get him out there and he said he can't wait to get out there and that's where we are.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is in his fourth 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.