When asked about last year’s dismal record against the Packers, Chicago Bears second-year defensive lineman Ego Ferguson acknowledged the “results were not at all what the team had hoped for” but then quickly changed the subject to the strong possibility of future success against Green Bay.
“Yes their offense is intimidating, no doubt about that,” Ferguson said. “But you have to step back and realize that just about everything is new here now. The system has changed, the coordinator has changed, many of the players have changed as well. You can’t look back in a situation like that. Instead you have to look ahead in a very positive frame of mind.”
While he admitted the current Bears defense is a “work in progress”, Ferguson stressed the competitiveness and skill level of his fellow Bears players.
“I think everyone has been energized by the changes that have occurred during the off-season,” said Ferguson. “Having a clean slate and starting from there is always a good thing. We have excellent coaches and a dedicated group of guys on the field. I won’t say that everything is perfect as we begin the season but it’s pretty close to that level. I feel a positive atmosphere here, a sense that we will exceed expectations and that anything is possible.”
Facing Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay’s high-powered offensive attack this early in the season – when everything is still new for a Bears team in transition – is hardly an ideal situation. Yet Ferguson feels the challenge could further energize the team and build positive momentum going forward.
“No player, no offense is unstoppable,” he said, “although at times it might have seemed that way when we faced the Packers last year. Everybody learned a lot from those experiences and those are lessons that can be carried forward into 2015."
The Packers drubbed the Bears twice last season by a combined score of 93-31. So what exactly did Ferguson learn following two lopsided defeats and a 5-11 rookie season?
“Mainly how to be comfortable on the field,” Ferguson said. “I finally know how the NFL works. As a rookie everything is brand new no matter how many meetings you go to, how many practices you have. What’s happening during games that first year is all a part of the development process. I feel stronger, more confident, ready to contribute now. I understand how to communicate well with the guys on defense and I can read plays that the opposing offense presents much faster.”
Chicago’s defensive line will be without its most versatile player, Jeremiah Ratliff, who is suspended for the first three games of the regular season. Yet for Ferguson, the absence of Ratliff doesn’t make much difference.
“We are trained with the philosophy of next man up,” he said. “Somebody goes down then you’d better be able to step in there and pick up at that same level. That’s the point of practice. Everybody here knows the system. We know the plays. We’ve worked on our skill level with an eye to getting in there and working seamlessly should that become necessary. A lot of that depends on successful communication among coaches and among players. You better believe we work on that constantly.”
The odds makers in Vegas have the Bears as a touchdown underdog, yet Chicago’s defense has no plans to just roll over like they did last year.
“It’s a challenge, no doubt about that,” said Ferguson. “I think facing a tough offense like Green Bay’s is a good thing. I love the energy of those games against the Packers. The fans are really into it. We are as well. We’re not intimidated and we know we can be effective. The intensity level of rivalry games is always high and that’s the fun part of being out there playing. It’s the perfect time to start our winning record.”
For Bears defenders, last year is in the past, and this defense is looking toward a much brighter future.
“The past is over. Not much any of us can do about that now,” Ferguson said. “The future? It begins this weekend. I'm definitely excited about that. It’s all ahead and it’s offering us an opportunity to make a statement. I’m very optimistic and absolutely eager to get out there and show the fans what we can accomplish.”
Beth Gorr has been covering the Bears for the last 17 years and is the author of Bear Memories: The Chicago-Green Bay Rivalry. She is currently working on a second book about early Bears history.