Bears' defense ready to silence doubters after offseason of growth

·4 min read

'It bothers me:' Bears' D looking to silence doubters in Week 1 originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

LAKE FOREST – The summer was a learning process for everyone on the Bears. New head coach Matt Eberflus has spent the last six months installing his scheme and figuring out how to put his players in the best position to succeed.

Eberflus' defensive system asks players to do only what they do best. The belief is that by focusing on players' strengths, the Bears' defense will feed off the confidence built by slow, incremental improvement. The daily chopping can lead to big results.

The Bears' defense, especially some key veterans, have witnessed the unit's growth from OTAs to minicamp, training camp, and the preseason. Now, as the Bears prepare to face the San Francisco 49ers in Week 1, Eberflus' defense is ready to show what it can do.

"I think we learned that when we do things together as a unit, we can really execute this defense at a high level," cornerback Jaylon Johnson said Friday, "Playing the game together in unison, being on the same page situationally, running to the ball and trying to create turnovers as a unit. I feel like we are really just buying into that and then really just going out there and playing ball. Having fun."

Eberflus' H.I.T.S (hustle, intensity, takeaways, and smart football) has permeated the locker room. It has gotten buy-in from veterans like Johnson, safety Eddie Jackson, and star linebacker Roquan Smith. The Bears learned early on that good things can happen if they are continually around the ball.

But for the H.I.T.S principle to take full effect, the Bears must be in the right spot. They have to be on their keys and, most importantly, communicate quickly and efficiently. That's an area of growth that has been pinpointed over the last month.

"I think we're finally getting full understanding of the system," edge rusher Robert Quinn told NBC Sports Chicago. "We're speaking a lot faster. I won't say premediated adjustments because we know what we're in but predicting what the offense might do. We're communicating a lot faster which allows us to play a lot faster."

There were a lot of questions about the Bears' defense entering training camp. Would Quinn be on the roster for Week 1, or would he be another casualty of the rebuild? How would Smith's contract situation impact the defensive growth? Could rookies Jaquan Brisker and Kyler Gordon get up to speed fast enough to make an early impact? Where does the pressure come from other than Quinn?

Over the last five weeks, the Bears' defense has answered almost all of those questions.

Quinn is here and viewed as an essential veteran voice for the rebuild. Smith ended his hold-in and is all-in on being the WILL linebacker in Eberflus' system. Brisker and Gordon appear to be rare rookie talents, and three-technique Justin Jones has given the Bears the interior disrupter needed in this system.

Still, the Bears have largely been counted out to start the season. Whether that's fair or not is a topic for another day.

But the Bears have heard the chatter. The belief that they will be one of the NFL's worst teams. Johnson takes that personally. He doesn't know how you couldn't.

"I mean, for me, s—t it bothers me," Johnson said Friday. "I see it. You get the mentions. Honestly, anybody that says they see it and it doesn't bother them, I think they lying.

"I feel like if you can channel it, you can use that to your advantage. For me, it's really just motivation to prove myself right and to take that doubt off of me from everybody else."

Eberflus is ignoring the negative noise that's encircling the Bears. He has been calm, cool, and collected ever since he arrived. He has been around football long enough to know you can't let the outside stuff impact how you go about your business.

That being said, the Bears appear to be entering Week 1 with a sizeable chip on their shoulder.

"With not many people counting you in, we love that," Smith said. "We'll have to wake them up."

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