Bears defense won't wave white flag after big trades originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
When the Bears first heard that Ryan Poles had traded Roquan Smith to the Ravens, less than a week after he sent Robert Quinn to the Eagles, they were shocked. The news hit the team hard, and players were hurt and left wondering what was going on.
“The thoughts go through your head like, ‘What are we playing for?’” said Eddie Jackson. “‘Is their vision still the same as the players? We’re trying to make it to a Super Bowl, get to the playoffs.’ Things like that.”
The coaches and front office wanted to nip thinking like that in the bud, so they held a meeting with the Bears leadership councilー a group of 13 playersー to both validate the players’ emotions after one of their most beloved teammates was traded away, and to shed some light on the bigger picture for the organization.
“You just communicate,” said Matt Eberflus. “Look each other in the eye and tell the truth and communicate and I think that’s what we do with all the guys and I think they appreciate that.’
The meeting meant a lot to the players, and seemed to help shift the conversations in the locker room.
“I told Ryan that,” Jackson said. “I appreciated him giving us a call and telling us what’s going on. You kind of need that. There are a lot of things that start floating around, especially in the locker room. Like, ‘They don’t take care of their guys. Or they don’t care about their guys.’ Or whatever the case may be. That was something pretty cool for them to come and talk to us as men. We get the business part of this. We respect that. But we like to be respected as men and football players as well.”
Now, Jackson and Justin Jonesー the team’s new defensive captainsー have picked up that conversation. No one understands how the trades affected the locker room more than them. They also understand that the players alone can control how they respond to the franchise-altering moves.
“The defense can be like two paths,” said Jackson. “Everybody can start thinking of their individual, ‘I’m going to get mine.’ Or we can come together like, ‘Look, man, this is what we’ve got. We’re all we’ve got. Let’s go out here and we can prove everybody right or we can prove everybody wrong.’ It’s all about how we react. We talk all the time about resilience. Right now it’s time to show true resilience for every man in this room.”
“It hurt that we lost him, but at the end of the day, we all have a job to do,” said Jones. “A lot of guys on this team have families, and so when you say waving the white flag on the season, that’s almost like saying waving the white flag on your families. You can’t do that man. These guys are my family, I’m their family, and nobody is waving the white flag on anybody. We’re going to play just as hard as if they were with us. We’re going to play just as hard when they’re without us.”
That’s all well and good, but there’s also the small issue of replacing Quinn and Smith on the field. Quinn’s stats this season aren’t eye-popping, but he had disrupted plays and gave the Bears a reliable player on the edge. Smith is leading the NFL in tackles, so obviously the team will need to find a way to pick up that slack. Realistically, a variety of players will need to fill the voids, but defensive coordinator Alan Williams doesn’t want players to try to replace Quinn or Smith exactly. He wants them to be themselves and make the most of their new opportunities.
“Don’t try to do too much,” Williams said. “When you try to do too much you lose a gap. You’re somewhere where you shouldn't be. The focus of our thing is execution — be where you’re supposed to be.
“If we do that at a high rate, we’ll be just fine.”
There may be growing pains on defense as the Bears learn to live without two of their defensive captains. There may be more games like last Sunday’s when the Cowboys offense put up 42 points on the defense. But the Bears won’t accept the Quinn and Smith trades as excuses. They’ll practice, plan and play with the same expectations they had before the deadline.
“Now it’s time for us to step up and show them, this is how we handle the situation,” said Jackson. “Go out and let’s rally around each other.”
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