Juan Castillo banged on the desk. Over and over and over.
And he kept repeating those words. "Over and over and over."
His point was clear, even as he used a bunch of undersized, unathletic football reporters to make his argument over a Zoom call.
"It's not about plays. It's about fundamentals. About being able to get the players to do it," Castillo said.
The Bears' new offensive line coach is certainly passionate. And he describes himself as an overachiever.
"I work hard. My parents are from Mexico. I'm the first generation so I only know one way and my thing with my players is, I try to lead by example," Castillo said. "My guys are going to outwork everybody. And if they're going to outwork everybody, then I have to do that."
Castillo is among the Bears' most important offensive acquisitions in 2020. After a disappointing 2019 season for the offensive line, general manager Ryan Pace didn't spend big money on upgrades and didn't draft an offensive lineman until the seventh round. Instead, the Bears will likely have four returning starters and are putting a lot of faith in Castillo to get more out of them.
"Offensive line play, for the 25 years I've known it, it's all about being consistent," Castillo said. "The more consistent you are, the better the player you are. Well, how do we get consistent? There's only one way to be more consistent, if you have the God-given ability, and that's by doing something over and over and over until it becomes natural."
To get that point across, Castillo started to build a hypothetical offensive line consisting of reporters on the Zoom call – his first media availability since getting hired in January. Somehow, I made the original starting five, as Castillo said: "I like Adam's smile, you know?" Unfortunately, I think he'll be disappointed in my size and strength, although my length and basketball background could give me a chance.
"I got three players," Castillo said as he used his new, hypothetical offensive line. "Mark picks it up after 5-6 reps. Adam, it takes him 20 reps. Well, Dan, all the sudden, it's 20 reps and you can't do it. So what do you say? You say, Dan can't do it. Let me tell you, with Andy Reid -- and Matt (Nagy) knows this -- there's no such thing as a player can't. You get it done, Juan. Whatever you got to do, you get it done."
And that's essentially the position Castillo is in. Whatever he's working with this year, it's up to him to get it done. Castillo and Nagy worked together in Philadelphia and their offices were across the hall from each other. With Nagy just getting started in his coaching career at that time, he would often come into Castillo's office to learn. Now, with Nagy in charge of his own team, he's leaning on Castillo, 60, to jumpstart a running game that has not produced in two seasons.
Castillo's first task will be to get more out of the four returning starters: left tackle Charles Leno Jr., left guard James Daniels, center Cody Whitehair and right tackle Bobby Massie. All four players are proven NFL starters, but as a unit, the group wasn't good enough last year. The Bears are also putting a lot of faith in a position switch for newcomer Germain Ifedi, a former first-round pick who was a four-year starter for the Seattle Seahawks, primarily at right tackle.
Ifedi signed with the Bears on a cheap, one-year deal and projects to be the team's starting right guard.
"Imagine getting a player like that," Castillo said. "Would you be excited to work with something like that? Here's a guy who's 6'6, 335 lbs, you know, that's got some God-given ability that's got some big heart. That's tough. That wants to be good. Am I excited? Oh, buddy, am I excited. Let me tell you, he's been working his ass off. Working his ass off."
It's a risky proposition considering the need for improvement on the offensive line, but Ifedi wouldn't be the first player Pace has plucked from a different team and improved on the Bears. Akiem Hicks was once a promising player who just needed the right fit before his career took off. Vic Fangio's scheme and defensive line coach Jay Rodgers were able to unlock one of the NFL's most underrated players.
Perhaps Castillo can have a similar impact on Ifedi.
"I think he's going to take everybody on the line's game to a new level because it's something different than I've ever been taught," Ifedi said. "It's a different way than I've ever been taught and it's different than a lot of guys have been taught. If we buy in, I think he can really help us be a lot better and be that O-line that this team needs."
Instead of making a big splash with one addition, the Bears' plan appears to be making each player on the offensive line a little better, and another key piece is left guard James Daniels, who is still only 22 years old. Entering his third year in the NFL, this season will be crucial for Daniels.
"James Daniels is smart, he's an athlete," Castillo said. "So he's going to be a good player whether he plays guard or center … I think with the length and the size that James has, I think he has a chance to be a very good guard."
In a brief encounter with Castillo at the NFL Combine in February, the new offensive line coach seemed genuinely excited about the potential he could squeeze out of this group. Of course, that was before the addition of Ifedi and before COVID-19 shut down the offseason program. It makes you wonder how Castillo has been able to drill the fundamentals over Zoom calls, but he made it sound like the abundance of time has allowed them to focus on details. Frankly, the offensive line always has limitations in the offseason anyway because they can't wear pads until training camp.
Eventually, Castillo will get his chance to drill the fundamentals into his players on the football field. And when that time comes, you can bet they'll do it over and over and over again.
Why Juan Castillo is the Bears' most important addition on the offensive line originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago