Inside the Huddle: Bears might have something in Bryce Callahan
Adam L. Jahns’ “Inside the Huddle” column appears in game-day editions of the Chicago Sun-Times.
Over the last two seasons, no Bear has stood out more in practice than defensive back Bryce Callahan. It’s where he has won two starting jobs.
Basketball Hall of Famer Allen Iverson, whose anti-practice rant will live forever on the internet, certainly wouldn’t understand.
But practices matter for young players on a team that needs them to develop and produce. The Bears tape and evaluate every play in practice.
Callahan’s performances last year at Halas Hall prompted a promotion from the practice squad and starts at nickel back.
Last week, Callahan did even better during the preparations for the Lions. He was tabbed for his first start at cornerback, even though he sat out the Bears’ previous loss against the Cowboys because of a concussion.
Chronicling Callahan’s success at Halas Hall is difficult with coach John Fox closing practices to the media once the regular season starts.
But you can ask around.
Callahan, listed at 5-9, 191 pounds, apparently is a freakish athlete and a playmaking machine in practice.
“Bryce, by cornerback standards in the league, would be considered a little bit short, but he’s got a 41-inch vertical [jump],” Fox said. “He leaps pretty good. He’s got quickness, he’s got good awareness and he’s got good ball skills, and that’s something that we’ve kind of lacked a little bit of [in games].
“So when he’s out there, we’ve got a guy that’s got the opportunity to intercept the ball. His ball skills are what stand out to me.”
Interceptions and pass breakups are apparently daily occurrences for Callahan in practice.
“He’s a top-five athlete on the team,” said safety Adrian Amos, who has called Callahan the Bears’ best dunker. “He does good inside and outside in coverage. He makes plays.”
Those playmaking skills have only shown up in glimpses during games as various injuries have limited him. Callahan still is looking for his first career interception.
But he’s slated to start again at cornerback Sunday against the Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium. It’s his job to lose now. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio loves him.
“He’s a good football player,” Fangio said.
In fact, it’s thought that Callahan could develop into the Bears’ best cornerback. That’s how highly Callahan, an undrafted free-agent addition last year from Rice, is thought of at Halas Hall.
The Bears’ competition at cornerback has been wide-open since the offseason program.
“I’ve always thought I had a legitimate shot,” Callahan said. “I never want to keep doubts in my mind.”
His athleticism helps him overcome his size. But so does his attitude.
“A lot of people were saying when I was growing up that I wasn’t big enough,” Callahan said. “I still get that. But that’s just chitter-chatter. I just brush that off.”
It helps playing for a coach who isn’t afraid to give undrafted rookies opportunities, too. Broncos cornerback Chris Harris Jr., a two-time Pro Bowl selection, is Fox’s most recent success story.
“I’m grateful to actually get the opportunity,” Callahan said. “A lot of places, it’s not like that.
‘‘There’s no politics here. It’s who can play.”
And Callahan can play.
He can speak at length about the techniques needed to play against different receivers. As for this Sunday, Callahan thinks his quickness and athleticism match up well against Colts top receiver T.Y. Hilton.
“He’s a fast dude,” Callahan said. “They like to target him on third downs and get him open. We’re around the same size. We’re both quick and fast. It should be a good matchup.”
And he’ll do well if plays like he does in practice.
“I just like competing,” Callahan said. “To be out there one-on-one, I enjoy that.”
Dowell Loggains’ game plans and play calls were criticized after his offense floundered in the first two weeks. But that narrative changed after Brian Hoyer’s efficient, winning performance against the Lions.
So what happened?
Coaches learn and develop, too. Loggains’ understanding of his players has improved with time. He’s had to adjust on the fly since Week 1 because of signings and injuries.
It starts with the line’s chemistry, which has improved since signing guard Josh Sitton and moving rookie Cody Whitehair to center changed everything less than a week before the opener.
Loggains now has a better grasp of what his line does well, whether it’s certain run calls or who needs help most in pass protection.
“They’re starting to jell together,” Loggains said.
The skill positions are involved, too.
Loggains has established Eddie Royal and Zach Miller after they didn’t play in the preseason. He also knows what top blocking tight end Logan Paulsen, a Week 1 addition, can handle.
Going from Jay Cutler to Hoyer and running back Jeremy Langford to Jordan Howard forced adjustments, too.
“Obviously when you have changes, you deal with them,” Loggains said. “But you start to realize what your guys can and can’t do.
“The more snaps you can get, the better you produce on third down, the better you run the ball and the better flow the offense is going to get into.”
Many Bears players seemed despondent when talking about receiver Kevin White and his injuries this past week.
Injuries are fact of life in the NFL. But the severity of White’s injuries the past two seasons is different.
“You know, knock on wood, I’ve never really have had to deal with some of the things that Kevin’s dealt with,” guard Kyle Long said. “It just really hurts my heart to see a guy work so hard to come back and be under so much scrutiny from people that don’t really know what’s going on with him.
“I feel really bad for Kev. But I know he’s a really tough guy mentally. He’s in the right mindset moving forward, and that’s all you can ask from a guy.”
Strong safety Adrian Amos has landed big tackles in consecutive weeks. His thunderous hit Cowboys slot receiver Cole Beasley went viral. A week later, he broke up a screen play when he flipped Lions veteran Anquan Boldin.
“It’s just playing ball,” Amos said.
But it’s also a message to opponents. Amos’ physicality needs to be respected. He’s diagnosing plays faster than his rookie season and attacking with force.
“You’re going to try to enforce your will and make those plays,” Amos said. “It’s being in right place at the right time. If you can’t make a play on the ball, get the hit.”
21.3 – Since 1990, teams that start 2-3 have a 21.3 percent chance of making the playoffs. Teams that go 1-4 have a 6.3 percent chance of advancing.
41 – Bears linebacker Jerrell Freeman’s tackles this season. After four weeks, the former Colt trails only Zach Brown (Bills) and Luke Kuechly (Panthers), according to league statistics.
100.4 – The average passer rating opposing quarterbacks have had this season against the Colts’ defense. It’s the seventh-worst mark in the league after four weeks.