FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – The differences begin with staring down New England Patriots quarterbacks Tom Brady and Jimmy Garoppolo instead of Jay Cutler.
But there was so much more.
All of the unique aspects of facing the Patriots offense this week in Foxborough were beneficial for the Bears’ young and inexperienced secondary. It was their players and formations. It was their techniques and trickery. It was everything.
“The New England Patriots have shown us some routes and some different things that we haven’t seen from our own offense,” safety Harold Jones-Quartey said. “They have different concepts. They’re non-traditional a little bit. We saw a couple routes that we haven’t seen during training camp, and it’s good for us to learn that way.”
All of it is invaluable. The Bears need their young secondary to not only develop, but to contribute this season.
For some like Jones-Quartey, an undrafted waiver-wire pickup last year from Division-II Findlay, major contributions are expected. He’s currently the starting strong safety, next to second-year free safety Adrian Amos.
Of the 16 defensive backs currently on the Bears’ roster, 11 of them either are rookies or in their second seasons. The only veteran with significant starting experience is Tracy Porter, who is in his ninth season.
Practicing with the Patriots helps the Bears’ evaluations at cornerback. Kyle Fuller’s knee injury has made a wide-open competition even more so.
Bryce Callahan, De’Vante Bausby and Jacoby Glenn – three undrafted players – and 2016 fourth-round pick Deiondre’ Hall have each played opposite Porter with the first-team defense in Fuller’s absence.
“More is better for these guys,” Porter said. “[The joint practices are] definitely a valuable thing for them. They get used to seeing one thing. Once the season starts, you’re not going to see the same opponent, the same formations, the same routes. They’re seeing our offense week in and week out, so they kind of get accustomed to it.
“But once you throw in a new offense and a new opponent, they have to adjust. It teaches them how to adjust to seeing different formations, to play a different technique and to understand the game a lot better.”
Veteran linebacker Jerrell Freeman, who faced the Patriots often when he was the Indianapolis Colts, described their offense as a “chameleon” that forces you to “go through your whole playbook.”
“They can be anything they want to be at any point in time you know, and it’s good to have that uncertainty,” Freeman said.
For the secondary, it’s more than physically matching up with elusive receiver Julian Edelman or dealing with Brady’s ability to look you off a route with his eyes. The Patriots offense is a complex, adaptable scheme full of option routes.
“They definitely do some different things, and now, I know,” Bausby. “It helps me, from stopping on a dime [because] they’ve got option routes. I’m going to see a lot of that during the season. It’s being ready for option routes and things like that.”
The differences that the defensive backs have experienced don’t suggest that bland things are ahead for the Bears’ offense, which will have a run-first emphasis. Receivers Alshon Jeffery and Kevin White are formidable challenges for any secondary.
But the Bears’ young safeties and cornerbacks needed different challenges for their development, similarly to White, who has benefited from facing Patriots standout cornerback Malcolm Butler.
“It’s not game experience but it gives you experience against a different opponent because you see the same guys you’re going against for weeks at a time,” Porter said. “To get a different opponent to go against, it just gives a different look. You see different formations, you see different routes, different plays that they like to run. It just brings a different view for the game for you.”