Defining what ‘football character’ means for John Fox’s Bears

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Bears coach John Fox and QB Jay Cutler in Foxborough. (AP)

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Tight end Martellus Bennett didn’t say a word but still managed to soak up the spotlight.

Two days in a row, he lingered longer than any player on the practice fields behind Gillette Stadium, and the media waited. And waited.

And for two consecutive days, he walked past everyone with little acknowledgement. Make it three, if you count his exit from the Patriots’ locker room without comment late Thursday.

Questions were left unanswered. What was it like to face the Bears, who traded him and a sixth-round pick for a fourth-round selection in the offseason, this week in practice and a game?

Would he like to clarify his critical comments of Jay Cutler, who played a role in Bennett’s only Pro Bowl season in 2014?

What about Tom Brady? Why didn’t he hustle back to the line when doing extra side work with the star quarterback Tuesday?

And yet, his silence further answered the question of why the Bears didn’t see Bennett, who irked his Bears teammates and frustrated two coaching staffs, as a fit for their culture change under coach John Fox and general manager Ryan Pace.

John Fox said hello to Bennett and his family. But “Foxy” tends to get along with everyone. Fox, the football coach, wants players who have the “football character” he so often talks about.

Five players, who joined Fox’s Bears in different ways and are at different points of their respective careers, were asked to define what “football character” means.

The players weren’t asked specifically about Bennett, but their answers were revealing nonetheless.

CB Tracy Porter

The 30-year-old veteran signed a new three-year, $12 million contract after being the Bears’ best cover corner last season while playing on a one-year deal.

“[Fox] wants smart guys, but tough. Guys that are disciplined, that know when and where to be on the field, and that know how to handle themselves off the field without getting in any off-the-field trouble that hurts the team.

“Yeah, we need guys to produce on the field, but if you’re not taking care of what you’re supposed to do off the field, whether it’s your body, staying out of trouble, showing up to meetings on time, flat out being where you’re supposed to be off the field, that shows that the game, this team is not important to you.

“He wants guys who value those things off the field just as much as they do on the field. Everybody wants to play the game, but he wants those guys that want to do those things off the field to prepare them for the game because the game, that’s the fun part.”

TE Zach Miller

The 31-year-old broke out last year and essentially turned into Bennett’s replacement. He signed a new two-year, $5.5 million deal.

“Just being around coach Fox for two years now, having football character is smart, tough, relentless guys who don’t give up.

“You do what you can when you can do it, and you do it the right way. I think that’s the type of guys that he likes to have around, and you kind of build your team from within that way.”

Miller said he’s thankful that Fox and Pace believed in him enough to provide him with an opportunity last year even though he missed all of the 2014 season.

“[Fox] understood my history as a player and as a person,” said Miller, whose career was slowed by serious injuries. “They know it means the world to me.”

LT Charles Leno Jr.

A seventh-round pick in 2014 by former general manager Phil Emery, Leno is the unquestioned starter on the left side after winning over Fox’s coaching staff.

“[Football character is] doing the right thing at the right time when asked upon to do it in a pressure situation. That’s what [Fox] always brings up.

“I just try to be that guy. I don’t try to be a guy that likes to stand out. I just want to do my job every single play and make sure I’m doing my thing right.

“If my house is on fire, the whole building is burning down, you know?”

Fox, Pace, Cutler and offensive line coach Dave Magazu have praised Leno’s rise, going from a virtual unknown to a starter. Leno sees only one reason for it.

“That’s just my work ethic,” Leno said.

RB Jeremy Langford

The Bears are counting on the 2015 fourth-round pick to be their lead back in replacing former star Matt Forte.

“Football character, it’s just overall, how do you play football? It’s not just being a robot at times. It’s knowing football in general.”

To do that, Langford said there are intangibles.

“Those things take no talent. Working hard, doing the right thing all the time and really knowing what you have to do so you can do it fast. Those things right there, it really takes no talent to know what you’ve got to do and do it.”

LB Lamin Barrow

A leader on special teams, Barrow was added early last season after he was waived by the Broncos, who drafted him in 2014 when Fox was their coach.

“[Football character is] just somebody who is doing the right thing and who is in the right place at the right time. It’s somebody who gives it all for the teammates, for their brother next to them.

“Football, it’s a team game, but there is a lot of selfish things that you can do to try to make yourself stand out or try to make plays and all that. But everybody has to be on the same plan out there.

“That’s the kind of thing that we mean as far as the way we move and the way we practice. We come out every day, and we’ve got to have one focus, one mind. It’s one team.”

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