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The 5 most compelling things we learned from Bears coaches

Quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo has called plays for three NFL teams. He knows the weight that comes with the job.

John DeFilippo, now the Bears’ quarterbacks coach, was the Jaguars offensive coordinator alongside quarterback Nick Foles last year.
John DeFilippo, now the Bears’ quarterbacks coach, was the Jaguars offensive coordinator alongside quarterback Nick Foles last year.
James Gilbert/Getty Images

The five most interesting things we learned from Bears position coaches this week:

Play-calling sympathies

Quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo has called plays for three different NFL teams. He knows the weight that comes with the job.

“I joke with my wife all the time,” he said. “Besides the president of the United States — whoever that may be, Democrat, Republican — it’s probably the most criticized [job] in the United States. Because, No. 1, everyone thinks they can do it, and they can’t. And it’s a really hard job.

“All you can do as a play-caller is put all your time and energy into preparing not only the players but preparing your mind and preparing yourself for the certain situations that may happen in the game. And you trust your preparation. And sometimes that works out, and sometimes you come up a little bit short.”

The Bears definitely have been coming up short.

Head coach Matt Nagy wasn’t ready to publicly cede play-calling duties Monday, but he sounded closer than ever to letting someone else try. His top two candidates would be offensive coordinator Bill Lazor — a former Dolphins and Bengals play-caller — and DeFilippo, who was a coordinator for the Browns, Vikings and Jaguars.

Neither has been particularly successful. DeFilippo lasted one year with two teams and less than a season with the Vikings. Lazor had two stints of about a season-and-a-half each. Pass-game coordinator Dave Ragone, the Bears’ longest-tenured coach who also called plays occasionally during the 2019 Bears preseason, could be a candidate, too.

Nagy said he wouldn’t publicize it this week if he were to give up play-calling. DeFilippo understands the stress he’s under.

“I’ve been very fortunate to have, when I was a coordinator, certain assistant coaches around me to help, to pick me up, get you out of that funk and make sure you’re out of that funk,” DeFilippo said. “I try to play that role in the positions I’ve been in, having been a position coach and having sat in that chair and knowing how hard that job is, to be there and be supportive and reiterate, ‘Hey, this is our plan going in,’ and maybe it worked, maybe it didn’t work.”

The ones that don’t work still hurt. DeFilippo said there are two or three plays each game that haunt any play-caller. He still thinks about overly aggressive calls he made in Cleveland five years ago. But he laughed when asked exactly what they were.

“That’s between me and my brain,” he said.

Still finding an identity

Quarterback Nick Foles has started six games, and the Bears’ offense still doesn’t have an identity. It’s fair to wonder: At what point do the Bears change the concepts that aren’t working rather than trying to fix them in practice?

“I know we spend a lot of time on that as a staff, self-scouting ourselves each week and seeing what is working and what’s not,” DeFilippo said. “And the ‘why’ part of it: Was it a protection breakdown? Was it the ball going to the wrong place? Was it a drop?”

Ragone was quick to say there were “10 other variables” besides Foles in the offense — referring to the other starters — but stressed the need to find “a rhythm, confidence and understanding” in what they want to do.

“There is definitely a fine balance of things that are core concepts — our identity that we believe in, that guys run and do well,” Ragone said. “And then having a great feel for not only what the quarterback does well but what routes are good against that coverage that week and things of that nature.”

Wims was warned

Wide receiver Javon Wims didn’t listen — that’s what bothered receivers coach Mike Furrey the most.

On Nov. 1, Furrey gathered his receivers and warned them not to engage with Saints safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson, who was trying to goad them into scrapping.

“Do not get involved with 22,” Furrey said he told them. “Do not retaliate. Don’t put your hands on him. Don’t head-butt him. Get back in the huddle.”

But on the first play after Furrey’s speech, Wims threw two punches and was ejected from the game. He eventually was suspended for two games.

“The way I handled that, the biggest thing was the communication,” Furrey said.

“To learn a lesson [when] someone’s trying to protect you from maybe ruining your career, you need to listen.”

Fuller was close

Cornerback Kyle Fuller dropped what could have been a pick-six on the Titans’ first drive Sunday. On third-and-seven, he recognized a familiar formation from film study: shotgun with A.J. Brown, the player he was covering, as the only receiver split right.

Fuller backpedaled before the snap, giving him the proper angle to break on Brown’s out route. Fuller did, and got both hands on the throw, which was high. Had he caught it, Fuller would have run for a touchdown.

“He could not have put himself in better position,” defensive backs coach Deshea Townsend said. “He just has to finish it. That’s what we need right now. We have to be tempo-setters.”

Real-life ramifications

The coronavirus has made for the most challenging season of offensive line coach Juan Castillo’s career. Four of his players — Cody Whitehair, Jason Spriggs, Lachavious Simmons and Badara Traore — have tested positive.

It was particularly painful for him to talk on the phone with Simmons after he tested positive in Nashville, Tennessee, on Saturday night. Sunday was supposed to be a homecoming for the Tennessee State alum, whose family was coming to the game, and Simmons was in tears.

Castillo, who missed the Panthers game after coming into close contact with someone who had the virus outside Halas Hall, feels for his players. He worries for himself, too.

“You just wonder, ‘Shoot, was I close enough to be the next one?’ ” he said.