Bears coach Matt Eberflus downplays OTA penalty

The coach said the Bears were stripped of an offseason practice because of a “few plays early on in the OTA process” that resulted in neither a fine for him nor the franchise.

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Chicago Bears head coach Matt Eberflus watches the team warm up during a three-day voluntary minicamp at Halas Hall in Lake Forest, Wednesday afternoon, April 20, 2022.

Bears head coach Matt Eberflus watches the team warm up during a three-day voluntary minicamp in April.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Coach Matt Eberflus tried to downplay the organized team activity violation Wednesday, saying the Bears were stripped of an offseason practice because of a “few plays early on in the OTA process” that resulted in neither a fine for him nor the franchise.

The Bears found out Monday night their practice Tuesday was canceled by the NFL because they ran drills that featured contact during OTA practices last month. A source said an NFLPA staff member noticed the drills during a routine visit to Halas Hall and told the Bears to stop them. The NFLPA reviewed tape from later practices and found they had not, resulting in a violation of the collective-bargaining agreement.

No coach likes to have practice time taken away. But asked whether losing the practice was a big deal — given that the Bears are teaching new offensive and defensive schemes — Eberflus claimed it wasn’t. Rather, he was happy to see his team “adjust, adapt and overcome, and pivot, in situations,” even one of the coach’s own making.

“That’s what we have to do — we have to do that to win games,” he said after practice at Halas Hall. “That’s what I was excited about. Adversity’s going to come. It’s how you deal with it that matters.”

The first-year coach said the contact in drills was more a result of overzealous players than the structure of his practices. Eberflus discussed contact that went “over the line” with players during a team meeting and said he has seen improvement in practices since.

“Body control,” he said. “Being able to stay on your feet. And knowing the tempo.”

Tight end Cole Kmet, who’s one of the Bears’ alternate union representatives, said he noticed some players being knocked to the ground in drills but never considered that it would result in a lost practice.

At issue, he said, were young players trying too hard to make an impression.

“You’ve got to look at our situation right now,” Kmet said. “We’ve got a lot of young guys, right? New coach, new everything. Guys are coming in to prove themselves, including me. So when someone says you’re going 100%, you’re going 100%.”

There’s a way to go “100% full effort but still keep everybody safe and everybody off the ground,” he said.

“When you run that line … we don’t have as many vets as we’ve had in years past,” Kmet said. “Naturally, we’re a younger team. It’s kind of just where we’re at. Guys are learning. I thought these last two practices we’ve had [this week] have been night and day, much better in terms of how guys have been practicing.”

Defensive end Jeremiah Attaochu, the other alternate union rep, called the loss of a practice both a “warning” and “learning experience” for the Bears.

“We have a young team, everyone is excited to be back,” said Attaochu, who’s entering his ninth season in the NFL and second with the Bears. “So guys are going to go 100 miles an hour, even though sometimes you have to be a pro and kind of know how to practice in that regard.

“The guy you line up against, kind of communicating that. We don’t have pads on, there’s certain things we’re not going to do going forward.”

As OTAs come to an end Thursday, guard Cody Whitehair said players found the balance between practicing hard and going too far.

“Make sure we’re not on the ground or doing anything extra,” he said.

Eberflus has spent the offseason installing his schemes and instilling his H.I.T.S principle, which stands for “Hustle, Intensity, Takeaways and Smarts.” The coach likely doesn’t mind the extra intensity in practice.

“The focus part of intensity can be there, but not the physical part until we get the pads,” Eberflus said. “Once we get the pads on in training camp, that’s when we’re going to focus on how we play the intensity piece. That cannot be done this time of year.”

Because it was, players got an unexpected off day Tuesday.

They didn’t seem to mind. Kmet played 18 holes of golf, shooting an 86 at Royal Melbourne Golf Club in Long Grove.

It beat a day of work.

“Pretty tight course over there,” he said with a smile. “But I’ll take it.”

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