Matt Eberflus’ ‘crazy’ accountability seems well received by Bears’ young roster
“The way that they just hold us accountable is crazy compared to what we’re used to, really,” said cornerback Jaylon Johnson, who was pleased with the change.
The start of the regular season is more than six weeks away, but Bears coach Matt Eberflus already is pushing hard. After the first practice of training camp, he was eager to see his staff’s evaluation of every aspect of every snap of the 80-minute session.
That’s basically the pace and intensity he intends to maintain for the next six months — with some consideration given to his more high-mileage veterans.
“We’ve gotta be a hard team,” he said Wednesday. “We can’t live soft and play hard. You just can’t do it. That’s not the way football is. So we’ve gotta play hard and be a hard team.”
It’s a little much, but at least he seems to mean it.
Eberflus’ full-speed, full-time approach is backed by strict accountability through film review. And it could prove effective because the Bears’ roster is stocked with players who have something to prove and future contracts to earn.
Of the 90 players in training camp, including those on inactive lists, 87% are under 30, 93% were not full-time starters for the last three seasons and 50% are slated to be free agents at the end of the season — a number that could grow because many of the deals extending into 2023 and beyond easily can be cut short.
Eberflus did just fine running a veteran star-studded defense in Indianapolis, but the Bears’ hunger and inexperience could be beneficial as he sets up the new infrastructure at Halas Hall. The stringent standards and hammering of his H.I.T.S. philosophy seem to have been well received.
“Everything is just being harped on, and I mean the way that they count ‘loafs’ — the way that they just hold us accountable is crazy compared to what we’re used to, really,” cornerback Jaylon Johnson said. “But I feel like it’s all gonna pay off. . . . It’s all for good measure, for good purpose. But it’s definitely gonna be a challenge, and I feel like we’re up for it.”
Johnson added that “tough-nosed football” is being emphasized “a lot more” than before.
Former coach Matt Nagy and former defensive coordinator Sean Desai spent all of last season stressing turnovers, of course, and it got the Bears nowhere. They had the fifth-fewest takeaways in the NFL. The staff talked about being smart, then watched the team commit the 10th-most penalties — often at the worst possible times.
Nagy also talked about accountability — of all people, Johnson veered into controversy by posting a fine he received for showing up late to work — but there’s no doubt that message felt flimsy by the end.
The team also might have detected that Nagy wouldn’t necessarily enforce that accountability across the board. About this time last year, Nagy and former general manager Ryan Pace gave squirrelly answers about veteran Akiem Hicks walking out of practice during warmups. Nagy replied with a helpless shrug when asked why Hicks was neglecting his media responsibilities.
Eberflus, meanwhile, is building a foundation as he starts mostly from scratch. There’s minimal entitlement in the way.
“You get guys that are young, and this is what they know,” Eberflus said. “But we also acquire players that have that trait — that play hard, that play intense, that play the right way, that have a knack for protecting the ball or taking it away.
“We had guys [in Indianapolis] that had a bunch of years of experience that buy into this system, and, man, they just take off and they have great seasons for us. We’re expecting a lot of guys to have that, as well.”
And if this group of players embraces it, that will go a long way toward establishing a culture that actually means something.