Real work starts now for ‘optimistic’ coach Matt Eberflus and upgraded Bears

Everything will be different this season. The expectations will be serious, as opposed to when everyone understood the Bears were in a necessary teardown. Eberflus seemed ready for that as he sat in a banquet room at the Arizona Biltmore on Tuesday.

SHARE Real work starts now for ‘optimistic’ coach Matt Eberflus and upgraded Bears
Bears coach Matt Eberflus talks at the NFL’s annual meeting in Phoenix.

Eberflus went 3-14 in his first season with the Bears as they tore down their roster.

Matt York/AP

PHOENIX — The worst is over for Bears coach Matt Eberflus.

And while he would forcefully reject this assertion, his real work starts now.

He has had more than a year to sketch a vision of the team’s future with general manager Ryan Poles, and after an offseason in which they were loaded with the most salary-cap space in the NFL, Eberflus helped craft a legitimate roster. He spent all of last season impossibly holding a stripped-down team to his rigorous standards.

Everything will be different this season. The expectations will be serious, as opposed to when everyone understood the Bears were in a necessary teardown. Eberflus seemed ready for that as he sat in a banquet room at the Arizona Biltmore on Tuesday during the NFL’s annual meetings.

He raved about new guys who “play our way” and pointed to the number of obvious starters the Bears landed, whether by signing linebacker Tremaine Edmunds or trading for wide receiver D.J. Moore.

“It’s optimistic,” Eberflus said of the big-picture outlook. “We feel great about the opportunity to add these guys. . . . That’s just tremendous, and then we’ve got 10 picks in the draft.”

Eberflus added that if the Bears had the same resources a year ago, when he and Poles were still acclimating, he doesn’t think it would have gone as well. The transition year was good for everyone.

There’s still plenty of work to do, especially on the offensive line and in the pass rush, but the improvements are significant.

Last season, he steered the NFL’s worst roster to the NFL’s worst record at 3-14. He would argue that he laid crucial groundwork by establishing a culture centered on “championship habits,” but the on-field product fell far short of reflecting that.

Eberflus’ philosophy has been to keep making demands regardless of whether the Bears have players capable of meeting them. The more Poles upgrades the roster, the more plausible Eberflus’ H.I.T.S. program becomes.

That’s why Eberflus has been integral in personnel decisions, and that’s wise because his career depends on it. He launched into film on free agents and draft prospects as soon as the season ended to assess which ones played with the requisite effort. He was clear with free agents, as well as with Moore when they had dinner two weeks ago, about how he runs the team.

“They can choose if they want to come or not, but we really spell it out for them,” Eberflus said. “Hey, this is what the culture is that you’re coming into.”

Every NFL team works strenuously, of course, but Eberflus has been bent on taking that to a different level. Bears safety Eddie Jackson said new players were surprised by how hard the team practiced, and he responded by saying that didn’t used to be the case at Halas Hall.

Inevitably, there will be some misjudgments. Not every player the Bears acquire will be the hit they expected. But the odds are far better with this roster.

A year ago, the Bears had Darnell Mooney and little else at wide receiver. Now they’ve got Moore and Chase Claypool, too, making the group credible.

They added guard Nate Davis on a pricey contract to capitalize as he hits the prime of his career and could add whomever they deem to be the top left tackle in the draft at No. 9 overall next month.

And the defense that ended last season with one-year signees and undrafted free agents at linebacker, with questions about whether they’d be starters anywhere else, now has verifiable talent in Edmunds and T.J. Edwards. Edmunds was at the center of an elite Bills defense and Edwards started every game for the Eagles as they charged to the Super Bowl last season.

Eberflus has enough talent to compete. Losses won’t be assumed or accepted anymore. And he’s eager to show what he can do.

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