‘It’s very college-y’ — inside the Bears’ high-energy WRs room
BOURBONNAIS — Bears receivers coach Zach Azzanni spent $10 on Amazon for a bag of green plastic Army men. Ask his players, though: They’re more valuable than that.
‘‘I tell guys all the time I’m going to have all the Army men,’’ receiver Kendall Wright said. ‘‘My guy’s standing up. I’m going to get a few laying down and have a lot of them.’’
Azzanni issues one for his ‘‘soldier of the day,’’ a player who’s exemplary on the field, in the classroom or anywhere else. Markus Wheaton got one Sunday, when he asked for his iPad playbook the minute he woke up after having an appendectomy.
The toys make camp competitive but also fun. And that’s on purpose.
A former college coach, Azzanni has brought an enthusiastic approach to the meeting room. He isn’t without his controversies — Kevin White seemed annoyed by a story that seemed to imply Azzanni showed him college tape to try to get him to recapture his old magic — but his technique seems to have registered with young and old alike.
‘‘It’s very college-y,’’ veteran receiver Victor Cruz said. ‘‘But I think it’s good for the room to understand the sense of urgency that’s around here right now and the demand to be great, the demand to extract that greatness out of each and every one of us.
‘‘That’s the real meaning behind all of this — to get as much out of each and every player by doing whatever it takes.’’
Azzanni joined the Bears in February after four seasons at Tennessee. Before that, he coached at Wisconsin, Western Kentucky, Florida, Central Michigan, Bowling Green and Valparaiso. He has heard that the rah-rah coaching of the college game doesn’t translate to the pros, but he thinks his enthusiasm does.
‘‘I think they want that tight-knit brotherhood, that, ‘Coach, stay on me,’ ’’ Azzanni said. ‘‘I think they all want to be pushed and be good. And if you let them kind of taper off, like it’s too cool for school in the NFL . . . I think you’re missing the boat.
‘‘These guys are still kids playing this game. And we have to make it fun, too. I’ll let everyone else stress out about it.’’
Azzanni has put his players through simple drills, a reminder to focus on the basics. He’ll remind Cruz and Wright that their old teams didn’t want them anymore.
‘‘We gotta get more competitive in the room,’’ receiver Cam Meredith said. ‘‘I mean, we are competitive. . . . He’s put a little extra edge on it.’’
It’s a welcome break, too, from the drudgery of camp.
‘‘Everybody else sees us with a lot of energy and juice, [and] hopefully they’ll follow,’’ Wright said. “And our coach, he’s going to come out there and have a lot of energy every day.’’
Azzanni said everyone in the receivers room, himself included, has a lot to prove. Cruz said Bears receivers have been doubted because of the parity among them, but quarterback Mike Glennon said the corps has better depth than he had with the Buccaneers.
‘‘In a two-minute drill, you’re not passing to a bunch of running backs — unless you’re checking it down,’’ Cruz said. ‘‘Receivers are the ones that make this thing go.’’
‘‘Everyone’s kind of got that culture like they’ve got something to prove, and we do,” Azzanni said. ‘‘I’m not slowing down on these guys. I’m being me out there, and we’ve all got a little hard edge to us, and that’s fun. I like that. That’s football.’’
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