When outside linebacker Sam Acho was considering his options in free agency, he came to a realization about the Bears, who wanted to re-sign him.
“I wanted to stay in Chicago and finish what I started,” Acho said in a phone interview this week. “A lot of the times what drives me is more internal, my faith and pride in myself.
“After playing it out a little bit [in free agency], I was like, ‘I know I want to be here at least another year.’ That’s why I decided to stay.
“For me personally and as a team, there’s a lot of unfinished business from last year. It’s time to come back this year and finish.”
Last week, Acho agreed to a one-year deal that includes a signing bonus and a partly guaranteed base salary.
Acho, 27, is part of a strong corps of outside linebackers that could look even more formidable after the draft April 28-30. But Acho also is a key special-teamer and a savvy, professional voice to have in the locker room. He was one of the players hand-picked by coach John Fox to give a pregame speech last season.
Similar to other players who have re-signed with the Bears this offseason, Acho envisions good days ahead under Fox. But his trust in the Bears’ coaching staff extends beyond Fox and defensive coordinator Vic Fangio.
“It’s [outside linebacker coach] Clint Hurtt,” Acho said. “You ask anybody, a lot of guys will say that he, in particular, is the best coach they’ve had. No. 1, he cares about you outside of the game.”
Last year, Acho quickly emerged as a reliable contributor. He made seven starts in 15 games and played 43.3 percent of the defensive snaps overall.
As expected, Acho played well against the run, but he said his pass rushing needs to improve significantly after he failed to notch a sack.
Pernell McPhee, Willie Young and Lamarr Houston provided the pass rush. They combined for 20½ sacks, 59 pressures and 32 tackles for loss (according to coach reviews). Young and Houston’s playing time increased in the second half of the season.
“We have a very talented, smart, tough group of guys,” Acho said of the Bears’ outside linebackers. “Our goal is to have outstanding performances week in and week out. Willie and Lamarr came on strong late in the season. Pernell and I were strong in the beginning and the middle. But we want to have a group of guys who are playing strong week in and week out, where there is no lulls in the season.”
Acho’s calls for more consistency are part of his “unfinished business” mindset. He sees close games last season that could have gone either way.
“We had a couple of flashes of playing some really good football,” Acho said. “We want to build on that. There were four or five games that could have gone either way — more like eight games, but four or five them we lost. It’s those plays in games that can help turn the game is what I’m talking about.”
The Bears have made a number of moves in free agency, including re-signing Acho, to get those plays in 2016.
“The cool part is that we’re putting something together, where we’re adding a lot of competition in a lot of different position groups, which is always good because often times competition brings excellence,” Acho said. “So you know we’re going to be better than we were last year.”