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LAKE FOREST — The Bears returned to Halas Hall on Tuesday for their first of three voluntary practices.
On what was a cold afternoon (especially since I underdressed for the outdoors), the Bears began establishing the basics on offense, defense and special teams.
Coach Matt Eberflus got to see his team on Field 3 for the first time. The practice started with a walk-through period, lasting 30 minutes. The offense focused on learning Day 1 concepts for the running and passing games. Defensively, the players worked on understanding the fronts and coverages in this new 4-3 defense. The offense and defense stayed exclusively on their own field.
With this being the team’s first practice, Eberflus had a simple message for his players. He pinned down how football is properly executed to four things.
Alignment. Assignment. Key. Technique
That starts with lining up the right way, then executing and ultimately finishing a play.
The Bears began working on that in today’s practice and will continue to do so for the next two days.
Here are some takeaways from Day 1 of Bears voluntary minicamp.
(Also: Make sure to check out the latest CHGO Bears podcast. Adam Hoge and I broke down what happened on the first day of practice.)
Musical Chair Offensive Linemen
It didn’t take long for the first notable observation to occur in practice.
When the players went to their individual periods and the offensive line sent out their starting five, Larry Borom lined up at left tackle and Teven Jenkins at the right. This is opposite of where the rookies played last season.
Before anyone jumps to any conclusions, here is what Eberflus said about the switch.
“We’re looking at a lot of things,” he said. “So you might see guys at a lot of different spots. A guy could be playing X receiver or Z receiver or U tight end or Y tight end, left defensive end, right defensive end. We’re going to play with a lot of different combinations right now because we’re just trying to figure out what guys do and what they do best. So you could see those guys flip during OTAs.”
Sam Mustipher also lined up in a different spot, this time at right guard. At the moment, this seems more like a placeholder than signifying Mustipher is the guy to start at the position. However, the now four-year player does become a good depth piece for offensive line coach Chris Morgan.
Lucas Patrick started at center, and Cody Whitehair remained in his left guard position from a season ago.
Three Starters Missing on Defense
Before practice began, roster sheets were placed in the media workroom. With pen and roster in hand, the first minutes of practice are devoted to searching, which oftentimes leads to squinting, for each of the 66 players listed.
After those first few minutes turned into 15, Eddie Jackson, Jaylon Johnson and Robert Quinn were left unmarked on the two-sided paper. Again, before anyone loses their mind about this, these practices are voluntary.
But still a guy like Jackson not being at Halas Hall probably won’t sit right with the fanbase. The fans might not like it, but Eberflus “has no concern” with Jackson not being at practice.
It’s worth noting that the veteran safety was at Halas Hall on April 13, which would’ve been Phase 1 when the players were working with the strength staff.
Eberflus was not asked about Quinn or Johnson.
Offense had nearly perfect attendance
Justin Fields knew the offensive players would show up to these three voluntary practices. On Day 1, nearly every single offensive player showed up.
Everyone but quarterback Nick Foles.
Is this an issue? No.
Nobody knows why Foles wasn’t in attendance, but when the general manager states that he intends on trading the quarterback, it makes sense why he was a no show.
Still, the Bears had Fields, Ryan Willis and Trevor Siemian participate. Once the team began running routes on air, Fields took all the reps while the other two quarterbacks watched.
(If you want to read more about Fields and what he has been working on this offseason, make sure to check out my other article that went up today for CHGO.)
All About Details
If Fields is going to take the big leap that his head coach is expecting of him, the young quarterback is going to need some assistance from his teammates and his coaching staff.
One of those key pieces to making that happen is Bears quarterbacks coach Andrew Janocko. So far, Fields likes what the 33-year-old is all about.
“He’s energetic. He comes with a positive vibe every day,” Fields said. “So, he’s going to be the same every day, which I love about him. And he’s very detailed when explaining concepts and plays and stuff like that. You can just tell he loves the game. … I’m excited to get to work with him.”
It was just one practice but Janocko is living up to being an extremely detailed coach. First, before every play, Janocko would go into a deep squat, look at his playsheet and then watch from a low vantage point.
Whether Fields was making a handoff, completing a rollout (which there were plenty of and even offensive coordinator Luke Getsy got involved by rushing Fields once the quarterback turned to find his target) or throwing a pass, Janocko always came up to Fields and talked to him about the rep.
It’s evident everything will be under a microscope, and that is exactly what Fields needs to help him become a more improved quarterback in Year 2.
No More Fumbles
By now, everyone has heard of the Eberflus’ “H.I.T.S” philosophy. Defensive end Trevis Gipson was asked today to guess how many times he has heard the acronym, and he said nearly 50.
The takeaways component is obvious for the defense, but it also means the offense needs to take care of the football. Well, the Bears worked on a ball security drill in today’s practice.
It seemed pretty straight forward. Players initially got in pairs and one player held the ball and went roughly 15 yards while the other player tried forcing a fumble. After doing that several times, the Bears got in groups of threes and one player had a football in each arm while the other two players tried to strip it.
Why am I bringing this up? Well, as simple as this drill may be, it wasn’t something that I didn’t remember seeing at any point last season with the old regime. Maybe former Bears coach Matt Nagy did do something similar, but Eberflus wanted to work on this fundamental concept on Day 1.
Get ready for Days 2 and 3 of Bears minicamp: Become a member of the CHGO family today!