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Hoge's Bears Things: Matt Eberflus, players walk fine line with intense practices

Adam Hoge Avatar
June 8, 2022

The Bears got busted, but maybe it’s not that big of a deal?

That’s where we start this week’s Bears Things column:

The Lead

Gifted a surprise off day, Cole Kmet spent Tuesday playing golf at Royal Melbourne Country Club in Long Grove.

He shot a respectable 86.

“Pretty tight course over there, but I’ll take it,” the tight end said.

Kmet and the rest of the Chicago Bears were informed Monday evening that Tuesday’s OTA practice at Halas Hall had been canceled due to the team violating rules that limit the amount of acceptable contact during the offseason program. As the team’s NFLPA rep, Kmet wasn’t completely caught off guard.

“We were kind of aware of it a little bit that they were looking into it but didn’t think anything of it,” Kmet said. “Then when we heard, we just kind of took it for what it was. So really not much to it. Lost a practice and back at it today.”

According to Bears head coach Matt Eberflus, the issue stemmed from “a few plays early on in the OTA process, very early on,” and he, nor the Bears, were fined by the league. Based on conversations with Kmet, defensive tackle Justin Jones and left guard Cody Whitehair Wednesday, we learned that an NFLPA representative happened to be at a practice where the contact evidently went too far. All three suggested that the issue was players not staying on their feet, which all teams constantly stress during offseason practices and even into parts of training camp. 

So are the coaches taking things too far with what they are asking the players to do in practice or are the players getting overzealous?

“I would say the latter,” Eberflus said. “I would say the latter that, just being under control. It’s like I said, ‘Be quick, but not in a hurry.’ Body control. Being able to stay on your feet. And knowing the tempo. And those guys are doing a good job with that.”

It shouldn’t be a surprise that the Bears are walking a fine line with Eberflus’ “H.I.T.S” philosophy. The “I” — intensity — is especially tough during non-contact practices. 

“Man, we run,” Eberflus said. “But the intensity part — the focus part of intensity can be there, but not the physical part until we get the pads. Once we get the pads on in training camp, that’s when we’re going to focus on how we play the intensity piece. That cannot be done this time of year.”

The guess here is that the players have been toeing the line — and the coaches love to see it.

“That’s tough. We’re going 100 percent and you’re being asked to go 100 percent and you wanna show out for a new staff,” Kmet said. “You have young guys and guys like me that wanna stick around here and be around here. So we’re going. And I think it’s a balance. I am a player so I’ll take it on myself, we gotta learn as a group how to practice correctly and take care of each other and keep guys off the ground.”

Whitehair, a seven-year veteran who has now seen three different coaching staffs in Chicago, admitted the intensity of practice has stepped up compared to the last few years.

“It’s intense, don’t get me wrong, but this team is young and we kind of need that intense practice and expectation from the group. We do have a lot of young guys and the expectations are high, so you’ve got to expect an intense practice,” Whitehair said. 

So is this whole ordeal a big deal or not? The fact that Eberflus wasn’t fined is an indication that the league didn’t find any malicious intent by the coaching staff to break the rules. He’s pushing it a little bit with the H.I.T.S. philosophy and a young football team is listening — to the point that the intensity resulted in too many players on the ground. Consider the lost OTA practice a slap on the wrist.

“When you’re playing O-line, D-line, foot traffic happens,” Jones said. “And with that being said, sometimes it just doesn’t play in your favor and that’s kind of how we got hit. And like I said, that’s OK. Chalk it up to the game. Nobody got hurt. Everybody had a good time and just leave it at that.”

More Things

  • Tuesday was not a great day for Justin Fields and the offense. Wide receivers weren’t exactly running wide open (which might be a problem this season) and Fields had a number of ill-advised throws into tight windows. Safety DeAndre Houston-Carson snagged two interceptions off of Fields, while cornerback Jaylon Johnson bobbled a possible — but tough — pick-6 opportunity.

    It’s hard to judge quarterback decision-making this time of year because teams are often trying things out and encouraging tougher throws to complete reps, but it’s safe to say the defense won Wednesday’s practice.

    For what it’s worth, Eberflus said the offense was much better on Monday, suggesting it was the team’s best practice of the offseason. He added that there were “11 chunk passes” in Monday’s practice. Since only one practice is open to the media each week during OTA’s we’ll just have to take his word for it. 
  • It was certainly interesting to see rookie Braxton Jones practicing at left tackle with the first-team offense Wednesday. The fifth-round pick from Southern Utah is making a huge jump up in competition, but must be doing something right. The bump up for Jones pushed Larry Borom over to right tackle, while Teven Jenkins moved down to the second-team right tackle. The Bears vowed to use different combinations on the offensive line during the offseason and Eberflus said that was the reason for the change. The combinations at next week’s veteran minicamp might give us a better idea of what the offensive line will look like at the start of training camp. 
  • Second-round pick Kyler Gordon was not at practice Wednesday. Eberflus has been pretty consistent about not commenting on missing players during the voluntary portion of the offseason, but did say that Gordon was in the building Tuesday. It will be interesting to see if Gordon is able to practice next week. 

What you may have missed… 

We had a full recap of Wednesday’s OTAs at Halas Hall on the CHGO Bears Podcast. Make sure you go back and check it out if you didn’t see it live. 

What’s on deck…

The Bears will finish up OTAs Thursday at Halas Hall, which will conclude the voluntary portion of the offseason. Next week’s veteran minicamp is mandatory, with players getting fined if they do not show up. The minicamp will consist of three practices, all of which will be open to reporters. We’ll have coverage all week long on The CHGO Bears Podcast and AllCHGO.com. 

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