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INDIANAPOLIS — Matt Eberflus is in his sixth week on the job as the head coach of the Chicago Bears. At this point, he hasn’t even officially moved yet. In fact, the NFL Combine actually allowed him to sleep in his own bed in Indianapolis for a few nights.
Don’t worry, the house in the northern suburbs has been picked out and the Eberflus family will soon become Chicagoans, er, suburbanites. In the meantime, they’ve already sampled their fair share of downtown Chicago restaurants during visits.
But for the most part, Eberflus has been hard at work in Lake Forest. With players set to report to Halas Hall in about a month, the new head coach is focused on coaching the coaches. That way, when the players arrive, the offense, defense, special teams, and — most importantly — the culture, will be ready to install.
That means making sure the coaches are fully on board to preach Eberflus’ H.I.T.S. principle. For those who aren’t up to speed yet, the H.I.T.S acronym stands for Hustle, Intensity, Takeaways, and being Situationally smart. It’s the backbone of everything Eberflus is as a coach.
Now over a month into his first offseason with the Bears, Eberflus sat down with CHGO at the NFL Combine for an in-depth conversation about his coaching career and the immediate challenge he faces in Chicago as he attempts to earn the trust from his new team. In Part 1 of our Q&A, Eberflus explains how his H.I.T.S. principle will be implemented and graded every day. In Part 2, which will be released on Tuesday, the head coach discusses his journey from Toledo to Chicago.
Here is Part 1, lightly edited for clarity:
At this point, your H.I.T.S. principal and your style has been talked about and well documented. What I’m curious about is, when the players show up in April, how will the buy-in start to be implemented?
Eberflus: I just think you teach. You teach and you educate what that means. What does it mean for every position? So I’m going to teach the overarching theme of it and then the position coaches and the coordinators are going to teach it very specific for positions.
It’s a standard of performance. It’s a measured standard of performance. On every play, we’re going to be able to measure effort, measure intensity. And obviously the intensity thing will be different once we get the pads on and once we start playing against live bullets against other people. And then obviously taking care of the ball is very important to us and taking it away is also very important to us. And then we’ll be able to work our situations during the course of OTAs and mandatory minicamp and voluntary minicamp — we’ll be able to teach those things to them.
But really, it’s teaching it and educating, but also staying on it. Everybody says that right away, ‘Hey, we want to run to the ball and we want to protect the ball,’ but it’s about staying on those details and staying on it with the players. It’s nice because it’s measured. That’s what I think is different than most is, over the years, we’ve found ways to measure the effort, measure the intensity, measure how we’re taking care of the ball and how we’re doing it. And it’s one snap at a time. It’s rigorous for the coaches. I will say that. It’s very rigorous for the coaches, because you’re looking at this principle thing first before you look at scheme. I always tell them, ‘Guys, don’t even worry about the scheme. Look at the play. Open your lens up and watch the play. OK, what do you see? Do you see maximum effort there? No? Over here I see two or three guys…’”
And then you gotta look at every player, which means watching the play, sometimes, 11 times.
Eberflus: Yes, absolutely. So what the coordinators will do is they’ll watch the tape by themselves strictly on effort and intensity. And they’ll look at it and they’ll mark down, play 1 through play 65, they’ll mark down, no, no, no. And then they’ll get together and watch it. And the position coach is watching it too after the game and he’s studying what it is. And this is for practice too. They gotta watch it every single play. It doesn’t matter if it’s practice or anything else. How did they finish? Was the intensity right? And it’s a yes or no answer because it’s all measured. It’s very easy to measure.
And if you’re looking at yourself and saying, ’Is this (a loaf)? I think, I’m not sure’ — it probably is. That’s what I tell them. But it’s going to be based on education from me to the coaches and then the coaches to the players. And then, really, at the end of the day, what happens is, once we set that standard, the players now take it and they understand what it means and then they teach it.
So you’ve been doing this on defense. I think a lot can translate to offense too, but what about the quarterback position? How do you measure those things at the quarterback spot?
Eberflus: Yeah I mean that’s a different position. Obviously he’s not going to be running a bootleg and sprinting 40 yards down the field.
Although, with Justin you never know. There was that tape against Michigan State when he was blocking 50 yards downfield.
Eberflus: Yeah, well, we could have a couple keepers too. That’s for sure. I would just say for him, it’s more about the mental focus, the mental intensity, being situationally aware, him executing with detail and technique, all his ball mechanics, quarterback mechanics. So it’s a little bit different. And that’s what I told the offensive staff. I said, hey, this is by position. Defensively, it’s a little easier to implement because it’s hey, 11 guys chasing one ball — I get it. So on offense we really have to be detailed and it’s a process. We’re going to have to figure out exactly how we’re going to coach the receivers on this, the running backs, the offensive line, the tight ends and so forth. So we’re working through that right now.
I know your interaction with players this time of year is limited, but what has the reaction been like? I’ll give you an example: I talked to (running back) Khalil Herbert at the Super Bowl and he was immediately like, ‘Yep, gotta put the track shoes on. I know when we show up in April I better be in shape.’ So it seems like that message is already getting across. Is that how you feel?
Eberflus: Yeah, the way in which we practice and the way in which we play is different. It’s different. You can ask anybody who has been in that system. And I encouraged them, because the NFL is a small fraternity, so I encourage all the players, hey, do you know anybody on our last team that we were on? In fact, I was talking to (cornerback) Thomas Graham Jr. and he was talking to me about how he had visited with Kenny Moore and he talked to him because they have the same DB trainer/offseason trainer. And I said, ‘Hey, just ask him about it. Ask him what he thinks about the system and how he dived into it with both feet and committed to it.’ And he was like, hey, it works. Moore was obviously a Pro Bowl player this year and at the top of his position. So I always encourage those guys to reach out to those guys that have been in it in the past.
Is it fair to say that there are going to be players that don’t buy in? There’s always going to be guys that it just doesn’t click with, right? I guess you could say that for any program, but you have to be expecting some of that, right?
Eberflus: Yeah, I mean, we’ve done this now three times so it’s not like we haven’t done it before. This is the first time doing it with an entire football team, but we know it works. We know what the standards are. We have the coaches that have already bought into it that are going to implement the system player by player. And certainly, it’s not for everybody. It just isn’t. I said it (at the Combine), really two things: Do guys love football? They’ll show that on tape. And are they willing to work hard? And are they willing to stretch themselves to a new boundary they haven’t taken themselves to before? And if you have that, it will all work out. Certainly there will be guys that don’t buy into it. That’s OK. It’s not for everybody. Maybe you need to go to a different team.
Part 2 of Adam Hoge’s Q&A with Matt Eberflus will be posted Tuesday at CHGO and will be for paid members only. All paid annual members receive a free CHGO shirt of their choice plus access to future exclusive written content from Adam and the rest of the CHGO crew. Members also get an invite to the exclusive CHGO Social Lounge on Discord.
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