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Top takeaways as the Bears introduce Shane Waldron and Eric Washington at Halas Hall

Nicholas Moreano Avatar
February 22, 2024

LAKE FOREST — Matt Eberflus spoke before Shane Waldron and Eric Washington were introduced as the Bears’ new coordinators on Thursday afternoon at Halas Hall.

The third-year head coach first congratulated Devin Hester, Steve McMichael and Julius Peppers on being inducted in the Hall of Fame.

Then he expressed his appreciation to everyone involved in helping the organization hire its current coaching staff.

There was plenty of turnover on the offensive side of the ball. The Bears will have seven new offensive coaches joining Waldron for the 2024 season: Chris Beatty as the wide receivers coach, Thomas Brown as the offensive passing game coordinator, Chad Morton as the running backs coach, Jennifer King as an offensive assistant-RBs, Robbie Picazo as the offensive assistant-QBs and WRs and Jason Houghtaling as the assistant offensive line coach.

Eberflus said the process to hiring a new offensive and defensive coordinator started on January 12 and it ended up being a two-week process that involved 14 candidates being interviewed on both sides of the ball.

“Things we look for in our coaches — I talked about some characteristics with the staff a couple weeks ago, kind of on-boarding those guys,” Eberflus said. “It’s really a few things that we talked about, and it’s really about being creative. You want to be creative and you want to be curious to make the scheme go and make it go with the skill set that we have. That’s important on offense and defense. That’s one of the things we talked about and that’s why these two men are sitting right here with us today.”

Here are four takeaways from Waldron’s and Washington’s press conferences.

1. Shane Waldron’s offensive system fits Justin Fields or a rookie

A majority of Waldron’s questions revolved around the quarterback position as expected. Waldron didn’t provide clarification on what direction the Bears will take or even mention by name any specific offensive players. He did, though, express his belief that his system will work regardless if it’s Justin Fields or a rookie

“Yeah, I totally believe that,” Waldron said. “I think in the past experiences like I said, with different quarterbacks, different experience levels, whether I was in the coordinator role or in a role as a position coach, I felt that way. I felt different quarterbacks have been able to step foot into the system, be able to learn it quickly and that starts with us being able to teach it in a good and efficient manner where they understand it and then being able to go, and again, just because each guy’s gonna have a different skill-set, so what direction does it go? The players really take ownership and control of that.”

During Waldron’s two interview with the Bears, there was obviously more brought up than just the quarterback. Waldron mentioned that “adaptability” came up a lot during those conversations, and it will be on the coaches to first be great teachers to put the players in the best position to achieve team success.

For Waldron and the rest of the offensive coaching staff to put the offensive players in the best position to succeed, it starts with speaking the same football language.

“For me, having a system that’s speaking the same language, that’s multiple in the ways it can attack a defense, then you start to get the players and start to know what your personnel is going to look like that season,” Waldron said. “Then you build it around a player’s skillset. I think, for me, that’s been a part of my core beliefs. I feel like it’s worked out well with the different quarterbacks I’ve had a change to be around the last couple years.”

2. Waldron’s growth as a playcaller

Waldron got his first opportunity to call offensive plays during the regular season when he became the offensive coordinator in Seattle in 2021. He held that position for the last three seasons.

In that time, the Seahawks ranked sixth in yards per play (5.5), fifth in explosive run percentage (14.5 percent) and were third in deep pass rate (14.3 percent).

The Seahawks’ offense also experienced some lows and did so in two major categories. Seattle finished 23rd in third-down conversion rate (38.5 percent) and 26th in red zone touchdown rate (51.5 percent).

Waldron compared his start to play calling to a player in that it takes reps and being in different situations so it eventually becomes more natural. When Waldron thinks back to past seasons, he takes pride in the amount of game-winning drives and the calmness it took as a playcaller to navigate those scenarios.

“Everything is always going to be a collaborative effort in those regards,” Waldron said. “But being able to understand those situations and react in those split seconds and making the best decisions for the team as many times as you can throughout the course of the game. And then also realizing, you know, it’s the NFL, everybody is good. There’s defenses that are going to be great every single week, and they might make a play here and there, and being able to move on, just like a player would. Hey, if you make a bad play, let’s move on right to the next play. That next play might be the best one of the game right there. But don’t let the previous play call impact the next play call from an emotional standpoint. So the more and more reps you get at something, the more and more you do it, the more and more comfortable I feel like I’ve become in those scenarios.” 

3. Washington likes the defensive line

In Washington’s 16 years of NFL coaching experience, he has spent a majority of time working with defensive linemen. The Bears’ defense saw a significant uptick in production after the Bears traded for Montez Sweat — who led the team in sacks with six.

Just like Eberflus, Washington understands the importance of the defensive line and how that unit impacts the rest of the defense.

“We’re going to be a team that generates pressure with our front four,” Washington said. “We’re going to build the best pass rush in football that fortunately happens to be an area that I’ve had tremendous success with and we have the personnel to get that done. We’ve got size, speed, quickness, length, Montez [Sweat].

“I remember Montez through the pre-draft process when I was in Carolina. Really admired the traits, the mindset, all of those types of things, so you look at the people that we already have here. It’s exciting, plus we invested heavily in the draft last year with the two young defensive tackles [Gervon Dexter Sr. and Zacch Pickens]. I happen to know them going through the draft process, so all things are just positive, as far as that goes.”

Washington has high aspirations for the defensive line group, but also the entire defense. The Bears’ defensive coordinator described the players as an “explosive group” that was “elite in several important categories that lead directly to winning football.” He also said the entire defense is “clearly on an upward trajectory.”

4. Washington’s responsibilities as the defensive coordinator

Even though Washington has had experience as a defensive playcaller, he will not take on that responsibility for the Bears. Eberflus will continue calling plays like he did last season after Alan Williams left the team.

Washington said he’s “pretty confident” he will call plays at some point, but that time will have to wait. For now, Washington is focused on ensuring the defense is put in the best scenario as the team approaches the 2024 season.

“Matt Eberflus is an unbelievable play caller,” Washington said. “He’s an outstanding play caller, and we saw the effect that that had on our team last year, especially going down the stretch. We want to continue that. We don’t want to stymie that momentum. We want to continue that. And my expectation, and his expectation for me, is to contribute to that in the planning process and in real time on gameday.”

Washington said that he would do everything the coordinator typically would do except for calling plays. Some of those responsibilities include making sure coaches and players are informed on the sideline during games, especially when it comes to adjustments that need to be made as the game unfolds. The Bears’ defensive coordinator also said that if Eberflus ever has to hand over the play calling responsibility — even if it’s just temporarily — he’ll be ready to take on that role.

Washington will also collaborate with Eberflus when it comes to devising game plans and constructing the defense on a week-to-week basis.

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