BOURBONNAIS — The Bears offense of the past couple seasons, by its own admission, lacked identity and any ability to be consistently physical. It started with a failed commitment to a running game and trickled ultimately into every area of all three phases of the team.
Collective-bargaining rules put a governor on not only the numbers of practices but also how much hitting and such can be folded in. The current coaching staff is countering that with balance in the offense and also with going with goal-line sessions and run-blocking drills that have ramped up the energy — and physicality — levels.
“The guys enjoy it,” head coach John Fox said. “It’s a hard thing to practice unless you walk it through, short yardage or goal line, because it’s such a tight play. Just over experience, you learn that you’re better off just going ‘live’ and you can see how guys execute and you can do a little bit of that in practice because we don’t practice that way all the time.
“A little bit toughness, how guys are at the point of attack. It’s pretty much a grunt play. So we enjoy watching it.”
The offensive line has four of its 16-game starters from 2013 — tackles Jermon Bushrod and Jordan Mills, guards Kyle Long and Matt Slauson — back together. Veteran center Roberto Garza retired, but the Bears signed Will Montgomery, who played for Fox in Carolina and Denver.
“Just the people we have here right now are willing to go hard every day, I think that's a testament to the coaching staff,” Long said. “The things that they've said and the things that they've put in place for us to have success on the field, they put us in situations where we have no other option than to be physical with one another, and I feel like it's hardening are group as a whole, that's all encompassing.”
It wasn’t all pure smash mouth. Perhaps as a reaction to some of the foul-ups in protections Wednesday, coaches spent much of the pass-protection session working with combination rushes and blockings, several with three defensive linemen working stunts and offensive linemen responsible for pick-ups, which went better than they had the day before.
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Jacquizz Rodgers and Matt Forte took turns driving at the defense running the football, with Forte popping loose with a long gainer off his right side. Rodgers was stuffed twice on successive run attempts, one with a superb gap fill by linebacker Shea McClellin, but then showed quick acceleration turning the corner for a big pickup, then picking his way through an inside run.
Ka’Deem Carey had one of his strongest efforts in tight red-zone work but was stopped inches short of the end zone by a squad of tacklers. “That ruined my day,” Carey said, laughing. Jeremy Langford had the door slammed on a promising run by a strong close-down by linebacker Jonathan Bostic.
“I’ve been impressed with (Langford’s) intelligence, how quick he picked it up,” offensive coordinator Adam Gase said. “Not surprised, him being from Michigan State. He’s really come along. His route-running ability is rare. You see a guy like that, and then you’ve got Matt in front of him and he’s kind of seeing how he’s doing things. He’s got a long ways to go, but I like where he’s at right now.”