The Chicago Bears held their final practice of the week at Halas Hall on Thursday and will head to Cleveland for Saturday’s preseason finale against the Browns. Coach Matt Eberfluss is desperate for his team to have another test in game conditions, with most of his starters due to play before the break. Here are three things we learned Thursday in Lake Forest.
1. Offensive lineman Taven Jenkins is eager to continue his transition to right guard.
In just his second week of practice at the position, Jenkins has been put in a position to potentially win the starting role and believes he has the strengths within his skill set to help him.
“My physicality,” he said after Thursday’s practice. “It’s like you have a dude right now instead of (having) all this space. In a tackle, you have plenty of time to think about what’s going to happen and plenty of room to execute any technique you can think of. On duty it happens much faster — like indeed soon.”
Jenkins, who is slated to start Saturday night, was asked if he needed the guard position to win, and he showed a veteran’s smarts by joking in response.
“That’s kind of the question in the title,” Jenkins said with a laugh. “I don’t know. I never say, “Yeah, that’s my job.” Because it only creates bad chemistry in the whole team. I just don’t believe in it.”
Jenkins truly believes he can claim a high-performance lead role in Cleveland.
“Just continue to stay physical,” he said. “There is no master (missed assignments). Don’t mess up and just trust yourself.”
Jenkins missed seven straight practices early in training camp with an undisclosed injury. He has been the subject of constant trade speculation and began camp taking practice reps with second- and third-down offenses as a right tackle. In the last 10 days, he has changed his position. So forgive the 24-year-old lineman for describing the past month as a “roller-coaster of mixed emotions.”
September is coming and he wants to have the last word.
“It’s a lot about taking advantage of the opportunity,” he said. “That’s one thing I’m looking forward to doing this weekend.”
2. Matt Eberflus offered more details on the origins of the HITS principle.
By now, Bears fans should be familiar with the famous Flus-ian acronym and understand that the new coach and his assistants are constantly evaluating players for hustle, intensity, turnovers and situational acumen. These things are constantly in focus in practice. Additionally, there is a detailed scoring system to measure performance in these categories during games.
Eberfluss reiterated Thursday that the light bulb for his HITS philosophy first went on in 2013 or 2014, when he was the quarterbacks coach with the Dallas Cowboys working under coordinator/defensive line coach Rod Marinelli.
“I was looking at his drills and how he was doing his thing with the defensive line … and I said, ‘Well, shoot. “This guy is a great coach,” Eberfluss said. “I’ll try to be as good as him and do it his way.” Then I said, “I’m going to come up with something that I can measure so that I can give immediate feedback to the players.” Now everything is measured. Every performance, every detail.”
In the intensity category, for example, Eberfluss said he focuses on the final 3 yards of each play, evaluating how defenders tackle and accelerate toward the end of each series. The Bears coaching staff also identifies players who show a lack of hustle and pushes to fix it. Moreover, there is a constant demand for defenders to attack the ball to clear it.
“Do you really undress every time?” – said Eberfluss. “It’s not just reaching out to calm me down. But is that what you really want? We practice every game. Everything is measured, so you can train the details of each game.
“What you’re going to see is if you do that with the offense, the defense and the hitting (game), your team will understand the exact standard. Because everything is on the table. You are not hiding anything.”
3. The Bears remain shorthanded at receiver heading into the final preseason game.
Rookie Velus Jones Jr. has missed the last five practices with an undisclosed injury after making his preseason debut in Seattle. Jones would be a long shot to play against the Browns.
Veteran tight end Tajae Sharp hasn’t practiced since he had two catches for 44 yards on Aug. 13 against the Kansas City Chiefs. Byron Pringle is also out for nearly three weeks with a quadriceps injury, and Eberfluss has not set a timetable for his return.
“When you lose time on the grass, it’s always hard to come back (and catch up),” Eberfluss said. “I told Byron and the other guys that were out, you have to stick to the game plan. You have to have the vision on the night to go through the plays and make sure you know how to line up and how to do your job on that particular play.”
Meanwhile, N’Kill Harry will be out for the regular season after surgery on his left ankle.
This is far from ideal for attacking bears. As quarterback Justin Fields looks to build momentum Saturday, he’ll have to do so with a depleted receiving corps.
Darnell Mooney and Equinemus St. Brown will be available. Other than that, the other receivers on the roster are Dante Pettis, Isaiah Coulter, Nsimba Webster, Chris Finke and Kevin Shaa.