The Chicago Bears on Thursday held their final practice of the week at Halas Hall and will travel to Cleveland for Saturday’s preseason finale against the Browns. Coach Matt Eberflus is eager for his team to take one more test under game conditions with most of his starters expected to play until halftime. Here are three things we learned Thursday in Lake Forest.
1. Offensive lineman Teven 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 position to potentially win a starting role and believes he has strengths within his skill set to help him.
“My physicality,” he said after Thursday’s practice. “It’s like you have a dude right there, right now instead of (having) all this space. At tackle, you have a lot of time to think about what’s going to happen and a lot of space to execute whatever technique you’re thinking about. At guard it’s happening a lot quicker — like really fast.”
Jenkins, who figures to start Saturday night, was asked if the right guard position was his to win and showed veteran savvy in joking around a direct answer.
“That’s kind of like a ‘headline’ question right there,” Jenkins said with a laugh. “I don’t know. I’m never one to be like, ‘Yeah, this is my job.’ Because that just sets (up) for bad chemistry throughout the whole team. I just don’t believe in that.”
Jenkins does believe he can stake a claim for a leading role with a strong performance in Cleveland.
“Just keep being physical,” he said. “No MAs (missed assignments). Don’t mess up and just trust myself.”
Jenkins missed seven consecutive practices early in training camp with an undisclosed injury. He has been the subject of ongoing trade speculation and began camp taking practice reps with the second- and third-unit offense as right tackle. In the last 10 days, he has added a position change to his plate. So forgive the 24-year-old lineman for describing the past month as “a roller coaster and a mix of emotions.”
As September nears, he’s looking to have the final word.
“It’s a lot about seizing opportunity,” he said. “That’s one thing I’m looking forward to doing this weekend.”
2. Matt Eberflus offered more detail on the origins of the HITS principle.
By now, Bears fans should know the renowned Flus-ian acronym quite well and understand that the new coach and his assistants are constantly evaluating players on hustle, intensity, turnovers and situational smarts. Those things are a constant focus at practice. Plus there’s a detailed grading system to measure performance in those categories during games.
Eberflus reiterated Thursday that the lightbulb for his HITS philosophy first went off in 2013 or 2014 while he was a linebackers coach for the Dallas Cowboys working under coordinator/defensive line coach Rod Marinelli.
“I would look at his drills and how he did his thing with the defensive line … and I said, ‘Well, shoot. This guy is a master coach,’” Eberflus said. “ ‘I’m going to try to be as good as him and do it his way.’ Then I was like, ‘I’m going to come up with something I can measure so that I can give immediate feedback to the players.’ Now everything is measured. Every play, every detail.”
In the intensity category, for example, Eberflus said he focuses on the final 3 yards of every play, assessing how defenders are tackling and accelerating through the end of each sequence. The Bears coaching staff also identifies players who show a lack of hustle and pushes to correct that. Furthermore, there’s a constant demand for defenders to attack the football to dislodge it.
“Are you really stripping at it every play?” Eberflus said. “It’s not just sticking your hand out there to appease me. But are you really going after it? We coach that every single play. It’s all measured, so you can coach details every single play.
“What you’ll see is that when you do that with your offense, defense and kicking (game), your team will understand the exact standard. Because everything is on the table. You don’t hide anything.”
3. The Bears remain short-handed at receiver heading into the final preseason game.
Rookie Velus Jones Jr. missed the last five practices with an undisclosed injury after turning in an encouraging preseason debut in Seattle. Jones would be a long shot to play against the Browns.
Veteran Tajae Sharpe hasn’t practiced since recording two catches for 44 yards against the Kansas City Chiefs on Aug. 13. Byron Pringle also has been out for almost three weeks with a quadriceps injury, and Eberflus 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),” Eberflus said. “I told Byron and the other guys who are out that, hey, you’ve got to stay locked in to the game plan. You have to have visualization at night to go through the plays and make sure you know how to align and how to do your job on that particular play.”
N’Keal Harry, meanwhile, will be out deep into the regular season after having surgery on his left ankle.
It’s far from ideal for the Bears passing attack. As quarterback Justin Fields looks to build momentum Saturday, he will have to do so with an undermanned receiving corps.
Darnell Mooney and Equanimeous St. Brown will be available. Beyond that, the other receivers on the roster are Dante Pettis, Isaiah Coulter, Nsimba Webster, Chris Finke and Kevin Shaa.