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5 things we learned from Bears coordinators

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Bears coordinators Bill Lazor (offense), Sean Desai (defense) and Chris Tabor (special teams) spoke to the media Thursday at Halas Hall. Here are five things we learned from those sessions:

(1) Second-year cornerback Jaylon Johnson's focus on intercepting passes in practice is paying dividends.

The 2020 second-round pick from Utah excelled as a rookie, starting from Day 1 and compiling 44 tackles and a team-leading 15 pass breakups despite missing the final three games with a shoulder injury. Johnson did not, however, register an interception in his first season, and he's made a concerted effort to address that aspect of his game.

The results have been positive to this point, with Johnson registering multiple interceptions in training camp. In Monday's practice, he picked off two passes, including a highlight-reel play when he leaped high over receiver Marquise Goodwin to intercept a pass in the end zone on a post pattern.

"[All the coaches] have emphasized [interceptions] and I've emphasized it with him," Desai said, "and quite honestly, he's taken that role and he's accepted that challenge and he's worked on it and you see the fruits of that. When guys make it a conscious effort to improve a certain technique of their game, they're going to get better at it, and that's what he's doing."

(2) Lazor isn't surprised that Sam Mustipher transformed himself from an undrafted practice squad player into the Bears' starting center.

Last year in Lazor's first season as offensive coordinator, the offseason program was conducted solely on a virtual basis due to COVID-19. That meant he wasn't able to work with players in person until training camp. But when he first met Mustipher at that point, Lazor saw the potential in the Notre Dame product.

"Because of COVID, maybe I'd seen him on Zoom, but to see him in person, he was impressive from the first day he walked on the field," Lazor said. "All of us were kind of new being together and he stood out from the very beginning of how he worked and how he was confident in his calls. There's just a certain thing about a center; when he's in control and he's confident, it permeates, and so really from the very first day … it showed."

Mustipher originally signed with the Bears in 2019. After spending his first season-and-a-half on the practice squad, he became the starting center midway through the 2020 campaign and helped key an offensive resurgence led by a revamped line. He returned this year after adding 10 pounds of lean muscle mass in the offseason and continues to anchor the offensive line.

(3) After signing with the Bears Aug. 4, veteran linebacker Alec Ogletree registered six interceptions in his first four practices. But his greatest contributions this season could come on special teams.

"I'm getting a great feel for him," Tabor said. "What a great guy. What a great pro. He's been awesome. He goes out early and gets an early stretch before everything, then he's down there with the returners and helping the young guys. His presence in our room has been outstanding and it's nice. I'm glad he's here."

Ogletree joins the Bears after appearing in 95 games with 94 starts over eight NFL seasons with the Rams (2013-17), Giants (2018-19) and Jets (2020). He has recorded 679 tackles, 44 tackles-for-loss, 7.5 sacks, 12 interceptions—returning four for touchdowns—and 12 forced fumbles.

"He's a really good player," Tabor said. "I'm glad we have him. I call him 'the microwave.' You program him [and], 'boom,' a play is made. He's a pro's pro and he's embraced everything. For a lot of our young players to be in there and have a guy of his experience and his caliber and what he's done in this league, to be able for him to say things in our room, it's been awesome."

(4) Desai has liked what he's seen from veteran outside linebacker Robert Quinn, who is determined to rebound from a disappointing 2020 season.

"He's just been extremely humble, really grateful, taking advantage of all the opportunities, taking in all the coaching," Desai said. "And for a guy that's a veteran guy that's aging, his effort is unbelievable every day, his play speed is unbelievable every day. He just goes at one speed, and that's what you want all your players to be."

Quinn told reporters this week that he's "in a great place mentally and spiritually" and has shown more of a burst rushing the passer both in practice and in last Saturday's preseason-opening win over the Dolphins.

"We're all working towards the goals that he wants to achieve and that we want to achieve as a defense together, and we're all on the same page," Desai said. "Coach [Bill] Shuey's been tremendous with him and working with him to develop a plan that we want for him to respond to, and Robert's been awesome in terms of responding and embracing that challenge for this year."

(5) Tabor is pleased with the progress that sixth-round pick Khalil Herbert, a running back from Virginia Tech, is making on special teams.

"I've seen him grow from the spring to the practices with Miami to the first game," Tabor said. "I'm seeing a player just grow, and he's been able to pick up a lot of different spots."

After playing four seasons at Kansas from 2016-19, Herbert transferred to Virginia Tech last year. Playing 11 games with the Hokies, he ranked fifth in the nation in rushing with 1,182 yards and eight touchdowns on 154 carries and also averaged 26.9 yards on 16 kickoff returns.

Herbert is in contention for the Bears' kickoff return job; he returned one kickoff for 16 yards last Saturday against the Dolphins. He's also vying for roles on additional special teams units.

"He sits in the front row in the special teams meetings, takes notes, asks good questions," Tabor said. "It's our job just to keep playing him in different spots, and then as things go hopefully he kind of settles into something and he's the player that we think he is. He's a good football player."

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