Bears defensive coordinator Alan Williams spoke to the media after practice Sunday at Halas Hall. Here are five things we learned from the session:
(1) Attitude and hustle are the traits have stood out the most on defense
Williams has seen the defense build chemistry quickly because of each players' attitude during practice, meetings and outside Halas Hall. He said that positive outlook within the group is important when it comes to gelling as a defense.
The Bears' hustle and work ethic has also been crucial to the defense's growth. Practices on Friday and Saturday were the toughest of camp so far, yet Williams didn't see anyone slowing down.
"Yesterday was a little bit long of a practice and guys still had great attitudes," Williams said Sunday. "They came in, they weren't cussing or fussing or making excuses about their legs; that sometimes can happen. So, I think that's a good sign in terms of the dividends that will pay off.
"I listened to our guys and how they talked the other day and I listened to them coming off the field. When you have tough practices or difficult practices, I think the momentum is guys work through it. Guys that don't normally get reps, they get more reps. So, I think our team is gelling in chemistry even though some guys might not be practicing."
(2) The cornerback group has stepped up most during player absences
In recent practices, the defensive backs room has been thin with multiple players out. However, Williams has seen the cornerback group fill in multiple positions and perform at a high level.
"DeAndre Houston-Carson, DHC, he's done a good job. He's been available assignment-wise, and he's made some plays in there," Williams said. "I'm happy with that. And then it seems like each day we've had a different nickel person in there from the corner position, and they're coming in there. Sometimes it's not, 'Hey, are you making a play?' Sometimes it's coming in there, 'Are you just doing your job? Are you a cog in the defense? And are you not giving up big plays? Or not giving up plays that you should have been in the right place?' Really, the corner position — not just one person, but the corner position — those guys coming in, (Jaylon) Jones coming and playing that spot when he's been outside."
Rookie Kyler Gordon has missed the last few practices after impressing coaches early his camp with his versatility and athleticism at the nickel and corner positions. But Williams said Gordon has been with his position coach each day, reviewing what he would've been doing during practice.
"It's not just, 'hey I'm out.' He's attentive in the meetings," Williams said. "He's working at his craft in the morning. He's staying late watching tape. He comes in with questions. So, that's not a typical rookie. Those are veteran habits. So, I'm excited about that part."
(3) Williams has changed his philosophy on blitzing 'a little bit' since his first stint as defensive coordinator in Minnesota
"I do think there needs to be, from time to time, something to throw the offense off schedule, things they may not have seen on tape," Williams said. "I think the coaches in this league do such a great job of scouting you, preparing for you and when you make them play left-handed that is always a good thing, something they haven't seen."
Still, Williams isn't set on how much his defense will blitz or when it will happen. He said the pressure will come as needed based on individual opponents and in-game situations. Williams can see the defense blitzing 10 or 20 percent of the time. But, if he learns the pressure is dictating wins, that percentage may rise.
With the Bears switching to a 4-3 defense, Williams has praised multiple players on the line, including Robert Quinn for the veteran physical ability and leadership.
On Sunday, Williams expressed the importance of Justin Jones to the defense. Jones can do everything the coaches expect while adjusting to the offense on the fly. But Williams still needs to wait and see if the line can get to the quarterback on its own before bringing in reinforcements.
"If Quinn were sitting up here, he'd say, 'Hey coach I got ya, and all we need is four.' And we'll get home with four if you're talking about the passing game," Williams said. "But there's some times where you need to blitz because you need to knock them back in the run game. Again, that's wait-to-be-seen. We have to wait until we put pads on and go against an opponent and see how stout we are in the run game and pass game."
(4) The defense still in the 'honeymoon stage' with head coach Matt Eberflus' 'HITS' principle
In Williams' introductory press conference, he discussed how difficult it can be to install the HITS principle. Williams anticipated some early resistance from Bears players based on his previous experience.
"Guys have been great," Williams said. I was expecting some pushback, some kickback like, 'hey coach, my legs are dead. Hey coach, this is what we did last year. Hey coach, this is what I used to do to be successful.' There hasn't been any of that. The guys have been outstanding in terms of how they're working. That shows they trust their position coaches; they trust the head coach."
(5) Williams identified two of the top performers at the strong side linebacker position during recent practices
Amid the absence of Roquan Smith, linebackers Matthew Adams and Joe Thomas have stood out as of late. Adams, who spent four years in Indianapolis, understands Eberflus' defensive scheme and the intensity required to excel in it. Thomas played the last three seasons in Green Bay and has embraced the Bears' emphasis on takeaways.
"I heard Nick [Morrow] mention the other day in his [press] conference he said the reason why Matt's here is because he understands the defense, because he plays with high tempo, because he's physical," Williams said. "And then Thomas, he stands out because he's leading the group in turnovers. We keep track of how many guys have intercepted the ball, how many balls you've knocked out, how many scoop and scores and he's leading the group. So those two guys are standouts right now."
Williams is excited about the number of reps each player in the linebacker group is taking. He wants everyone to be prepared for the next guy to step up in any game or practice scenario.
"Whoever you have, you gotta play with whoever you have and that's reality in the NFL," Williams said. "If you spend your entire time thinking about what you don't have instead of what you do have solving in terms of what you do have, you'll be behind the eight ball," Williams said. "And that's not what we're gonna do and we're not gonna make excuses and reasons why we can't. We're gonna find reasons why we can."