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5 things we learned from Bears defensive coaches

Bears rookie defensive lineman Dominique Robinson
Bears rookie defensive lineman Dominique Robinson

Bears defensive position coaches spoke to the media Tuesday at Halas Hall. Here are five things we learned from those sessions:

(1) Defensive line coach Travis Smith has been impressed with rookie Dominique Robinson's aptitude, especially given his limited experience at defensive end.

The fifth-round pick arrived at Miami (Ohio) in 2017 as a quarterback, switched to receiver as a freshman and was later moved to defensive end in 2020. Last season he registered 28 tackles, 6.5 tackles-for-loss and 2.5 sacks while playing in 12 games.

"Dom has done a great job for a guy that has really only played defensive end for a year," Smith said. "He's very sharp and he picks things up fast. Our 'HITS' principle that coach [Matt Eberflus] and [general manager] Ryan Poles want—hustle, effort and intensity—it's been natural for him. He's set the standard running to the ball, finishing to the ball, playing relentlessly. He's been awesome so far."

(2) Smith loved seeing defensive tackle Khyiris Tonga intercept a pass and return it for a touchdown—while escorted by several blockers—in Saturday's practice.

"Big man making plays is always a great thing in our room," Smith said. "We value production, especially when we get our hands on the ball. When you get those opportunities, you don't want to let them down. The whole room was running to the end zone on that play."

In bouncing the interception return outside, the 6-4, 338-pounder did exactly what he has been coached to do.

"We have an interception drill where we teach—it's mostly DBs and the linebackers—about clearing the numbers and getting out to the perimeter so that we can score when we have a clear path," Smith said. "Tonga is very intelligent and sharp. He listens to everything … so he knew right away, 'hey, I've got to get to the numbers and I have a clear path.' We got a block in front and he got to the end zone. It was a heck of a play."

(3) With the Bears switching back to a 4-3 defense, linebackers coach Dave Borgonzi shows players tape of former stars Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs.

"They enjoy that," Borgonzi said. "They like seeing the former players in the system play, whether it's Chicago film, Tampa Bay film with coach [Tony] Dungy, Dallas film when coach Flus was there, Indianapolis. We always talk about the system and the style of play. I think they really enjoy doing that."

Asked what he wants Bears linebackers to take away from watching Urlacher and Briggs, Borgonzi said: "How intense they were. How they took the ball away. Just how they had the defense down. They knew the issues or the problems and they could self-correct. That's the biggest thing. How hard they played, how intense they played and how they took the ball away."

(4) Borgonzi described undrafted rookie linebacker Jack Sanborn as "really smart, tough [and] instinctive."

"The biggest thing with Jack, too, is he's the type of guy that improves every day," Borgonzi said "He doesn't make the same mistake twice, so he keeps improving. He's not there yet, but just his ability to self-correct, not make the same mistake twice and his intensity that he brings every day to the meeting room and the practice field [will enable him to develop]."

Sanborn has flashed his playmaking ability in the Bears' first two preseason games, registering an interception and fumble recovery in the opener against the Chiefs and recording five tackles on defense and two on special teams versus both Kansas City and Seattle.

"He showed me he's got good hands," Borgonzi said. "He got an interception, he recovered a fumble, really productive on special teams. It's not just defense, it's his ability to play special teams too. You get an opportunity and the lights come on, to Jack's credit he made some plays."

(5) Defensive backs coach James Rowe keeps seeing second-round pick Kyler Gordon, a cornerback from Washington, display excellent ball skills.

Just as he did throughout the offseason, Gordon has continued to generate takeaways in practice. In a team drill Tuesday, he intercepted a pass that was deflected by cornerback Jaylon Johnson.

"[Gordon] has a good knack of being around the ball and then has the athletic ability to finish the play," Rowe said. "He has real natural hands, so we're excited about him going forward in that way."

Gordon has continued to practice at both the cornerback and nickel positions.

"One thing that stands out about him is he works hard," Rowe said. "He's in here at 7 a.m. every morning meeting with coach [David] Overstreet, going over the nickel stuff, and then meets extra time with me going over the corner stuff. He's putting in the time to be able to do both. I think that's one key. And then he did it in college. He's done it before. It's easier to transfer to the NFL if you've done it in college."