When Matt Eberflus was introduced as Bears coach Jan. 31, he told reporters about his plan to bring his "HITS" principle from Indianapolis to Chicago.
An acronym for "Hustle, Intensity, Takeaways and (playing) Smart," it was the driving force behind a stellar Colts defense that Eberflus coordinated the past four years.
New Bears defensive coordinator Alan Williams, who served as Eberflus' defensive backs coach in Indianapolis, is also a big proponent of the HITS principle.
"When you talk about a standard and meeting that standard and then being able to look at the film and grade that standard and holding guys to the standard, the HITS philosophy is a great way of being able to measure it," Williams said. "So, with the hustle, the intensity, the takeaways and playing smart, we have a way of being able to gauge ourselves from one game to another or one season to another in terms of, 'Are we improving or are we falling short?'"
When the Colts hired Eberflus and Williams in 2018, the HITS principle wasn't immediately embraced by Indianapolis players.
"They didn't buy in at first," Williams said. "What we're going to ask them to do, it's not difficult, but it's extremely hard. We're going to ask guys to give us 100 percent when they get on the field, 100 percent hustle. We're going to ask guys to be intense. We're going to ask them to do some things that they might not be used to doing.
"At first, there wasn't a buy-in because it was difficult. But little by little they saw how the HITS philosophy translated into us playing well. Based on us being able to measure those things, they saw how we were improving [but] not in big leaps. Our thing was one percent better, one percent better and then ultimately those things turned into wins, and as we all know, this league is measured in your wins and losses.
"That was the buy-in, when they saw the results of all that hard work, all the running to the ball—not just in games, but every day in practice—the attention to detail in the walk-throughs. Those were all things that helped with the buy-in."
Under Eberflus and Williams, the Colts were the only NFL defensive unit to be ranked in the top 10 in scoring, run defense and takeaways each of the past two seasons. They finished in the top 10 in the NFL in run defense and takeaways in all four of their years, top 10 in points allowed in three of the four, and were the least penalized defense in the league in 2019 and 2021.
The Indianapolis defense is led by linebacker Darius Leonard, who has been named first-team All-Pro and voted to the Pro Bowl in three of his four NFL seasons. Williams sees similarities between Leonard and Bears star linebacker Roquan Smith.
"Both guys are extremely productive," Williams said. "Both guys are athletic. Both guys, you can tell they like football by the way they play. When you look at the tape, you don't have to be a football aficionado to go, 'You know what, the way that dude plays, he likes ball.' Roquan likes ball. Roquan loves ball."
Smith has been selected second-team All-Pro each of the last two seasons. In 2020, he ranked second in the NFL with 96 solo tackles and tied for second with 18 tackles-for-loss, the most by a Bears player since Hall of Fame middle linebacker Brian Urlacher had 19 in 2002. In 2021, Smith recorded a career-high 163 tackles with 12 tackles-for-loss, 3.0 sacks and one interception that he returned 53 yards for a touchdown in a Week 2 win over the Bengals.
The 2018 first-round pick from Georgia has compiled at least 100 tackles in each of his four seasons, the first Bears player to accomplish that feat in any four-year span since Lance Briggs did so in six consecutive seasons from 2004-09.
"I remember him coming out at the Combine, his reputation preceded him," Williams said of Smith. "He was a guy they said, 'Hey, he's quick twitch, he's fast, he's instinctive, he's a leader.' When you have a guy like that, that's a guy that you want in the middle of the field, and that's a guy that you're looking forward to getting to know, that you're looking forward to coaching."