During his first training camp with the Bears last summer, cornerback Prince Amukamara routinely participated in wide receiver drills to catch extra passes.
The eighth-year pro from Nebraska has focused even more on honing that aspect of his game this year, regularly catching footballs from JUGS machines before and after practice.
Amukamara's hard work paid major dividends Monday night when he intercepted a Russell Wilson pass and returned it 49 yards for a touchdown. The clutch TD gave the Bears a 24-10 lead with 6:37 remaining in the fourth quarter of an eventual 24-17 victory.
"It's definitely the fruits of my labor, the coaches' labor and my teammates' labor," Amukamara said Thursday. "It was great to see it pay off on a huge stage and in a big part of the game."
Amukamara couldn't have picked a better time to score his first NFL touchdown. The Seahawks had cut the Bears' seemingly safe 17-3 lead to 17-10 less than four minutes earlier and—with all the momentum on their side—were threatening to tie the game.
After intercepting the pass, Amukamara raced down the right sideline. When he realized that Wilson had the angle on him, the veteran cornerback cut back and dashed into the end zone. Amukamara wasn't going to let a quarterback—even one as athletic as Wilson—tackle him.
"We have a lot of guys on our team that don't let you live stuff down, and I wasn't going to be on the end of that joke," Amukamara said. "I used to play running back in high school, so I tried to do a little bit of a cutback."
The interception was Amukamara's first since Sept. 24, 2015 when he picked off the Redskins' Kirk Cousins while playing for the Giants. With just seven interceptions in seven NFL seasons entering this year, Amukamara has been determined to improve that part of his game. He even told a reporter during the offseason that he was hoping to pick off 10 passes this year.
Working toward that lofty goal, Amukamara has caught literally thousands of footballs from JUGS machines since the start of the Bears' offseason program in April.
"It's more balls than I've ever caught in my life," he said. "It helps a lot just feeling the ball, the speed of it and catching it at different angles and running [the machine] at different speeds. It starts to create that muscle memory."
Amukamara revealed that Brad Childress, who worked with the Bears through training camp as a senior offensive consultant, taught him how to do ball drills on the JUGS machine. But it's been defensive backs coach Ed Donatell who has consistently driven him the most.
"Coach Ed has been the one who has been leading it," Amukamara said. "He'll tell me, '[Steelers receiver] Antonio Brown catches 150 balls. You need to start ramping it up.' Coach [Donatell] has really been at the forefront in challenging me the most."
Amukamara wasn't the only one thrilled by his pick six. Knowing how much work he's put in and his lack of interceptions in the past, teammates and coaches exploded off the Bears sideline after he raced into the end zone.
"Everyone gives me crap every time if I drop a ball in practice," Amukamara said. "Even coach [Matt] Nagy says, 'All right, that's more JUGS for you.' To actually carry it over to the game where I actually make the play, I think to be honest everyone was just proud, like 'Prince finally caught it.'"