Bears defensive coordinator Alan Williams can sum up his defense in one word: opportunistic. He has a group of players who share a purpose that is greater than themselves. That mindset has Williams confident about the defense's chances of success this season.
"One of the things that we like to say is we want volunteers, not hostages," Williams said. "We want guys that want to be here. We want guys that believe in what we're doing. When you have guys like that, you always have a chance, a great chance, and so we're building little by little, the foundation has been dug. We're still working on that foundation, but the guys are just opportunistic. Whenever guys feel like that, and you have some talent—and we do have talent—you always have a chance."
The players have put a lot of belief into the "HITS" principle Williams is teaching. The acronym that coach Matt Eberflus brought to the Bears stands for Hustle, Intensity, Takeaways and (Playing) Smart.
Takeaways are the easiest part of the acronym to measure, and Williams is pleased with what the group has done in that regard. He said the unit is "fanatical" about it. The rate at which players are producing takeaways during practice gives Williams confidence they will translate to game situations.
"We just don't put it up on the wall and say, 'Hey, we're gonna get turnovers,'" Williams said. We work on it in practice. We work on it in individual. We work on it in group work. We work on it in our team situations. Guys have gotten turnovers in practice. Usually, the way we practice is we go hard, we practice intensely so that what usually happens in practice usually unfolds in the ball game, so our guys have taken the ball away in practice, so you expect that however you practice, that's how you'll play. I just feel good about us taking the football away."
The Bears recorded a takeaway on defense or special teams in all three of their preseason games, giving Williams a glimpse at what the regular season could look like.
Williams believes the players have bought into the emphasis because of how the coaches teach it. Instead of just telling the team what to do, the coaches explain why it is necessary for success.
"In today's culture, I think it's important to tell the guys why, not just, 'Hey, do this. Do this. Do this,'" Williams said. "But we tell them why and why it's gonna help them, why it's gonna benefit them and why it's gonna benefit the team, and ultimately it benefits us because when you take the football away, the percentages of winning football games go up. And when you win football games, it's good for everybody."
Check out when the Bears will wear each of their five uniform combinations throughout the 2022 season, including four different jerseys and the team's new orange alternate helmet.
Williams pleased with veterans
While linebacker Roquan Smith didn't play at all in the preseason, Williams knows the All-Pro will be ready for the season opener in 10 days. The coordinator expects to see the same player everyone has watched for the last four years.
"Roquan's a good player," Williams said. "He's full speed. He hits. He's physical. He plays fast. He diagnoses plays sometimes faster than I see them. That's what you want. He instills confidence in the guys just by how he plays. I expect to see Roquan Smith and all the things that come with him."
The same expectations go for 12-year veteran Robert Quinn. Williams has high regard for the defensive end, appreciating his quiet yet commanding leadership style. The coordinator said the thing he loves most about Quinn is the way he comes to work everyday still looking to learn something new.
Williams also respects the way Quinn views the new defense. While people outside the team may view this year as a rebuild, neither Williams nor the three-time Pro Bowl selection view it that way. They're both ready to win now.
"Well, I think he looks at it differently. I think we look at it differently," Williams said. "Everyone says a restart. Everyone says young. Everyone says we're not ready to contend. We just, respectfully, we just don't see it that way. We just don't. In his mind and my mind also, he's on a very good football team on a defense that we intend to be great. We won't apologize about it. We won't make excuses about wanting to be great, working to be great. So we may not see it like you see it, and his words to me were—when I said, 'Hey, I'm glad you're here,' he said, 'Coach, I'm glad to be here.' That's kind of how we look at it."
New pieces of defense
After the Bears cut down their roster to 53 players on Tuesday, they made more changes through waivers on Wednesday. Williams added four new players to his group with cornerback Josh Blackwell, defensive end Kingsley Jonathan, defensive tackle Armon Watts and linebacker Sterling Weatherford.
Blackwell signed with Philadelphia in the offseason as an undrafted free agent from Duke. Williams was impressed with Blackwell's speed and football IQ, seeing the rookie as a versatile player.
"He has some familiarity with the defense coming from where he came from," Williams said. "Special-teams wise, we think he can help us, which it's, you talked about complementary football, that's one of three phases that's important for us to win football games. So we'll see how he fits in to the mix. We're not going to pin him into any one position. Today was the first day and we'll see how that goes down the line."
Weatherford is another undrafted free agent—he was waived by the Colts this week. He comes from Miami (Ohio) where he played with Bears fifth-round draft pick Dominique Robinson. Williams believes Weatherford will embody the HITS principle.
"We looked at the tape. He hits and he took the ball away in the preseason also," Williams said. "So if you go, 'Hey, what profile of guys do you bring in?' He fits that profile. And so, we talked to his teammates—Dom was happy that he's here and he said, 'Coach, he's one of our guys', meaning that his DNA is HITS principle DNA. So we're glad we have him."
Roster Moves: The Bears made two roster moves on Friday, signing guard Zachary Thomas to the practice squad and releasing defensive tackle Micah Dew-Treadway.