For the second straight day, the Bears defense recorded an interception in practice during the 11-on-11 period. On both plays, it was the defensive line that created the takeaway.
On Sunday, tackle Angelo Blackson deflected a pass at the line of scrimmage, and linebacker Nicholas Morrow picked it off. In Saturday's practice, it was tackle Khyiris Tonga who tipped a pass, caught it and ran it in for a touchdown. Both moments created an excited, vocal reaction from the rest of the defense.
"That gets you riled up," defensive end Trevis Gipson said. "It's just really showing all of our hard work is paying off. We've got guys running to the ball, coaches coaching us to put our hands up as the ball is coming out through the gaps. It's just a good result. It gets us riled up and I think we feed off of it."
Those momentum-swinging plays are what coach Matt Eberflus and defensive coordinator Alan Williams have been emphasizing since minicamp with the "HITS" principle. With the coaches preaching full-throttle, relentless effort each play, results are showing in the final practices of training camp.
Gipson appreciates the intensity that Eberflus demands. He sees it paying off in the increased playmaking ability of the defense. Gipson said that type of coaching allows the defense to still have a chance at making a play, even if they don't get to the quarterback.
Creating those takeaway opportunities in practice isn't just exciting for the defense. When the regular season starts, it will give the offense greater confidence on the field and chances to score.
"As a defense, you wanna make plays, but in the grand scheme of things you wanna stay off the field as much as possible," defensive tackle Justin Jones said. "You wanna get three-and-outs, you wanna get takeaways, you wanna get the offense the ball. If the offense can have the ball the whole game, then the defense played a phenomenal game, offense played a phenomenal game. You want them to have the ball as much as they can because the more times they have the ball, the more points they score and the more points the other team doesn't score. That's kind of how everything ties together. It all ties in with special teams too, field position, taking the ball on special teams, getting the offense the ball there too. It all goes hand-in-hand."
Defensive leaders solidifying
The Bears are approaching the final week of the preseason before a two-week preparation period for Week 1 of the regular season. With the defense eager to compete with a different offense and go all out in terms tackling and quarterback pressure, a few players have stepped up to lead the way.
Jones named defensive end Robert Quinn and linebacker Roquan Smith as the definitive leaders of the group. While it's not surprising the pair of veterans are taking on that role, a good chunk of the defense hasn't played with either Quinn or Smith before, making their leadership unique.
Jones, who played four years with the Chargers before coming to Chicago, didn't anticipate Quinn having the humility he does, but it's motivated the tackle to carry himself the same way.
"[Quinn] is a leader, not as vocal, but you can feel his presence when he walks in," Jones said. "He's one of those guys, when he does say something, everybody listens. That's kind of what you want from a guy like that, somebody's who's been respected throughout the league for so many years and made a lot of plays in this league. And he's really humble about it too. That's something I didn't expect coming in here. Really, really, humble man, really grateful. I appreciate having a guy like that in the room because it keeps you humble, keeps you motivated because all he wants to do is get better. Even in his years now, all he wants to do is get better."
Even though Smith wasn't practicing with the team until Saturday, his voice continued to resonate with the defense. Jones said having Smith still fully engaged in practice and meetings was important as he's a player everybody trusts and feels comfortable around.
Gipson, who has played with Smith for two seasons, is happy to have the linebacker out on the field as it gives the defense "another spice." But Smith's lead-by-example mentality is just as important.
"He shows up every day to work on time, never late," Gipson said. "He corrects other guys when they're wrong, holds himself accountable. It's not just what he does for himself, personally, he obviously takes care of himself personally, takes care of his body really well, he's a pro. But also, the things he can pour into his teammates and coaches and everything he can offer for everybody else besides himself. Like I said, that's great leadership, that's knowledge, knowing the game, having those years under his belt, the experience and just helping young guys come along too."
Standard of the offense
While the offensive line battles throughout training camp have created positional rotations, running back David Montgomery hasn't needed to make adjustments. Once the veteran gets the ball, he doesn't pay as much attention to which linemen are in and just focuses on the level of protection. Montgomery hasn't witnessed any drop-offs.
"The standard that we hold for our offense and our team is, if anything was to happen there should be no dropoff between anybody to the next man, to the next man," Montgomery said. "There should not be a dropoff and I firmly believe that. Whoever is up next, I view them the same way and have the same standard. It's the same with every position that's on the team, and coach Flus is big on that as well. Everybody's got to be ready. Every next man has gotta be able to perform at a high level, and that's just how it is. That's part of being a professional."
One of the newer pieces to the line is Teven Jenkins, who has continued to start at right guard. Jenkins has garnered the praise of Eberflus and his teammates, including Montgomery.
The running back said Jenkins has a "controlled chaos" when he's playing. While Jenkins is extremely nice off the field, Montgomery said the guard is "nasty" when it comes to football. But that type of attitude is something Montgomery loves to see.
"Once we start flying around, the bullets really start flying, it gets really live-action, I know that he'll transition from using it here to using it on the game field," Montgomery said. "It has to be infectious. I'm gonna bring it every chance I get, so I try and be infectious. It's gonna be super good to know someone else is gonna have it too."
Montgomery is also excited to see Jenkins prove everybody wrong, saying the second-year lineman has handled the transition to right guard "like a pro." Montgomery is also always hearing Jenkins talking about trying to get better and become the best version of himself. The running back finds that attitude refreshing.
The two also share a common goal: protect Justin Fields. Montgomery is just as focused on pass protection as the offensive linemen are, but it took him some time in his rookie season to learn how to do it the right way.
Montgomery said pass protection is all about confidence and trusting what you see. As a younger player, he was patient with the process while asking questions about the technique and scheme every chance he got.
Now in his fourth NFL season, Montgomery is getting to watch Fields transition from his rookie season. The running back has seen Fields evolve into "what he can be." Montgomery is happy he's a witness to his quarterback's rise, making the protection for Fields much more personal.
"I take pride in protecting my quarterback," Montgomery said. "I don't want Justin to get hit. He don't need it, he don't deserve it. The amount of preparation that Justin goes for, the last thing he needs to worry about is getting hit by anybody."