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Bears defense playing with tenacity, energy

Bears linebacker T.J. Edwards
Bears linebacker T.J. Edwards

WESTFIELD, Ind. – It's still only mid-August, but it appears—at least at this juncture—that the Bears defense is beginning to restore its roar.

As it has done throughout training camp, the unit displayed tenacity, high energy and play-making ability in two joint practices with the Colts Wednesday and Thursday. After generating four takeaways and eight sacks in last Saturday's preseason-opening win over the Titans, the defense continued to excel in those areas in the workouts with Indianapolis.

Linebacker T.J. Edwards—one of several key offseason additions—believes that the trip to central Indiana has intensified the hunger that already existed on defense.

"I feel like we go out there every day [and] no one's complacent about a thing," Edwards said. "No one's satisfied with what happened the day before. You wake up, we've got the music going in the hotel, everyone's jumping around. So it's a great environment to be around, and it honestly makes you want to play better for the guy next to you, so it's encouraging."

In addition to Edwards, the Bears also signed middle linebacker Tremaine Edmunds, defensive ends Yannick Ngakoue and DeMarcus Walker and defensive tackle Andrew Billings in free agency; and selected defensive tackles Gervon Dexter Sr. and Zacch Pickens, linebacker Noah Sewell, and cornerbacks Tyrique Stevenson and Terell Smith in the draft.

The newcomers have joined key returnees in defensive tackle Justin Jones, linebacker Jack Sanborn, cornerback Jaylon Johnson, nickel back Kyler Gordon and safeties Eddie Jackson and Jaquan Brisker.

"We've got a bunch of leaders," Gordon said. "Everyone's going to do their part. Everyone's got a different role on our defense. We all bounce off each other and just create that energy. We're all going to be out there making big plays, and we just keep going back and forth. I love it. It feels good to be on this defense."

The defense has performed well minus some key starters in Edmunds, Jackson and Brisker. But their injuries aren't considered serious, so it's seemingly only a matter of time before the entire unit is back intact.

"Man, I just want to see all the gangsters together, you know what I'm saying?" said Walker, who is still in ramp-up mode after returning from an injury himself. "I want to see all the gangsters together—with everybody healthy and everybody of one mind. One team. One defense."

The Bears and Colts were back on the fields at the Grand Park Sports Complex in Westfield, Ind. Thursday evening for the second and final joint practice with the two teams before Saturday night's preseason game in Indianapolis.

A two-time Pro Bowler with the Bills, Edmunds was signed to anchor the defense and provide veteran leadership. Despite not being able to practice, the sixth-year pro has been participating in walk-throughs and meetings.

"I don't worry about it at all," Edwards said. "He's a really good football player and I firmly trust that, so I'm excited for him to get back whenever that is, but he'll be ready to go and he won't miss a beat."

Coach Matt Eberflus conceded that it's difficult to judge how much progress the defense has made with some important pieces sidelined.

"You're really looking at individual techniques right now, honestly, because you don't really have the gel of the continuity yet because you're missing your 'Mike' linebacker," Eberflus said. "We need to get those guys back shortly and we're hopeful of that, and we need to get the communication here with 6 (Gordon) and 49 (Edmunds) and 4 (Jackson) and 53 (Edwards)—the guys that are running the defense—and making sure we're squared away down-in and down-out.

"Like I said previously in the week, we're getting that work in walk-throughs, which is outstanding. We get a ton of walk-throughs, so I'm excited to see where that progresses to this week coming up and in the future."

Edwards agrees that having his injured teammates by his side during walk-throughs and meetings has been invaluable.

"We're getting that time with them of communication," Edwards said. "It's kind of what you want; it's just making sure we're all on the same page and we're getting those reps still. And they're doing a great job of staying in shape. To me, I don't think we'll miss a beat when everyone gets back.

"It's more time where these young guys get to develop, and we get to see kind of where we're at with that. They're there every step of the way. Me and [Edmunds] are talking every single day about what we see and how we want to play things, so it's been good."