Defensive coordinator Alan Williams opened his Thursday press conference by expressing appreciation to defensive end Robert Quinn. On Wednesday, the Bears agreed to trade Quinn to the Eagles, pending a physical, in exchange for a 2023 fourth-round draft pick.
"I'd like to thank Robert Quinn for all that he meant to our defense, all that he meant to the Chicago Bears and really specifically all that he meant to me," Williams said. "Whenever you come in as a new coach, new coordinator to have one of the older guys be on board and to echo your messages and to echo it in the locker room and on the practice field, that's a big deal—and on top of the person Robert was around the building and the times we just sat down and chopped it up and talked. So, I wish him well. I hope he continues to have a ton of success, and if more people were like Robert, it would be a much better place professionally and personally."
While linebacker Roquan Smith was visibly emotional in his press conference Wednesday after being asked about Quinn, Williams believes players expressing their emotions about the veteran's departure is "a good thing."
"Some people say it's a business, but I say it's a people business," Williams said. "And then I read, 'how do you take your emotions out of it?' I say you don't. You let your emotions show so when you lose someone that you're close to, you show them emotion and it happens where in the NFL and really in any job where people come and people go, there's a change of guard so to speak. You let your emotions flow, you wish them well and it's not business as usual. I hate that word where you go, 'Hey, it's business as usual.' No, it's not. We still have a job to do, but we do still, we're gonna miss him on a personal level and a professional level."
Defensive ends Trevis Gipson, Dominique Robinson and Kingsley Jonathan all voiced their respect and admiration for Quinn Thursday, noting how much they constantly learned from the vet. Gipson said Quinn taught him "a lot of tips and tendencies" along with "how to go about my business and mental stability."
When general manager Ryan Poles addressed the media Wednesday after the trade was announced, he expressed confidence in the younger defensive ends to keep the d-line steady. With sixth-year end Al-Quadin Muhammad starting all seven games opposite Quinn, the Bears will look to Gipson, Robinson and Jonathan to step up.
"It's a big opportunity," Robinson said. "It's been like this since college almost. It's the next man up. You never know when your opportunity is going to come. We've got some shoes to fill, but I think the higher-ups felt comfortable with us taking over, so we've got to put on now."
Williams is excited about the new opportunity for the young defensive ends but won't "shove anyone into that position." Instead, he will let a leader emerge organically.
"Well, I told the guys yesterday that they don't have to be Robert," Williams said. "I still want them to be themselves. There is a void, but I'll just wait and see who fills that void naturally. As a coach you don't want to push guys into being or doing something that they are not comfortable with or are not capable of. So, ultimately there is a void and ultimately someone will step up. So, we'll just see who that missing piece is."
Gipson, a third-year pro, has earned the most playing time among the backup defensive ends, taking nearly 44% of the defensive snaps this season.
Through seven weeks, Gipson has recorded 11 tackles, six quarterback hits and two sacks and will now get the chance to slide into a starting role.
"It is an opportunity," Gipson said. "I'm just grateful for it. I always play and leave it all on the field. Just keep being relentless, giving relentless effort and making the best out of the opportunity."
Robinson has also been effective for the Bears, playing 37.5 percent of the defensive snaps while tallying 12 tackles, two quarterback hits and 1.5 sacks. Jonathan has appeared in two games and recorded a pair of tackles against Green Bay.
Quinn's production in his third season with the Bears didn't fill up the stat sheet like previous years -- eight tackles, two tackles-for-loss and one sack – but Williams said he "was still having a positive effect on the defense."
While the loss of Quinn will leave a hole, the players remain confident in their unit as they've been rotating throughout the season in practice, giving everyone plenty of experience.
"We're all a team; we're all brothers, rush as one, run as one," Jonathan said. "So, we don't think about it as just one person stepping up to fill the void, we're all stepping up and even the guys coming in and the guys already in there just helping each other out, cover for each other, you know if someone goes inside, cover for him talk to each other out there and keep doing what we're doing out here."