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Quick Hits: Billings displaying quickness, playmaking ability

Bears defensive tackle Andrew Billings
Bears defensive tackle Andrew Billings

As he's been doing throughout training camp, Bears defensive tackle Andrew Billings spent quality time in the offensive backfield during Sunday's Family Fest practice at Soldier Field.

The six-year NFL veteran, who signed with the Bears in March, flashed in 11-on-11 drills, pressuring quarterback PJ Walker on one play and penetrating into the backfield to stuff a run on another.

Coach Matt Eberflus praised Billings for transforming his body during the summer with the assistance of Bears Clyde Emrich director of high performance Brent Salazar and head strength and conditioning coach Jim Arthur.

"I'm just excited about what 'Big Bill' did with changing his body over the summer," Eberflus said. "You could see the quickness. I always knew he was strong at the point. I saw that on tape when I watched him with opponents. But he's really got good quickness, his initial quickness.

"He's got a quick set of hands. When you play that nose tackle position, your hands have to move from the ground to the man super fast. It's got to be elite, and he does a really good job with that. And he's got the foot quickness to be able to stay where he needs to stay."

Billings joined the Bears after appearing in 67 NFL games with 51 starts over five seasons with the Bengals (2017-19), Browns (2021) and Raiders (2022). Last year he started all 14 contests he played with Las Vegas, compiling a career-high 39 tackles with one sack and three tackles-for-loss.

With his presence inside, the Bears expect Billings to help improve a run defense that struggled last season.

"I had two good [defensive tackles] when I was the defensive coordinator [with the Colts] and it makes a world of difference," Eberflus said. "If you're able to keep your gap and dominate inside with two tackles, there's really not a lot of work for others to do. That's where you want to dominate when it comes to the middle of your defense."

Good operation: Having rebounded since being outplayed by the defense last Wednesday, the offense again executed at a high level Sunday.

Justin Fields was particularly sharp on completions to DJ Moore on a deep crossing route in a two-minute drill and in the back of the end zone for a touchdown in red-zone work. Fields also connected several times with receivers Chase Claypool and Darnell Mooney and tight end Cole Kmet.

"Today it was good," Eberflus said. "There's a lot of good operation there. I love the connections that we made with DJ and Clay. There were some really good connections there. And I like the way some of the runners were running. I think we've been doing a good job of running the football during camp so far. And really the screen game has really picked up. We're doing a good job with all types of screens, and that's starting to pay off for us. I'm excited about that too."

Stepping up: A highlight on defense Sunday was provided by cornerback Jaylon Johnson, who stretched across his body to intercept a Fields pass intended for Claypool in the end zone during a red-zone drill.

Cornerback Josh Blackwell also stood out at Family Fest, intercepting a Walker pass over the middle to end a two-minute drill and producing what would have been a sack of Walker on a well-timed blitz.

Quick and athletic: Rookie right tackle Darnell Wright, a first-round pick from Tennessee, continues to impress while working with the starting offensive line.

"He is exactly what we thought he was in terms of being an athlete," Eberflus said. "If you watch his one-on-one pass rush, he's able to really set quickly with his quickness, keep his balance, stay square to the line of scrimmage, not shoot his hands too early, be patient at the top. And he can mirror and stay in front of guys.

"If guys want to go on the outside, he can ride them by [the quarterback]. If they want to do out-in-out or in-out-in, he does a great job working them down to the center, staying square and smashing them down that way.

"Where he's got to improve is at the end of practice and when we stack these plays up—because we do eight, nine, 10 plays in a row where we have those long drives—[he's] just got to be consistent. And that's for any rookie. That's what rookies go through. They work it. They can go four, five and then all of a sudden, something happens. You've got to maintain that mental stamina as well as the physical stamina."

Going long: Another rookie, second-round cornerback Tyrique Stevenson, also has turned heads this summer, taking advantage of his lanky 6-foot, 204-pound frame.

"He's a long player," Eberflus said. "He's got long levers and that's enabled him to really do a good job on the line of scrimmage. It also enables him to do a good job at the catch point because he can work that. He's got really good poise at that catch point. A lot of times rookies get to the point of no return where the ball's there and they're there and a lot of times they panic and grab. He doesn't have that. He's very poised."

Good atmosphere: Eberflus enjoyed conducting practice at the Bears' home stadium.

"Certainly nice to get back to Soldier Field," he said. "Also really wanted to thank the fans for coming out to Family Fest today. Good atmosphere out there. The players really enjoyed it. A change in atmosphere after nine practices—this being No. 10—that was real good."

The Bears welcomed fans back to Soldier Field on Sunday for Meijer Family Fest, which was highlighted by the team taking the field for practice.

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