Bears coach Matt Eberflus regards himself as a creative guy. When discussing the origin of his "HITS" principle – an acronym standing for Hustle, Intensity, Takeaways and (playing) Smart, Eberflus said he developed the phrasing on his own. But it was former Bears defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli that influenced the idea.
Eberflus and Marinelli started coaching together in 2013 when they were both defensive assistants for the Cowboys. The next year, Marinelli became the defensive coordinator in Dallas. Early on during their time together Eberflus, gravitated towards Marinelli's style of coaching.
"The impact that [Marinelli] had on me, because I would look at his drills and how he did his thing with the defensive line," Eberflus said, "because he was the defensive coordinator and coaching the defensive line at the time, I said, 'well, shoot. This guy is a master coach. I'm going to try to be as good as him and do it his way.'"
Coming up with principles that could be measured was the key. Eberflus wanted to be able to give players feedback on every play and detail right away.
One way Eberflus measures intensity is by the last three yards of a play. He wants to see "an acceleration to and through" the ball followed by "a hamstring tackle." The loaf system is used to evaluate hustle and make sure players are giving their all on every snap. When it comes to takeaways, stripping the ball in particular, Eberflus wants to see that a player is going for the strip on every play and not just once to appease the coach.
According to Eberflus, what makes the system work is coaching the same things every single day while providing detailed feedback. Eberflus was quick to set the standard with the HITS principle when he arrived in Chicago and he now needs to see it play out in games.
"What you'll see is that when you do it [with] offense, defense and kicking, your team will understand the exact standards because everything is on the table," Eberflus said. "You don't hide anything. It's like, 'Oh, the guy didn't make a strip attempt. We'll let that go. No, we're not going to let that go. You have to get a strip attempt there. This is how you're going to do it.' The players have bought into it and we'll see where the buy-in is. We've got to see it. We're only as good as our last performance."
Smith setting the tone
It's been less than a week since linebacker Roquan Smith returned to practice after ending a "hold-in" that was part of a contract impasse, yet he's quickly shown how much of an impact he can make.
While he was in a ramp-up phase for a few days, Smith was a full participant in Tuesday's workout. In the first play of team drills, the linebacker ran right up the middle to deliver a big hit and stop a run play.
In a very short amount of time, Smith has left lasting impressions on teammates who haven't played alongside him before.
"He hits extremely hard," defensive end Al-Quadin Muhammad said. "He definitely had some big hits out there. But more importantly, he's a smart football player. You hear him back out there talking, leading, setting an example. It's awesome."
Cornerback Jaylon Johnson, who has played with Smith for two seasons, said the defense has a "different sense of confidence" when the linebacker is on the field. Smith also brings the unit a sense of security because of his physicality, leadership and football IQ.
Smith's play is also new to Eberflus, but the coach expected the defense's elevation upon the linebacker's return.
"Whenever you increase your talent level on that side of the ball—really any side of the ball—you're gonna see a little difference." Eberflus said. "It's gonna be a little bit different. You certainly felt that. We all felt that. You guys saw it when he was out there ... he's certainly an impactful player. We've said that all along, he's a really good player."
The Bears were back on the fields at Halas Hall Wednesday as they continue to prepare for Saturday's preseason finale against the Browns in Cleveland.
The Bears will play their final preseason game Saturday in Cleveland, giving players one more chance to impress coaches before the start of the regular season.
A position group Eberflus will be eyeing in the game and on tape is the offensive line. While the same five players have been working with the first-team offense in the past week—left tackle Braxton Jones, left guard Cody Whitehair, center Sam Mustipher, right guard Teven Jenkins and right tackle Larry Borom—Eberflus said the competition throughout the unit is still open.
While the quarterback position is one that has been solidified, Eberflus is still eager to see Justin Fields, who has played 28 snaps through two preseason contests, in more game action. On Tuesday, Eberflus said most starters, including Fields, will play until halftime.
"Just poise, execution, running the offense, having command, presence out there, [Fields] doing his thing and then we're just excited to get him more in there, more comfortable," Eberflus said. "He's a young player. This is a big-game experience for him that he's gonna have prior to the start of the season, and he's excited about it. He's excited about getting out there and doing it."
For some players, Saturday's game will be a deciding factor when it comes to roster cuts next week. All NFL teams will need to get to the 53-man roster requirement by 3 p.m. (CT) on Tuesday.
"I always feel for those guys," Eberflus said. "I always say, 'hey, put your best foot forward and apply what you learned. If this is the last football for you, apply what you learned in the game of football and when you were here, maybe we imparted some wisdom to you, and use that in life. Use that going forward in your relationships. Use that going forward in your business and the rest of the way you go.' That's my message to them. It's always difficult because you build a relationship with those guys and it's always difficult to say goodbye."