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Edmunds, Edwards continue to build on instant connection

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Fresh off their free agency signings with the Bears, linebackers Tremaine Edmunds and T.J. Edwards first crossed paths March 16 at Halas Hall. As two of the club's most prominent offseason acquisitions, the pair were in and out of interviews and photoshoots, meeting with countless staff and football personnel as well as new coaches and teammates.

As first-time free agents in 2023, Edmunds and Edwards were experiencing many "firsts" just feet away from each other, despite having not shared more than a "hey, man" or a "what's up?" and a handshake.

Still, Edmunds "definitely felt a connection" with Edwards.

"When I saw him, I felt his energy," Edmunds told ChicagoBears.com. "He was obviously someone that I saw from afar, been a big fan of his game."

Later that afternoon, the linebackers had a chance to sit down together and filmed an episode of "Sippin' with Screeden."

Edmunds and Edwards chatted before, during and after the show, fostering a relationship that has culminated in the duo emerging as key playmakers on the Bears defense.

"When I finally sat down and had a conversation with him, we just connected," Edmunds said. "I knew it would be something special."

Nine months after that first conversation, Edmunds and Edwards are helping lead the defense during its recent ascension, which includes the team securing back-to-back wins and victories in three of its last four contests.

In the last three games, the defense has allowed an average of just 18 points and held its opponent to 13 or fewer points in two of those contests. Through those three games, the group has also recorded 11 takeaways; Edwards and Edmunds have combined for five of those.

"I think anytime you speak of having an impactful defense, it starts with taking the football away," Edmunds said. "Each game, we talk about winning the takeaway margin and that equates to a big part of winning. If we continue to do that – not just the linebackers – continuously as a defense, the sky is the limit of really how good we can be."

Both linebackers are experiencing career-best seasons in terms of takeaways. Edmunds has a career-high three interceptions, with two of those coming in the last three games; he has also accounted for a forced fumble and fumble recovery this season.

Edwards has hit career-highs in interceptions and fumble recoveries in his fifth NFL season, recording a pair of each as well as a forced fumble. While performing at the top of his game as a ballhawk, the Chicago area native is rarely off the field, playing 97 percent of the defensive snaps, which is another career-high.

"I think at linebacker, your job is to be at the ball, whether it's run or pass," Edwards said. "So that's something I pride myself on, is just getting to the ball and good things are happening. I've caught a couple, honestly, tipped passes just from hustling to the ball and being in the right spot. I feel like I'm starting to understand what exactly my job is in this defense and where I'm fitting, and that helps me a lot, but just playing with a confidence of wanting to go make a play.

"It's easy to get caught in the trap of wanting to make a mistake. Now I feel like I'm past that point. I'm able to just go let it be free because I know it like the back of my hand."

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That increase in takeaways from both Edmunds and Edwards is mostly attributed to the entire defense finding its identity and experiencing a growth in chemistry. It's also a result of the duo's commitment to bettering each other every day since arriving in Chicago together.

"We're at a point to where I feel like we hold each other accountable really well, and that's something that you want," Edwards said. "You want someone to tell you when you're doing something that maybe you shouldn't, or if you see something one way and they don't, try to find a balance there.

"And I think it happens on the practice field a lot more than the game field. If we see each other maybe not hustling the way we should, it's a simple 'let's get to the ball, it's time to go,' and we both know what that means."

Edmunds added he and Edwards have found ways to grow together this season "whether that's through pains or through successes." In both instances, the linebackers always gravitate toward each other and have open conversations about things that worked or didn't work and how they can learn from them. Edmunds said those moments "get you far instead of brushing it off to the side."

Their competitive drive to always find a way to improve has spread throughout the defense. Linebackers coach Dave Borgonzi said the position group is currently in a takeaway competition as turnovers are "the formula to win games."

Borgonzi has also had a front row seat to the developed connection between Edmunds and Edwards, which has helped elevate the entire unit.

"They're really close," Borgonzi said. "Really the whole group is close, and then Tremaine and T.J., coming from different places last year, the bond really started when they got here. It is really their love for football. They love competing. They love practicing. They love getting ready for the games, and they are competitive with each other, which really works for the whole room."

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Takeaways are the most prominent highlights of Edmunds' and Edwards' seasons, but their contributions to helping improve the Bears run defense has been on display all year.

The Bears currently have the second-best run defense in the league, allowing an average of 83.7 yards per game, behind only the San Francisco 49ers, whose opponents average 78.3 yards per game. The Bears have also only given up seven rushing touchdowns, which is tied for fourth fewest in the league.

Along with the defensive line, which was bolstered by the addition of defensive end Montez Sweat on Oct. 31, Edwards and Edmunds have been key in stopping the run thanks to their instinctual and physical nature. Entering Week 15, the two linebackers are leading the team in tackles — Edwards with 129 and Edmunds with 84 — and have a combined 12 tackles-for-loss.

While the journey for Edmunds and Edwards in the middle of the Bears defense is just at its starting point, the pair are excited for their future together, both this season and beyond.

Enduring the same experiences throughout this past year – dating back to free agency – has allowed Edmunds and Edwards to become leaders in the locker room and find value in playing beside each other.

"Having that confidence and having that trust knowing that my brother is also going through the same thing obviously gives you that extra push to not let anyone down," Edmunds said. "That's my mindset and that's the mindset of the guys on the defense, and I think when guys feel that way, it's easier to overcome those things because you know you're going to war with guys who think the same as you, guys that are bought in the same way as you are. Anytime you have that dynamic, it's important and it's a big help to ultimately [what you] want to accomplish and that's to win."

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