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Time for Bears to focus on mental aspect of opener

Bears coach Matt Eberflus
Bears coach Matt Eberflus

Aside from a walkthrough on Saturday, the week of practice is finished for the Bears, and the next task is opening the season against the 49ers.

Coach Matt Eberflus was pleased with the operation heading into his team's first real game week, but now the players must turn their attention to the mental prep for Sunday.

"We're entering into this 48-hour preparation side of it right now where most of the physical work is done and we're entering into the mental phase of it, and that's a big part for our football program," Eberflus said Friday. "Guys executed that a couple weeks ago and now we're executing it in the season, and what that really entails is what do they do? They go through their assignments, they go through the plays on offense, go through the calls on defense and they just review their assignments and they're really just visualizing themselves in the play. And it takes a lot of mental time to go through all of that, to make sure you're all squared away with your assignments – alignment, assignment, key and technique like we always say. It's a big part of it and those guys are excited to get that going."

As a first-time head coach, Eberflus is preparing for Sunday in new ways as well. The emphasis for him is blocking out the negativity. 

While the Bears are ranked near the bottom of most power rankings, those predictions aren't something Eberflus uses for motivation or talks to his team about. He believes the preseason predictions about records and expectations for teams are typically wrong. 

Eberflus has stressed to his players the importance of focusing on themselves and what they're building at Halas Hall. 

"In today's age, everybody looks at everything. It's part of our life now," Eberflus said. "You understand, you put that in a bucket, it's an opinion of somebody's or it isn't fact. We write our own story. I told the guys that all the time — we're writing our own book. And then we do it one game at a time. And then you can micro it down to each play. Every game, individual players write their own book. They go, play 1, alignment, assignment, key, technique, execution, production — did you get it done? Turn the page, play No. 2, and that's the cycle of the snap. That's what we've gotta do as a football team and as individuals."

Eberflus has watched the Bears consistently progress and elevate since he was hired late in January. The gradual improvement is exactly what the coach wanted. Rather than rushing the process, he has focused on laying the groundwork for long-term success.

Seeing the players buy into his "HITS" principle and executing those fundamentals of hustle, intensity, takeaways and (playing) smart, Eberflus is confident in the team's readiness for Week 1.

"I feel that we're in a good spot," Eberflus said. "We've built a lot of good things over the course of these seven months. We're in a good place for where we're building this. Our foundation is starting to settle in. Of course, that's going to take a while. You don't just build a foundation and start building on top of it right away. We're still building a foundation and we're going to put it on display on Sunday."

As Eberflus has prepared for his head coaching debut, he's leaned on some of his mentors like Alabama coach Nick Saban and former University of Toledo coach Gary Pinkel. Both coaches have told Eberflus to focus on being himself, stay honest in the relationships he's built and listen to his instincts.

The emotions leading up to that first game for Eberflus have been the same as his players: confident, ready and focused. He expressed gratitude for the coaches and support stuff alongside him, praising everyone's level of preparation.

One of Eberflus' final tasks before Sunday will be addressing the team Saturday night. He plans to continue preaching the importance of the team focusing on its own gameplan and principles rather than who the opponent is.

"To me, it's about us," Eberflus said. "It's about what we've done to this point and we're really going to focus on us. I know you obviously have to focus on the great players that San Francisco has and how you are going to limit them and do the best you can that way, but this all comes down to us. It's about us building a foundation. It's about us really going out there and executing the gameplan and play aggressive, clean, smart football and that's what we want to do."