New Bears OC Waldron steps up to mic, but doesn’t drop any QB plans

For the first time since they were hired last month, the Bears’ two new coordinators met with members of the media on Thursday at Halas Hall.

Offensive coordinator Shane Waldron and defensive coordinator Eric Washington each took a turn at the podium after an introduction from coach Matt Eberflus. Waldron comes to Chicago following three years as the offensive coordinator for the Seattle Seahawks. Washington spent the past four years as the defensive line coach for the Buffalo Bills.

Here’s what we learned from both of the new coordinators.

The QB discussion

As expected, Waldron didn’t say anything notable about quarterback Justin Fields or potential top draft pick Caleb Williams. The Bears are in the midst of a huge off-season with a tough decision to make at quarterback. Waldron didn’t weigh in on the matter in any meaningful way.

He did, however, say that he believes his offensive scheme can thrive with any quarterback.

“I totally believe that,” Waldron said.

Waldron coached with Sean McVay for half a decade. His offense in Seattle ran similar concepts to what McVay traditionally has run with the Rams. The Bears will continue to run a wide-zone blocking scheme with a run-first approach. Waldron had a lot of success with the scheme while Geno Smith was at quarterback the past two seasons in Seattle.

“I felt different quarterbacks have been able to step foot into the system, be able to learn it quickly,” Waldron said. “That starts with us being able to teach it in a good and efficient manner where they understand it and then being able to go, and again, just because each guy’s going to have a different skill set, so what direction does it go? The players really take ownership and control of that.”

Waldron said Smith’s success began with his mindset. Even when Smith was the backup to Russell Wilson, Smith believed he was an NFL starting quarterback.

“It all starts with how well you’re getting to know these guys,” Waldron said. “What’s the relationship like with them?”

An experienced playcaller

The Bears wanted an offensive coordinator with playcalling experience. That’s what they found in Waldron. When his predecessor Luke Getsy took the job, Getsy had no previous experience calling plays.

Waldron believes a big part of playcalling is developing a feel for the game. The past three seasons in Seattle have allowed him to do that.

“You don’t know until you do it and then, once you’ve done it, been exposed to it, I think it’s all about reps,” Waldron said. “Just like it’s no different for a player. You know, the more reps you accumulate, the more situations that are put in front of you, the more and more natural it becomes to react with a positive decision in those scenarios.”

The Seahawks won six games on game-winning drives in the fourth quarter last season. They did it five times with Smith and once with backup Drew Lock at quarterback.

“The calmness of the playcaller in those scenarios,” Waldron said. “Taking the information in from all of the other coaches. Everything is always going to be a collaborative effort in those regards.”

In two years with Getsy at offensive coordinator, the Bears were 3-13 in one-possession games.

Everything but calling plays

Buffalo Bills assistant head coach/ defensive line Eric Washington talks to his players during an NFL preseason football game against the Chicago Bears Saturday, Aug. 26, 2023, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast) AP

Eberflus confirmed that he will continue to call plays for the defense. The Bears found a groove during the second half of the season with Eberflus calling the plays. It makes sense that the Bears wouldn’t want to change that.

But Washington will still have a huge role in what happens on defense.

“I will do everything the coordinator is doing without actually calling the defense,” Washington said. “And if [Eberflus] needs to hand that responsibility off to me temporarily or for a snap or two, [I’ll] be ready to follow up and take that role on and make sure we continue to move forward in the direction that we want to go in.”

Washington and Eberflus have never been on the same coaching staff, but they got to know each other during off-season events on the NFL calendar. There has always been mutual respect. Washington was a coordinator once before with the Carolina Panthers (2018-19). He noted that he hopes to call plays for a defense again in the future.

Even so, he understands that the Bears have “an outstanding playcaller” in Eberflus.

“We saw the effect that that had on our team last year, especially going down the stretch,” Washington said. “We want to continue that. We don’t want to stymie that momentum.”

Building a top pass rush

When he saw the Bears defense on tape, Washington saw many elements that make a defense elite. Most notable were the takeaways in 2023 — 28 of them, including a league-leading 22 interceptions. The Bears were the No. 1-ranked run defense. They made teams one-dimensional.

What defensive coach wouldn’t want to be a part of that? But Washington has his sights set high.

“We’re going to build the best pass rush in football,” Washington said. “That happens to be an area, fortunately, an area that I’ve had tremendous success with and we have the personnel to get that done. We’ve got size, speed, quickness, length [and] Montez.”

Montez being a key component. The Bears defense made great strides after adding defensive end Montez Sweat at the trade deadline last year.

Washington helped build an elite pass rush when he was a defensive assistant for the Bears from 2008-10. He coached the Carolina defensive line when things were rolling during the Cam Newton era. He has coached this current Bills defensive line. The Bears defensive line should be in good hands with him.

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