Bears coaches reflect on team's 5-3 start -- and how they can improve
Discussions earlier this week with Bears assistant coaches revealed some interesting observations as the first-place team prepares for three games in a 12-day span against NFC North opponents, starting with Sunday's Soldier Field meeting with the 3-5 Lions.
1. Wide receivers coach Mike Furrey really appreciates the level of maturity that Allen Robinson brings to the Bears' WR room, even though he's just 25.
"Have you seen my other guys that are in the room?" Furrey said, laughing. "But it's great. We have an awesome room."
The room includes the exuberance of youth, with rookies Anthony Miller and Javon Wims, along with Kevin White (26), Taylor Gabriel (27) and ultra-talkative Josh Bellamy (29), who seems to have an unlimited supply of energy and patter.
"When 'A-Rob' goes out and plays and practices, you're like, 'Wow, that's a leader,'" Furrey said. "And then you've got the other guys like Taylor and 'A-Mill' and 'JB' are so happy and blessed to be here. They're smiling all the time, they're having fun, they're out there dancing, they're energetic. It's a good mix of guys, especially with the experience and the inexperience. (It's) great having them see A-Rob, and say, 'Hey, that's how you practice. I need to try that.'"
Only Wims and Miller are younger than Robinson, but the former Jaguar's businesslike approach and five years' experience make him wise beyond his years.
"He's a professional," Furrey said. "It's his job, so he comes in and gets guys going, whether it's studying film or studying the opponent. He's got that alpha to him where, 'This is our job, and let's go out and do the best that we can at it.' That's a good presence to have."
That professionalism should make it easy for Robinson to pick up where he left off with quarterback Mitch Trubisky, even though he's missed the past two games with a groin injury.
"The biggest thing is trust," Furrey said. "Mitch trusts A-Rob. So he hasn't been there the last couple weeks. It's not like he won't trust him anymore. That's the biggest thing is having that chemistry."
2. Inside Linebackers coach Glenn Pires isn't satisfied with rookie Roquan Smith's play, even though the eighth overall draft pick has 36 tackles and a sack in the past four games.
"He's closing to the ball and finishing plays with his speed," Pires said, "but he's still inconsistent. We're hard on him because he wants to be a perfectionist, and that (hard coaching) is going to be happening all the time. For this team to go where we want to go, it has to be that way, especially at the position he plays, being a leader of our defense."
Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio is of the same mind regarding Smith.
"He played good, but the good news is he's capable of playing better," Fangio said of Smith's 13-tackle performance vs. the Bills.
So, what could he do better?
"Miss no tackles," Fangio said, "and do a better job of being aware in coverage both man-to-man and zone."
3. Defensive backs coach Ed Donatell is a big fan of nickel cornerback Bryce Callahan, who's fourth on the team with 32 tackles and tied for second with 4 pass breakups.
"We love him to death," Donatell said of Callahan, who came into the league as undrafted rookie out of Rice in 2015 but has started 26 games, including seven this year when the Bears opened in nickel. "Any time you're a free-agent, these guys are looked over, just like offensive slot (receivers). Many times they have to fight their way in. But once we got him in here, we knew he had it all. He's got the movement, the body control, the jumping ability, the brain, the quick reaction. He's smooth, athletic, calm -- he's got all that stuff."
4. Outside linebackers coach Brandon Staley believes three-year veteran Leonard Floyd is ready for a breakout after failing to get a sack in the first eight games, the longest drought of his career.
"He's aware of it," Staley said. "They have a lot of pride in their performance. He's practiced really well, he's rushing better, and he's around the quarterback more. We know he can sack the quarterback it's just about finishing.
"He's playing with a lot more confidence in all areas of his game, from the run game to the pass game, to our pass-rush setup," Staley said. "That's one of the hallmarks of a (great) defensive player: 'Are you around the football?' And I think that he has been. We've done a really good job of not giving the quarterbacks clean pockets."
Bears linebacker Khalil Mack (ankle), wide receviers Allen Robinson (groin) and Taylor Gabriel (knee), guard Eric Cush (neck) and tight end Ben Braunecker (concussion) all had full participation in Friday's practice and were removed from the injury report; so all five should play Sunday against the Lions.
Defensive lineman Bilal Nichols (knee) was limited and is questionable. Tight end Dion Sims (concussion) did not practice all week and is out, while safety DeAndre Houston-Carson missed practice with a noninjury issue.
For the Lions, two starters are out: cornerback Darius Slay, who had 2 interceptions in his last game vs. the Bears and has two this season; and guard T.J. Lang. Linebacker Eli Harold, who has 3 sacks, is doubtful. Four players are questionable: defensive end Ziggy Ansah, running back Kerryon Johnson, tight end Luke Wilson and linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin.