Bears coach Matt Eberflus on Caleb Williams, Keenan Allen and D’Andre Swift


ORLANDO — Chicago Bears coach Matt Eberflus wanted to learn a few things about quarterback Caleb Williams during a few days in Los Angeles.

Near the bottom of the list was Williams’ physical skills. Eberflus can see those on tape. So can general manager Ryan Poles and the Bears’ scouts who have watched Williams’ games in person. Pro days and visits are about getting to know Williams the person.

But that doesn’t mean that Eberflus couldn’t use Williams’ throwing session to affirm one thing.

“The biggest takeaway is that you can see the arm talent on the film and you can see it there in person,” he said.

Often, you hear scouts and coaches discuss wanting to see how a ball comes out of a quarterback’s hand. Eberflus, who is nothing if not a football technician, is the type of coach who could appreciate seeing it up close.

Like Poles, Eberflus didn’t shy away from talking about Williams, the expected top pick in April’s draft. He also spent his time with the media at the league meetings discussing a few of the newest Bears. Here are seven takeaways from our conversation with the Bears’ head coach.

1. Early start to the season

The league announced Tuesday that the Bears will play in the annual Hall of Fame Game in Canton, Ohio. The opening preseason game will be Thursday, Aug. 1.

With Bears legends Steve McMichael and Devin Hester, along with Julius Peppers, entering the Hall of Fame, it was no surprise the league wanted the Bears to kick off the 2024 preseason. They’ll play the Houston Texans.

An extra preseason game means an extra week of training camp. Eberflus said the team’s mandatory veteran minicamp will be the first week of June to let those players get to their summer break sooner, then the rookies will get one more week of OTAs before their vacation. The start of camp will be focused on conditioning, but Eberflus referred to it as a “bonus” to get four extra days.

The Bears last played in the Hall of Fame Game in 2018 when linebacker Brian Urlacher was inducted.

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2. Home run Swift

Running back D’Andre Swift’s ability to create big plays appealed to Eberflus, helping make Swift the first priority when free agency opened.

“We just felt that we wanted a home run hitter there,” he said. “I think D’Andre brings that. We wanted a weapon back — a guy who could be a weapon out of the backfield. … He’s got tremendous speed. You can feel that when he is running the football, but you can definitely feel that as a pass catcher.

“I know that in situational football it’s very difficult to be able to have the two guys outside covered, two tight ends covered, and then you’ve got another situation where you have the weapon back inside. So that was critical.”

3. Needs on the D-line

Eberflus didn’t limit the Bears’ focus to adding a defensive end this offseason, but he again emphasized what an impactful defensive tackle can mean for his defense.

“You look at who affects the quarterback the most, I would also argue that the inside piece is also something that we should be looking at, and it’s important that we do that,” he said. “Direct line to the quarterback. When they max protect, it’s a soft spot in the protection.”

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It’s as if Eberflus wanted to remind the mock drafters to remember interior defensive linemen.

Eberflus has previously referred to the three-technique as the “engine” of his scheme. Justin Jones, who manned it the past two seasons, signed with the Arizona Cardinals. Is Gervon Dexter ready for a bigger role?

“I always say that the biggest jump for players is typically between the second half of the rookie season into their second year because it’s not new anymore,” Eberflus said. “They understand the rhythm of the training camp, the offseason training camp into season and they’ve had a chance to really go through the process of what works best for them. So we’ll see a big jump with (Dexter) and (Zacch) Pickens and we’re excited about both those guys.”

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The Bears are excited about what wide receiver Keenan Allen can do in critical situations. (Patrick McDermott / Getty Images)

4. Allen’s value

When wide receiver Keenan Allen showed up to Williams’ pro day, he hoped no one would notice him.

“You’re in Bears gear and you’ve got your Keenan Allen beard sticking out,” Eberflus told him. “I don’t know if you’re pulling that off right now.”

Allen’s residence in L.A. made it easy for him to stop by and watch Williams, which impressed Eberflus. But what the head coach really likes is what Allen will bring to the team’s situational offense.

“When you’ve got to have a play, he can make that play,” Eberflus said. “He’s been great on third down, great in two-minute, great in critical situations. He’s a disciplined and just a fast route runner and he has the ability to be open and stay open with his body, so he understands how to do that.”

Against Eberflus’ Colts defense in 2019, Allen had eight catches for 123 yards and a touchdown. Last season, when the Bears traveled to face the Chargers, Allen caught eight passes for 69 yards.

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5. Ballhawk Byard

The free-agent addition Eberflus talked about first was safety Kevin Byard.

“Kevin being back there at the safety position is gonna be big for our secondary,” he said. “Obviously the loss of Eddie (Jackson) with the communication skills and playmaking skills back there are gonna be really good with Kevin back there. He’s been a ballhawk guy — he’s had 28 interceptions in his career.”

Eberflus said safety Jaquan Brisker has organized workouts with fellow defensive backs in California, and Byard joined.

“Smart. Experienced. Very good communicator. And ballhawk,” Eberflus said. “To me, those things are what you’re looking for. He’s got great range, he’s still got really good speed. I know those guys are getting together out in California as we speak. … It’s exciting to get that relationship going and those guys are working towards that.”

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6. Prioritizing center

After the season, Eberflus downplayed the importance of having a rookie quarterback work with an experienced center.

But Justin Fields was still on the team then. Hypotheticals were a little more difficult for the coach to hash out. Now, with Ryan Bates in the fold, Eberflus discussed what he liked about that acquisition.

“Very important for a young quarterback to have that center experience,” he said. “To be able to call and make adjustments to the protections, to help and assist that way. We thought it was critical to get that piece and Ryan (Bates) fits that bill and we’re excited to have him. He’s been a pro a long time and he’s moved along the line inside there at guard and center, so it’s good to have the position (flexibility) as well.”

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7. What Brown can do for the Bears

As the Bears rebuilt their offensive coaching staff, Eberflus was pleased to be able to hire Thomas Brown, a sought-after offensive coordinator candidate who is now the Bears’ passing game coordinator.

An added benefit? Brown worked with last year’s No. 1 pick, Bryce Young. He’ll have a good sense of what works — and what doesn’t.

“His experience with Bryce is something that we leaned on in terms of taking a quarterback with the first pick and all that,” Eberflus said. “It’s important that we got the information from him of what his process was with Bryce. So we can learn and adjust from that process.”

Eberflus wants to make sure Brown, offensive coordinator Shane Waldron and offensive line coach Chris Morgan are constantly talking so that the three leaders of that side of the ball are on the same page. He has said that was something missing with the previous staff.

“It’s important that those guys are always working in lockstep together in the protection, in the pass game, in the run game to make sure this is effective,” he said.

(Top photo: Nathan Ray Seebeck / USA Today)





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