Bears are buying in to Matt Eberflus' HITS principle

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LAKE FOREST, Ill. (670 The Score) -- At first, Bears cornerback Jaylon Johnson admitted he didn’t buy in to the HITS principle. He kept hearing about it from new coach Matt Eberflus and his staff, but the meaning didn’t resonate.

“It was just something that I wasn’t familiar with, something I wasn’t used to doing," Johnson said. "So, naturally there’s going to be some back-and-forth.

“Now, it’s becoming second nature.”

With less than three weeks until the Bears kick off their first regular season led by Eberflus, the players are starting to sound like the coaches. They’re preaching the HITS principle constantly.

Hustle. Intensity. Takeaways. Smart play. The Bears have are buying in, and it’s clear in their work.

After the Bears played their preseason opener Aug. 13 at Soldier Field, they returned a couple days later to Halas Hall for a harsh film session. The coaches were critical of the effort. Players found that their grades from that game included more “loafs” than they were anticipating, meaning the effort could be improved.

“It was an eye opener for me after that Kansas City game, getting back that grade sheet,” Bears center Sam Mustipher said. “I’m a guy who prides myself on going to pick up the ball-carrier, but I had loafs on the sheet. That’s something I’m not used to. I went back throughout the week, like, ‘Shoot, I got to practice harder.’ Because if you don’t practice hard, you’re not going to be able to do it in the game.

“Most of it is mental. The mind is definitely going to go before the body goes. It’s really as hard as you want to play, as hard as you want to push yourself, and do it day in and day out in practice.”

The Bears worked to improve on their goals against the Seahawks on Thursday in their second of three preseason games. On offense, linemen were finishing their blocks and picking up the ball-carrier. On defense, the Bears were flying to the football and completing the play. Whether it was a key starter or a player fighting to make the roster, the concept was clear.

“Their team effort was impressive top to bottom,” said ESPN analyst Dan Orlovsky, who worked in the broadcast booth for that game, which the Bears won 27-11.

The Bears believe their commitment to Eberflus’ HITS principle will pay off this season – that playing smart will help sustain a drive on offense or force a punt on defense, that hustling through to finish a play will result in a game-changing takeaway, that putting in the conditioning work in the heat of August will lead them to outlast teams in the cold of December.

Eberflus has preached the HITS principle since he arrived in Chicago in January. Players feel the differences in their personal endurance. They keep putting in the effort in practice with hopes of what’s to come each game.

“It’s the standard,” Johnson said. “And as a leader, I have to push myself to push other guys, to uphold that standard. I’m definitely used to it now. It’s natural. It’s what the expectation is.”

Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for 670TheScore.com. Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670.

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