Chicago Bears defense takes its game, chirping to next level

Bears defensive unit ended last season as one of NFL’s best

Chicago Bears cornerback Jaylon Johnson celebrates with teammates after intercepting a pass during the first half against the Minnesota Vikings, Monday, Nov. 27, 2023, in Minneapolis.

LAKE FOREST – New Bears wide receiver Keenan Allen got his first glimpse at how impressive the team’s defense can be during this week’s minicamp, both during and after a play.

He watched the secondary players flap their hands like birds after almost every incompletion. He saw them run up the sidelines after every big play. He even looked at defensive lineman DeMarcus Walker doing the “griddy” dance right by the offensive huddle.

And he heard them. A lot.

“They look like a top-five defense,” Allen said. “They sound like a top-five defense, too. Defenses are annoying, especially at practice. … So it is what it is. Their energy, the way they communicate, the way they get lined up, definitely high class.”

The defense doesn’t shy away from it, either.

“We’re definitely pretty annoying, for sure,” linebacker T.J. Edwards said. “Especially to the offense. We just like having fun.”

The defense is having fun as it brings back a majority of a group that ended last season as one of the top units in the league. The Bears tied with the San Francisco 49ers to lead the league with 22 interceptions. They also allowed opponents to pass for more than 250 yards in a game only twice after defensive end Montez Sweat made his Bears debut in Week 9 after the team traded for him.

The Bears replaced safety Eddie Jackson with Kevin Byard in the secondary, while Edwards and Tremaine Edmunds return in the middle. Sweat will lead a defensive line the Bears hope will show growth in second-year defensive tackles Zacch Pickens and Gervon Dexter and this year’s fifth-round pick, Austin Booker.

It’s also possible the Bears could add a veteran pass rusher before training camp starts next month.

But there’s more to the yelling and antics than just getting under offensive players’ skin. The Bears want to use all the talking as intimidation. Not only do they want opponents to get worn down by constantly being hit and all 11 players going to the ball, but they also want opponents to question what’s going on with the chirping.

“I feel like it’s intimidating,” cornerback Jaylon Johnson said. “I mean, I feel like it’s one thing to make plays, but I feel like being loud when you’re talking after every play that you really start to see if somebody is going to stand up or if they’re going to fold.”

Bears head coach Matt Eberflus is all for the chirping, to an extent. He said it’ll create a good atmosphere for training camp so both sides, hopefully, can develop to their full potential for the start of the season.

But Eberflus wants the words to follow strong performances, not the other way around.

“It’s been great, it’s been great,” Eberflus said. “I tell players all the time, words are awesome, I love words, I like goals, and I do believe in that. But it comes down to what we do on the grass. It’s got to be shown out there. So I believe in saying it, being confident and all those things, but it’s in the doing, not the talking about it.”

Eberflus and the Bears also hope all the talking will help prepare rookie quarterback Caleb Williams for his first year in the NFL. Bears defensive players said throughout the week that they wanted to give Williams a lot of different coverages during 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills so he’s not caught off guard during the season.

“They look like a top-five defense. They sound like a top-five defense, too. Defenses are annoying, especially at practice. … So it is what it is. Their energy, the way they communicate, the way they get lined up, definitely high class.”

—  Kennan Allen, Chicago Bears wide receiver

That goes with the chirping, too.

“All of that stuff is good to see,” Edwards said. “In the end, he’s our teammate. We want to make it as tough as we can because not only are we going to get better from that, but they will, too. That’ll help during the year, for sure.”

Despite the intimidation factor, Bears defensive players said all the yelling is a way to build off the energy they built at the end of last season. The Bears struggled during the first half of last year because of injuries to Jackson, Johnson, cornerback Kyler Gordon and safety Jaquon Brisker. But once everyone got on the field and Sweat joined the group, the defense reached a different level on and off the field.

They’re ready to take it to another level this year.

“It’s a lot of energy out there for us to have, and I think we can definitely take it up a few notches this year, and we’re going to have a good offense to go against to make us better,” Johnson said. “I think we’re very excited for the opportunity in practice and for this upcoming year.”

Michal Dwojak

Michal Dwojak

Michal is a sports enterprise reporter for Shaw Local, covering the CCL/ESCC for Friday Night Drive and other prep sports for the Northwest Herald. He also is a Chicago Bears contributing writer. He previously was the sports editor for the Glenview Lantern, Northbook Tower and Malibu Surfside News.