The Chicago Bears wrapped up their offseason program with a short practice Thursday morning at Halas Hall.
Bears coach Matt Eberflus talked with the players beforehand about his expectations for their downtime over the next six weeks, saying he wants them to spend time with family, be safe and mindful and get their bodies ready for training camp.
“Training camp’s not to get in shape. You should already be in shape,” said Eberflus, who expects to spend time with his family, read, play golf and reflect on potential challenges in the season ahead.
Here are three other things we learned as the Bears head into their break.
1. All Bears players wore No. 41 at practice to honor the late Brian Piccolo.
The practice fields at Halas Hall were a sea of navy, white and orange No. 41 jerseys as the Bears remembered Piccolo, who died of cancer 52 years ago Thursday at age 26.
At a team meeting in the morning, Eberflus shared the story of Piccolo and teammate Gale Sayers, who were the NFL’s first interracial roommates. Their friendship and support of each other through Sayers’ knee injury and then Piccolo’s battle against embryonal cell carcinoma was the subject of the movie “Brian’s Song.”
Eberflus said he wanted to “honor the legacy and family of Brian Piccolo” and let the players know about his story before they put on the No. 41 jerseys. He addressed the media while sitting next to the 1969 George Halas Courage Award, which was presented to Sayers, who gave it to Piccolo.
“You go back so far, and it’s hard sometimes for them to see the impact of Brian Piccolo (in the) late ’60s there,” Eberflus said. “I just think honoring his life. … He was a really good teammate and he liked to have fun with his teammates. He liked to play practical jokes on them and stuff like that. Just a real man and a real person and a Chicago Bear.”
Joy Piccolo O’Connell, Brian’s wife, and their daughters attended the practice. They usually return to Halas Hall for the annual Brian Piccolo Awards, which go to a veteran and rookie who embody the spirit of Piccolo. Robert Quinn and Khalil Herbert won the awards in 2021. The ceremony also promotes awareness of the Brian Piccolo Cancer Research Fund.
“Amazing just seeing his family there at practice,” rookie receiver Velus Jones Jr. said. “It’s just crazy how even when you’re gone, your legacy lives on with your kids and everything, and I felt like that was a real beautiful thing. It was amazing to wear the 41. Definitely a big part of history here.”
2. Velus Jones Jr. is building chemistry with quarterback Justin Fields.
As Jones settled in with the Bears in the seven weeks since they drafted him in the third round, the rookie receiver said it has helped to have his locker next to Fields. That has fostered easy conversations about football and many other subjects.
“Picking each other brains and stuff like that makes it a whole lot easier (to build chemistry),” Jones said. “I feel like that’s part of the connection as well, knowing who your quarterback is outside of football. That makes things much easier when I go to practice as well. He’s depending on me. A lot of guys are depending on me. I’m going to have their backs and do what I can to keep stride in this offense.”
Jones said coaches have moved him around a lot in the Bears offense, and the number of balls thrown his way during OTAs and minicamp has built his confidence.
He already has made an impression on wide receiver Darnell Mooney, who said Tuesday, “He can fly. He can be a playmaker for sure for us.”
Jones likes that his teammates are making such statements about him this early in his career. He said he envisions himself running routes and catching touchdowns before he goes to sleep each night.
“I’m big on manifesting,” Jones said. “So I can picture a lot of great things this season, even on certain plays or certain routes thrown by Justin. I definitely know that I’m not going to let them down. I’m definitely going to be that player they drafted, that guy who’s good with yards after the catch, the guy that makes plays out of nothing.”
3. Rookie safety Jaquan Brisker said his knack for the ‘Peanut Punch’ comes from ‘just loving creating turnovers.’
Bears coaches said early in OTAs that Brisker, a second-round pick, showed an aptitude for getting the ball out from opponents.
Brisker said that is both taught and innate.
“That’s the standard around here, so creating turnovers is what we do,” Brisker said. “And that was also in my DNA. I feel like I attack the ball. I attack the ball whether that’s forcing a fumble or whether that’s going for an interception. So I love being around the football and obviously getting it back for the offense.”
Brisker has a list of things he knows coaches want him to work on in the weeks leading up to training camp as he prepares for what potentially be a starting role alongside Eddie Jackson.
“Playing lower, cleaning up my eyes and putting it all together,” Brisker said. “They challenge me to work on one thing at a time.”