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Joniak's Journal: Bears' Rookies Blossoming With Veteran Guidance

By Jeff Joniak--

(CBS) The Bears (4-5) host the Broncos (7-2) on Sunday at noon at Soldier Field. Here are my observations heading into the game.

First impression

Impactful rookies drafted by Bears general manager Ryan Pace are paired with veteran mentors. Rookie receiver Kevin White has Alshon Jeffrey. Rookie defensive tackle Eddie Goldman has Jarvis Jenkins -- and for a time solid technique tips from Jeremiah Ratliff. Rookie center Hroniss Grasu picked up pointers from Will Montgomery and now Matt Slauson. Rookie running back Jeremy Langford worked out in the offseason with Matt Forte. Rookie safety Adrian Amos has Antrel Rolle and an assistant position coach in Sam Garnes who started for Bears coach John Fox as a rookie strong safety in 1997 with the New York Giants. Garnes was a hard-hitting impact rookie back then and is now shepherding Amos through his own impact debut season.

Ironically, both were fifth-round picks.

"I've been in his situation," Garnes said. "The first thing I told him when he got here was, 'Don't limit yourself.' You've got to work your butt off every day, and usually when you're a fifth-round pick or a free agent, there's a reason why. You acknowledge that and go out there and get things right. He took coaching well. He's growing."

Garnes appeared Monday night on the Bears Coaches Show on WBBM Newsradio.

Second thought

Fox has made it clear many times that talent alone doesn't win in the NFL. You need it, but attitude, toughness and mindset are also necessary qualities required of his roster. Fox and Garnes developed undrafted corner Chris Harris into an impact rookie in 2011 in Denver, and now he's a Pro Bowl-quality starter for the Broncos.

"He felt everybody was against him, because he wasn't drafted at all, and he played with Aqib Talib (at Kansas) and he felt like he measured up to him," Garnes said. "When you are in that position, you want to go out there every day and prove it. The one day you go out there and you decide that you've arrived, that's when somebody will sneak up from behind you and put you in your place."

In addition to Harris, the Broncos' leading tackler is linebacker Brandon Marshall, who was waived three times by Jacksonville as an undrafted player. In 2013, he was signed to the Denver practice squad and late in the season was active appearing in all the playoff games and making a tackle in the Super Bowl loss to Seattle. Last season Marshall was Fox's leading tackler with 110 stops in Denver, the second-most among first-year starters in the NFL.

It gives you an idea of how Fox and his staff look at players, where they've come from, and how motivated they are to prove who they are as football players.

Third degree

In addition to Garnes, special teams assistant Derius Swinton appeared on the Bears Coaches Show. I find it interesting this season that nearly every player I've spoken to references a "chip on their shoulder." Often, that's just an athlete's cliché about his situation, but not on this team.

"You look at the number of guys on our starting kickoff team that have been cut," Swinton said. "You bring that to their attention and say, 'Hey, there's people that didn't want you.' And now you got a chance to show up and put it on film. They do, they have a chip on their shoulder. You have a guy like (linebacker) Lamin Barrow, where the team that we're playing this week didn't want him and it's flat out, they cut him, so we have him. And I think that's the attitude with not only the special teams guys, but also the whole team. At some point, somebody didn't want you and now you have to prove it to them every week, that 'Why I am in this league? Why am I playing?"

Garnes and Swinton agree that they fan those flames, and it becomes an advantage. It should be noted that both coaches were on Fox's Denver staff that was let go after the AFC playoff loss in January.

On Sunday, they play the franchise that didn't want them anymore either. It works for coaches as well as players.


A quick statistical analysis of the Broncos defense is quite revealing.  Quarterback Jay Cutler and the Bears offense will have to figure out how to run it well on first down against a defense permitting a league low 2.95 yards per carry. Denver's defense also permits a league-low 4.27 yards per play and has allowed the fewest big plays in the league, with 26 of the 20-plus-yard variety. A dozen players have at least a half a sack, totaling 32, which is also best in the league. An NFL-high 12 sacks have come on first down.

The Broncos defense is tied for the fewest passing touchdowns allowed in the league with just eight. Their third-down defense ranks fifth-best. They like to blitz, including 47.2 percent of the time on second down and 42.7 percent of the time on third down.

The Bears must brace for the Broncos' best.

Jeff Joniak is the play-by-play announcer for the Bears broadcasts on WBBM Newsradio 780. Follow him on Twitter @JeffJoniak.


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