Initial comments:** ML: "The Bears are a team that won 10 games a year ago. They played very well defensively, had some big moments on offense and had some good players on both sides of the football. They have a dangerous return guy in Devin Hester. Last year, defensively, they were very opportunistic, creating turnovers and fumbles, leading the league in that category. They kept their points per game down at 17.3 or something like that, which is very good, exceptional. There are a lot of positives to their team. Marc Trestman was hired to bring in his offensive philosophy to try and get the offense going and moving. They have a very good quarterback in Jay Cutler and want to get him going and moving in the right direction."
Matt Forte as a running back, pretty underrated guy in your opinion?
ML: "I don't know that he's underrated. He's a very, very good player. He's been a good player up there and he's into his second contract with them. He's a very good slashing, cut type runner and has speed and can catch the football. He's a very well-rounded running back."
How much can you take from Trestman by looking at CFL stuff, or do you not even think about looking at that?
ML: "If we told you, we'd have to kill you (Laughs). Marc has been successful as a coordinator at North Carolina State and then up in Canada. His style, his handling, is very West Coast-ish. That's how he's been as a coordinator in the league and as a position coach, quarterback coach and different things. He's been around the NFL during his time. They hired Aaron (Kromer) to be the offensive coordinator, so I would imagine there would be a flare of that. They've played four preseason games, so you can't go out and play in the preseason and then unfold another offense the first weekend. If that doesn't go well, I don't think you stay very long (Laughs)."
Do you have any connection with him throughout his long career? It seems like everybody has some sort of connection with Marc Trestman:
ML: "Never that I coached with him, but I just know a lot of people that I know have always held up in very high regard. As I came into the NFL back in 1992, he was held in high regard at every position he had in the NFL as being an exceptional coach and an exceptional teacher."
How different does their defense look to you? There's a lot of the same guys there but Brian Urlacher is not. They're running the same scheme but how similar or how different does it look to you?
ML: "Very similar. Mel (Tucker) has done a great job, and I don't think he's having to go in and overhaul the whole thing. They're going to stay in a lot of the same principles with a new person calling the defense and somewhat the design of it overall, but Mel wasn't much different with that in Jacksonville, and it's kind of a blend of things that we know very well."
Eight interceptions for touchdowns from their defense last year. Is it mostly the corners or the attacking style?
ML: "They do a good job. They attack the football. They get great pressure, good rushers. They try to force you into some bad plays. They do what they do very well. They're not overly complicated, but they do what they do well and fast."
What makes Devin Hester so good and dangerous?
ML: "He's got a great ability to cut and accelerate. He has both special features to him. He's got the vision of a runner, but when he gets the ability to make that cut, he can make the cut, stick his foot in the ground and go the distance. He's also a strong runner. If you ever get a chance to be up close to him, you notice that. All these great returners, for the most part in the NFL, have these strong lower bodies, and Devin Hester is built that way."
They've kind of had an issue at the tight end position after Greg Olsen left. Has Martellus Bennett made an impact for them?
ML: "Tight end is part of their offense, and they're going to work the ball to him when they can. If coverage rotates and goes differently, they want him to be a valid part as a receiver in the offensive team. He's a big, athletic guy much like Jermaine (Gresham), so you have to be conscious of him. When we get into matchups with him we've got to know that we can get worked quickly."
All your years in the league, have you ever gone into a game with just five linebackers?
ML: "I think we have. We have gone in games in the last few years with five linebackers. We went to Seattle a few years ago with five in 2011, so we've done this a few times."
What's the key in trying to contain, or bother and harass, Jay Cutler?
ML: "It's similar to any quarterback and it's not particular to one or the other. We want to get pressure in quarterback's face, so it's 11 guys playing together and working together."
Is there any sense that if he loses his composure that:
ML: "No. Jay Cutler plays for the Bears, and we're going to go play the Bears. Jay Cutler's been a productive guy in the NFL."
Injury-wise, how are you doing?
ML: "I think we're pretty good. We moved Andrew (Hawkins) to the designated spot yesterday or today. We feel good about where we are. It's where we are and it's where we're going to be and we'll move forward."
Is Andrew Whitworth one of those up-until-game-time decisions?
ML: "We'll see how he does this week. He's been progressing to do more and more on the field, and that's what we're looking for, for the point that both he and the medical people have a confidence about him that he's ready to go. And we're getting closer and closer to that."
How did Thomas Howard look yesterday when he worked out for you?
ML: "I don't think I've ever commented on someone that worked out for us, so I'll keep that consistent."
How has Anthony Collins looked throughout the preseason?
ML: "Anthony has done a nice job for us. Much of the time during the first part of the offseason and preseason, he was on the right side, and he's been over on the left side more recently. He's done a good job. That's why he's here, to be that big 'umbrella policy.' and that's what he is. He's responded all the time, and if he goes out there, he'll have big challenges whenever he goes. That's offensive tackle in the NFL."
A year ago you had to quickly get Vontaze Burfict up to speed out of necessity. How much has he grown this year as a player?
ML: "We weren't really getting Vontaze up to speed. Vontaze did a good job all the way through. He has continued to grow as a player as far as the confidence level. He had to emerge out of the shadow of what he created for himself. Once he did that, he was fine. He had to get beyond answering all the questions that were being posed to him.
Do you see that confidence more of a:
ML: "He's been a confident guy ever since the day that I met him. That hasn't changed. You guys back off questions for him, so that's better for him. He just doesn't have to worry about that, wasting time answering questions about what happened in his past. He's always been a confident guy. That's one of the great traits about him. He's a very confident player. He understands football and he has an innateness about him that's special, something that not many guys have. He was born with it or developed it somewhere, but he's got it."
You've got Greg McElroy to develop a bit. Talk about what you like about him:
ML: "The thing that I see is that is a guy that really played with a great pocket presence. Unadvertised, he moved out of the pocket and ran when he needed to and was smart enough to get down when he needed to get down, which are a couple good traits for a quarterback. Other than that the roof kind of caved in on him when they played the Chargers last year, I thought he played pretty well. He's a guy who has an opportunity now to learn our offensive system here and I think he's got the skills to play in the NFL, and that's what we were looking for, a guy that could come on that way."
Quick study too, smart kid I guess?
ML: "From what I understand, he's very book smart and I'm sure football smart. Much like Andy (Dalton), he's played a lot of football in his life."
Is there a mutual familiarity with each other based off the 2011 Senior Bowl?
ML: "Obviously we're comfortable with him and his personality. He's a very confident guy. That's good. His father worked for the Cowboys when he was growing up and he played big time high school football and he went to Alabama. He wasn't afraid to leave Texas and branch out. He's a very independent thinking player."
Can Taylor Mays help you in the Nickel with some of the stuff that Emmanuel Lamur was doing?
ML: "Taylor's been playing those spots since he's been here. This is not experiment time. We are getting ready to play the Bears."
It's almost a year to the day that Thomas Howard got hurt and now Emmanuel Lamur. Both guys got injured at inopportune times:
ML: "Injuries are a part of football, and we've always got to have the next guy ready to go and do it. We've got guys here in the building that can handle it and we're going to move forward."
How do you feel going into this opener, compared to the first two?** AD: "The goal of this team is to win the game. It's a big game because it is the opener. Ever since I've been here we've opened on the road. So just from the aspect of the importance of the game, it's the same ever since I've been here. As to where we are offensively, and where we are now compared to when I first got here, everybody's been in the offense for three years, so we feel we're better than we were coming in the last couple years. We're playing a really good opponent. The Bears have done some really good things. They were 10-6 last year. So for us, we've got to come out and start fast and play well early on."
The big thing with them is getting turnovers: *
*AD: "They do a good job of forcing fumbles, a good job reading the eyes of the quarterback, get good jumps on throws and things like that. We've seen it on film and we've got to prepare for it."
How would you characterize their two corners?
AD: "They're really instinctive players. Reading drops, reading routes. They're really good players. I think both of them were Pro Bowlers last year. They do a lot of really good things."
Did you see things in the preseason that bolstered the high hopes for this season and give you good vibes?
AD: "Yeah, I thought we did a good job. I thought we accomplished a lot of what we were wanting to. I thought there was a lot of competition out there. There's a lot of guys competing and working on the level of their game and the way they're playing. I thought we did a really good job from OTAs on through training camp and the preseason games. We found the guys who are going to help us go win, and now it's time to do it."
Since you've been here, you and A.J. Green have almost been joined at the hip. What do you do to push forward, and are you aware of where you stand in the grand scheme of things after two years?
AD: "I mean, I know we've done some big things since we've been here. Our goal for both of us is to keep getting better, keep finding ways to work at our position and what we do. Hopefully as time goes on we keep improving and keep getting better, and just the more experience, the more that we're playing, the more that we're able to do."
How much more comfortable are you with the receivers this year? It seemed like last year after A.J. it was like a revolving door with that second squad:
AD: "We've talked about that. There were different guys last year at different points of the season that were in. There's a comfort level of knowing where guys are going to be, how guys run routes and things like that. It should make us better going into this year."
How much more would you target or look to expose their rookie middle linebacker?
AD: "He's surrounded by a lot of really good players. Obviously you know that he's a young player. You find ways to take advantage of the scheme they do and you just kind of go from there."
How quickly has Tyler Eifert picked up the offense?
AD: "He's done a good job. He's picked up things pretty quickly ever since he got here. So we're expecting a lot out of him, expecting him to move around, and he's done a good job with that ever since he's been here."
How much of a concern is it if you don't have Andrew Whitworth out there on Sunday?
AD: "Obviously we'd love to have him out there. But it's not a concern. Anthony Collins has done a good job. He's had a really good camp. He's a player that's been around for a while and understands everything we're doing. So I'm really comfortable with A.C. out there."
Is it easier because A.C. has been at that spot through OTAs and camp compared to having a new center on a week and a half last year?
AD: "Yeah, it's a little bit different. A.C..'s been around a long time and he's done a lot of really good things for us. We've won games with him in there. So there's not a huge concern."
Is there much of an unknown going against a team with a new coaching staff?
AD: "Obviously it's a new staff, new coordinator, all that kind of stuff, so they could have held some things back. We expect to see something new that they haven't shown. That's what teams do, what defenses do to try to get an advantage. It's how we adapt on the sidelines to things. But we're preparing to get everything that they've got."
The running game has been more consistent. Is that just executing better or doing new things?
AD: "Yeah, just the execution of everything. There's been an emphasis on it, and those guys are getting lots of chances and they're making big plays. They're making guys miss. We're turning two and three yard gains into four-, five- and six-yard gains. That's helping us with down and distance and moving the chains and giving us more plays to run the ball."