Head Coach Joe Judge
December 31, 2021
Opening Statement: We’ll continue our preparation for the Bears today. We’ll make sure we review all situations, get in the red area, hit all the big four and continue on going. Keep it quick and direct and to the point today, so any questions you may have.
Q: COVID stuff?
A: Really no change from yesterday. We’re still expecting (Safety Julian) Love back in the building on Sunday. (Defensive Lineman) Danny Shelton, we’ll see where he is in terms of the game. I wouldn’t rule him in or out at this point. We’ll see how he is and the trainers will deal with him.
Q: Love will be able to travel with you?
A: Yes. From everything we understand, yes.
Q: How are you feeling? Old? Happy Birthday.
A: (Laughs). Appreciate it, thank you. Trying to keep that quiet most of the day, so I appreciate it.
Q: The workout you guys are doing next week with some O-linemen, is that for looking at futures and guys to bring in long-term? Is that also addressing Week 18?
A: It’s a combination of both. It’s a look at who’s out there as far as the futures and see if we can go ahead and fill any roster spots going forward before we get to free agency and the draft, as well as who may be available next week. We’ve got to make sure that we go ahead and look and make sure we have depth for the game next week. If that’s something that we think we can add and they can give a contribution, we’ll consider that, as well.
Q: Interior and tackle? Like, across the board?
A: Yeah, good mix. Looking at who’s out there and bringing as many as we can that we think will work with that.
Q: Do you know who’s going to be your starting quarterback Sunday?
A: We’ll decide that after today’s practice. Both guys will take reps and we’ll see going on through practice.
Q: It sounded like you are less committed to actually putting both in the game plan than you were earlier in the week. Is that accurate?
A: We’ll let both guys work right now. Again, if we think that there’s something that’s more suited to one of the guys, we have no problem putting in a certain package for them, but we’ll come out of today’s practice and see what will make the best decision for the team.
Q: With COVID being the way it is now and so prevalent, do you change the way you approach practice reps at all these last few weeks? Do you have to give guys – even if they’re not starting or second- or third-teamers – more reps in practice just in case because you never know what can pop up on Saturday, Sunday or whatever?
A: The answer to that is yes for a variety of reasons. We’re always trying to make sure that all of our guys mix in and that’s through any point in the year, not directly just because of COVID. But obviously with the heightened awareness of the availability of players and the lack of availability of players on such a quick turnaround notice, make sure that everyone stays very involved with all the units and build as much chemistry as you can. We always do what we call ‘basic’ at the end of practice. When you guys are out here and wait for guys at the podium, we try to get all the young players, the practice squad players, guys new to the program, guys who just need extra reps. Maybe it’s an opportunity for another quarterback to just get used to breaking the huddle, the operation at the line of scrimmage. We take time every day to make sure we just get as much basic work and that’s just extra work on the field. Sometimes it’s full-team, sometimes it’s seven-on-seven, sometimes extra individual work, whether it’s O-line versus D-line, receivers-DBs, whatever it may be. But we’re always looking to go ahead and build in as many reps as we can for the guys. Reality is with the numbers being where they are, sometimes you can hit more reps at high tempo, sometimes you have to go ahead and make things more of almost a walkthrough for team exchange and then get your team reps at tempo, more competitive offense versus defense. We found a good, happy medium with the availability of certain players and how we’ve made that work. Getting a lot of really good service looks from our starters for each other and they’ve done a really good job. (Wide Receiver) Kenny (Golladay) is out there doing a really good job playing (Cornerback Aaron) Robinson in some of the packages for some of these guys on defense, giving really good looks. We’ve got a number of guys playing a lot of different positions. It’s actually an opportunity a lot of times to work other schemes and systems. We had (Running Back) Saquon (Barkley) earlier in the year when we played the Saints doing some of (Saints Running Back Alvin) Kamara’s routes and that’s something we looked at and said, ‘Hey, we’ve got to start implementing more things for Saquon in more of a flexed out, built out role.’ Actually tied in more to that game, put him in the empty set, we end up hitting him for the go route down the sideline. Saw the next week against Dallas, we hit the slant. That was the one he actually injured his ankle on, but in terms of using him more in space and running routes and letting him use his talent.
Q: Is (Wide Receiver) Kadarius’s (Toney) shoulder season-ending?
A: There’s nothing at this point that would lead us to believe that. He wouldn’t be officially ruled out at this point is what the trainers (say). See if there’s a chance to get him on the field with the guys. Today he’s been in meetings and walkthroughs fully engaged. We’ll see if he can go out there and function on the field with the team.
Q: Is it odd how many different injuries he’s had this year?
A: I think it’s a long season and I’d also say the other thing too is for any of these young players the first time going through a season of this length – training camp, preseason games, 17 regular season games – their bodies really aren’t used to it, that’s just the truth. That’s for any player in any year in any program. That’s no different. You talk about that rookie wall and different things they have to face. This year having a little bit less time for different reasons or less exposure for different reasons puts more of a challenge on some of the young players as well to kind of get acclimated to this season length. It takes these guys really a full year to get used to the rigors of an entire NFL season and get their bodies used to it. The other thing, most of these guys aren’t used to early in the season knowing how hard you have to work to get your body back. You see some of these older guys, the (Defensive Back) Logan Ryans, the (Tight End) Kyle Rudolphs, these guys who have been in it for years. They live in the training room. It’s not that they’re on an injury report because they’re hurt, they live in the training room for preventative measures. How they prepare for practice with the hot tubs, the cold tubs, the VibraFlex, the extra roll-outs, the strength coaches, everything they can use to get ready for practice and recover from practice. These young guys are really just used to tying their shoes and going out and going. They have to learn that it’s not that easy. You get to this level, you have to work to stay physically fresh, that it’s a long season. No one is 100 percent after the first snap, that’s the reality. Once you start training camp, no one is, again, 100 percent for the entire rest of the year. Learning how to play through some ailments, through some bumps and bruises, learning how to go ahead and manage your body, these are all things that you have to learn over time.
Q: Does the wind in Chicago affect your quarterback decision? Do you factor that in and say, ‘We might need the bigger-armed quarterback here in this situation’?
A: Any time you play in a weather game, there are a lot of things that are affected, not just necessarily adjustments to your game plan, but then in-game how you call it. That’s offense, defense and the kicking game and whether that’s just the cold with how that can limit sometimes the ability to throw the ball down the field, because it does sometimes based on the grip. If it’s the wind factor that eliminates the opportunity to flip the field in the kicking game. If it’s the cold, it takes away the hang time against a dangerous returner. There are a lot of things you have to factor in. The difference in field goal range when you get into these cold games, the wind games, different factors that play on in. Based on what the field looks like – I know there’s a chance of snow going out there, they’ve got a heated field, so it’s probably going to play out more if the field is covered. Like some kind of a slick rain, that’s naturally a slick turf out there anyway. You watch a lot of the games, you go back and watch the rain game against Arizona when these guys played them a few weeks back. That’s probably close to what we’re going to be looking at from the moisture on the field and just some challenges with the ball handling. But you watch a lot of guys on that field planting off the wrong foot, slipping and falling. There’s also a lot of guys getting their toes stuck in the ground and falling on their face. It happened in the Minnesota game as well on their field, a lot of guys getting caught up in that turf. We’ve gone through everything with the tape, talking to our guys about the conditions out there, the weather, how games are changed this time of year, how the games are called differently, the importance of running and making sure you get your feet up as you move and not getting caught on the turf, planting off the correct foot, playing with good knee bend. All those little fundamental things, they all come into play. When I start talking about the weather, a lot of the players look at me and they start rolling their eyes like, ‘Alright, old people talk about the weather, that’s what this guy’s doing.’ But the reality is you’ve got to understand how the game changes and it is situationally played differently in some of these games.
Q: And you are 40, so.
A: I am a man now, I am 40 (laughs).
Q: Are you disappointed you haven’t had any bad weather practices this season?
A: You know what, we really haven’t had much rain. We haven’t had the snow yet this year to really practice in. Rain, blood, mud, whatever it’s going to be, we’re going to be outside. I always kind of cheer a little bit more for the weather. The players kind of laugh a little bit because I’ll come in sometimes and it’s raining in the morning and I’ll say, ‘Hey, get your stuff on, be ready for this. Let’s talk about the fundamentals with what we’re going to do in the weather,’ and we come out and all of a sudden it’s sunny. Last year, we had the opportunity to work in a lot of rain and we had some snow at the end of the year. This year we just haven’t had that. We had some heat back in training camp and that’s great, but you really want to go ahead and use every piece of the elements you can get, the heat, the humidity, the wind – we get a fair amount of wind out here, that’s something we can always work with, the wind. You want to play in the rain. You want to play in the snow. You want to have sloppy turf here than use the stadium at other times to have the slickness of the artificial turf and get the feel for all the surfaces.
Q: What’s the harm in giving (Quarterback Brian) Lewerke a chance to play quarterback at this point? Or is he just such a young, developmental player?
A: I think Brian’s done a really good job this year of working and doing everything we’ve asked him to do. I think he responded well in the preseason on short notice of prepping. He did some nice things for us in the Cleveland preseason game. He’s a guy that’s come out and competed. He’s learned. I’ve definitely seen some improvement from him. He’s a developing player. I think he’s far away from where he’s going to be as a finalized player as he goes through his career. I think he’s on track to do some positive things and really put himself in a position in his career to be competitive and have a role on a roster. At this time, he’s on our practice squad. As far as the roster moves we’re making right now, we don’t anticipate making one specifically at that position for the remainder of the year. That doesn’t rule out anything in the future with Brian as well, though. I’m pleased with the way he worked this year.
Q: How’s (Offensive Lineman) Billy Price doing and do you expect to be back this weekend or are you guys giving him – is he taking the weekend off or time off?
A: I know he posted something on social media. That’s his to disclose, that’s not mine to talk about. We fully support Billy, fully support Billy as an organization, him and his wife as just individuals and their family and what they’re going through right now. We left the door open to Billy in a lot of ways in terms of whatever he needs from us. When I talked to him earlier in the week, I let him know, ‘Hey, listen, if you’ve got to come in here and let this be a distraction, if you want to stay engaged with the game plan, if you want to come out and practice and blow off some steam and hit the weight room, whatever you’ve got to do.’ He’s dealing with something that a lot of us have been blessed that we haven’t had to deal with. He’s going through something personally that we’ve got to make sure we account for and give him support as an organization, as a person. I wouldn’t fully rule him out at this moment, but he has not been at practice with us. He’s not been in-person in the meetings. The Zoom’s been available to him, but we’re letting him and his wife right now have the time they need and fully supporting him in what they’re going through.