Fun­da­men­tally speak­ing

OL coach Castillo has play­ers fo­cused on their hands, feet

Chicago Sun-Times - - SPORTS - MARK POTASH mpotash@sun­times.com | @MarkPo­tash

Every of­fen­sive line coach ever has fo­cused on fun­da­men­tals. But Juan Castillo’s fa­nat­i­cal be­lief in them takes it to another level.

The Bears’ first-year line coach’s ground-floor ap­proach to fun­da­men­tals is the of­fen­sive line ver­sion of Vince Lom­bardi’s fa­mously sim­plis­tic open­ing-day ap­proach to coach­ing in gen­eral: ‘‘Gen­tle­men, this is a foot­ball.’’ He starts with the most ba­sic of the ba­sics.

When Bears prac­tice starts at 9:20 a.m., Castillo’s of­fen­sive line­men are out there at 9, do­ing hand-place­ment/punch­ing drills on a spe­cial five-po­si­tion sled and foot­work drills on the prac­tice field. And Castillo isn’t even there. While he does his own core work­outs, cen­ter Cody White­hair and left tackle Charles Leno lead the drills. So he’s work­ing his play­ers on fun­da­men­tals, get­ting him­self into shape and de­vel­op­ing lead­er­ship by del­e­gat­ing author­ity at the same time. And then prac­tice starts.

‘‘It’s just like a boxer,’’ Castillo said. ‘‘A boxer works on two things, if you think about it: his punch­ing with his hands and, [with] his feet, his foot­work. So that’s ba­si­cally what we’re do­ing is work­ing on dif­fer­ent com­bi­na­tions: hand com­bi­na­tions for punch­ing, for pass pro­tec­tion . ... They end up get­ting about 50 to 60 punches you wouldn’t nor­mally get in a nor­mal prac­tice.’’

The foot­work is just as im­por­tant. ‘‘Just like a boxer; [Muham­mad] Ali comes to mind,’’ Castillo said. ‘‘But it’s the same con­cept as box­ers: You work your feet. [But] it’s not about jump­ing rope for us; it’s do­ing the ac­tual things that hap­pen in a game. We do it over and over so that it be­comes nat­u­ral for your body, so you don’t have to think about it, so you can fo­cus on de­feat­ing your op­po­nent.’’

Of all the Bears’ new coaches, Castillo talks the best game. His en­thu­si­asm is so over-the-top that he often can’t fin­ish a thought with­out switch­ing gears. It’s the kind of live-wire ap­proach that often has an im­me­di­ate im­pact, which is just what coach Matt Nagy and the Bears are look­ing for. The big question is how long those mes­sages and that ap­proach can be sus­tained.

But first things first. In an ab­bre­vi­ated train­ing camp af­ter a re­mote off­sea­son pro­gram — and with no pre­sea­son games — it re­mains to be seen whether the Bears’ of­fen­sive line and run­ning game will be bet­ter un­der Castillo than they were un­der Harry Hi­e­s­tand in 2018-19. Af­ter one week in pads, it’s still too early to know.

Nagy said he got a bet­ter in­di­ca­tion from watch­ing the tape of the scrim­mage Satur­day. Starters on of­fense and de­fense com­peted in ‘‘thud’’ ses­sions, in which ball car­ri­ers aren’t tack­led.

‘‘I thought our line did a re­ally good job of open­ing up some lanes,’’ Nagy said. ‘‘Now, we went 1 [ver­sus] 1 and it was thud, so it’s not quite the same for both sides. But it’s still good to see the an­gles they take and where the backs are at with their vi­sion. So I liked that part.’’

With­out pre­sea­son games, how­ever, Nagy ac­knowl­edged all bets are off un­til the Bears play the Lions in the sea­son opener Sept. 13 at Ford Field.

‘‘We’re not go­ing to know fully un­til we get into it how ef­fec­tive or how much bet­ter our run game does get — or our of­fense in gen­eral,’’ Nagy said. ‘‘So I’m ex­cited about that part. There’s just so much go­ing on right now [in in­stal­la­tion/prepa­ra­tion], and we’re just try­ing to trust each other. That’s where we’re at.’’

NAM Y. HUH/AP

Cen­ter Cody White­hair (left, with quar­ter­back Nick Foles) is help­ing to lead of­fen­sive line drills be­fore prac­tice.

AP

Of­fen­sive line coach Juan Castillo (shown with the Bills) has a pas­sion for fun­da­men­tals.

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