Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith has said he does not try to motivate players by threatening or making lineup changes.
His defense, however, is performing better after some tinkering and rare public statements from the quiet Smith.
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To date, Smith has benched safety Chris Harris before cutting him, benched safety Brandon Meriweather before promoting rookie Chris Conte and second-year player Major Wright, and publicly challenged starting defensive tackle Henry Melton to play better. He also made veteran defensive tackle Anthony Adams inactive for Monday’s win at Philadelphia.
”He has high expectations for Henry Melton, he has high expectations for all of us,” linebacker Lance Briggs said.
Whatever Smith’s intent, the defense has gotten stouter during a four-game winning streak headed into Sunday’s home game against Detroit.
”It’s happened the last couple of years,” linebacker Brian Urlacher said about Smith – often characterized as laid-back – making lineup changes or challenging players. ”I think, if you don’t play well enough, you’re probably not going to play. That’s just the way it is.”
Smith has had to be more aggressive this season in making changes to a defense that gave up 16 plays of 25 yards or longer the first five weeks. In the last three games since an Oct. 10 loss at Detroit, the Bears have given up just three plays of 25 yards or more.
Smith said Thursday he wasn’t unhappy with Melton, but suspected the third-year player was capable of much more after starting the year with three sacks in three games. Melton hasn’t had a sack since the third game, but did make two tackles and disrupted several plays in the backfield against the Eagles.
”I’ve been praising him so much in the offseason and, of course, early on,” Smith said. ”So there are big things that I, that we, expect from Henry. Henry played better this past week but still he’s a guy with a lot of talent and he’s capable of really having one of those great games where you’re talking about him as an elite star.”
Smith said Adams could find his way back to the playing field again, but it will depend on practice this week.
”He’s from Detroit, he always seems to play well against them,” Smith said. ”We’ll see how it goes.”
Adams, a nine-year veteran and fixture in the middle of the Bears’ line, was benched in favor of rookie Stephen Paea and veteran Matt Toeaina.
”After I watched the film from last year, now it’s kind of not the same,” Adams said of his own play. ”I don’t have any excuses about my play, but I’ve got to get better. He’s (Smith) got a lot of tough decisions he’s got to make every week and he made one last week but I’ll bounce back.”
Adams could return, anyway, due to injury. Toeaina, who starts at nose tackle, missed Thursday’s practice due to knee soreness.
Regardless of who plays, the Bears expect to field a defense that should play better than the last game against Detroit. The Lions had a 73-yard touchdown pass to Calvin Johnson, an 88-yard TD run by Jahvid Best and a 43-yard run by Best.
In the last two games, the Bears have forced six turnovers. They’ve improved from 28th against the run to 11th in a period of five weeks.
”That whole first quarter (of the season) was a wakeup call,” Briggs said. ”A lot of tough teams, a lot of tough losses, a lot of things that happened that we didn’t like. The last three it’s been, that we’re making progress.”