Eric Washington

Why Matt Eberflus calling plays didn't stop Eric Washington from taking DC job

Eric Washington sees big things ahead for the Bears' defense

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LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Eric Washington took the podium Thursday at Halas Hall confident in his ability to succeed in the role the Bears have planned for him and in his ability to take on more should the need arise.

In January, the Bears hired Washington as their defensive coordinator to fill the void left by Alan Williams. Williams resigned as the Bears' defensive coordinator before Week 3 of the 2023 season.

Head coach Matt Eberflus took over the play-calling duties after Williams' resignation and will maintain those responsibilities going forward. That didn't dissuade Washington from taking the defensive coordinator job in Chicago, and he's confident he will be able to put his imprint on the defense despite not calling plays.

"My focus was what the job is as opposed to what it isn't," Washington said Thursday. "The opportunity to come here and to this organization with a defense that is clearly on an upward trajectory that has some really dynamic performers in place with plans of obviously augmenting that, that's what my focus was. And that's what it continues to be. I've been a play-caller. I'm pretty confident that I will do that again at some point, but right now, I'm really confident with what Matt is going to bring to the table in that respect, and I will support him as best as I can.

"Matt’s aware of my background in terms of calling defenses, and what we talked about more than anything was just how do we put forth the best scenario for 2024 to make sure our defense is going in the right direction. Matt Eberflus is an unbelievable play-caller. He’s an outstanding play-caller, and we saw the effect that that had on our team last year, especially going down the stretch. We want to continue that. We don’t want to stymy that momentum. We want to continue that. And my expectation, and his expectation for me, is to contribute to that in the planning process and in real-time on gameday."

Washington lauded Eberflus' ability as one of the best defensive play-callers in the NFL. While he won't call the defense on Sundays, he will play a big role in constructing the weekly game plans and will be ready to step in as the play-caller should Eberflus want to change things up.

"So for me, I will do everything that coordinator is doing without actually calling the defense," Washington said of his role on Sundays. "And if he needs to hand that responsibility off to me temporarily or for a snap or two, be ready to follow up and take that role on and make sure we continue to move forward in the direction that we want to go in. And the other thing is just, on the sideline during the game, just making sure that the coaches and the players are informed as far as the adjustments that we need to make and how the game is unfolding. So there’s a lot of communication, a lot of communication back and forth when we go to offense as opposed to when we’re on defense, so just supporting him and being of the mindset that you’re the playcaller. So if there’s a question that’s posed, if there’s some way I can support that situation, make sure I get that information to him quickly and clearly so he can make a decision.”

Despite not being the play-caller, Washington viewed the Bears' defensive coordinator opening as attractive because of the upward trajectory of a unit stocked with young, ascending playmakers.

"Number one it's an explosive group of players," Washington said. "This defense was elite in several important categories that lead directly to winning football. Making teams one dimensional, stopping the run. We've got some really good players on the defensive line. This team is in the top two or three in taking the football away and continuing to feed an explosive offense. When I looked at that in terms of those things being values, those were the things that really got me excited along with the scheme and the structure of the defense. Those are the things that really got me excited about coming."

Washington arrives in Chicago as one of the most respected teachers in the NFL. The hire received praise from around the NFL, including six-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, who played for Washington in Carolina.

The Bears will especially lean on Washington's teaching acumen on the defensive line, where he will be tasked with helping develop Gervon Dexter and Zacch Pickens, as well as helping elevate Montez Sweat's game to the next level.

"We’re going to be a team that generates pressure with our front four," Washington said. "We’re going to build the best pass rush in football that happens to be an area, fortunately, an area that I’ve had tremendous success with, and we have the personnel to get that done. We’ve got size, speed, quickness, length. Montez, I remember Montez through the pre-draft process when I was in Carolina. Really admired the traits, the mindset, all of those types of things, so you look at the people that we already have here. It’s exciting, plus we invested heavily in the draft last year with the two young defensive tackles [Dexter and Pickens]."

The Bears' defense made massive strides under Eberflus' play-calling during the 2023 season. Washington will play a critical role in developing the weekly game plan, in-game adjustments and communication, and fostering the development of the Bears' young defensive players.

For now, that's enough for him. He's confident he can take on more responsibilities should they come his way.

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