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Jauron on his Bears: They believe in themselves
With a day to reflect on their thrilling opening day victory, Bears players and coaches sounded a lot like they did after last season's unlikely string of stunners. It's not luck, they insist. Good teams put themselves in positions to win.
The Bears certainly did that in Sunday's 27-23 win over Minnesota. After being outplayed for a half, a few tweaks were made, but essentially the Bears stuck to what they do best pound the ball and eventually wore down the Vikings.
Coach Dick Jauron, while happy about starting the season on a positive note, hardly was surprised his guys were able to rally under the sweltering conditions in Champaign. After going 13-3 last season, this a confident group.
"They have a lot of belief in themselves," Jauron said. "They have a lot of faith in each other. They don't want to let their teammates down. I think that's a big part of it."
Faith, confidence, and aligned stars aside, what it really comes down to is talent.
"We have some really good athletes on the football field," Jauron said. "There's no denying that. The fact of the matter is, the better your athletes, the better your team. Guys that have that kind of talent usually have a lot of confidence in their talent."
It's not to say Jauron doesn't have confidence in his backups, but when three starters are carted off the field in the first half, two on the same cart, it's not a pretty sight.
The severity of the two serious injuries to corner R.W. McQuarters, who hurt his left knee, and defensive end Phillip Daniels, who twisted his right ankle, won't be known until test results come back. The third player, safety Mike Brown, received two IVs and returned to the game to intercept a Daunte Culpepper pass to set up the winning touchdown.
"That's not a good feeling when you see that cart going into the lockerroom with those three guys on it and the team's on the field playing football," Jauron said. "But the guys that stepped in, they did what they had to do."
With their most experienced corner in McQuarters out, the Bears turned to the tandem of Reggie Austin and Todd McMillon, a diminutive pair of cornerbacks and good friends, who together spent the off-season bulking up in Atlanta under the guidance of strength guru Chip Smith. It wouldn't surprise anyone if they were hanging from chin-up bars trying to get taller, too.
"(The coaches) were telling me that I needed to get stronger and try and get a little bit bigger," said the 5-foot-9-inch, 185-pound Austin. "I can't do anything about my height, so the only thing I can do is try and get a little bit bigger and stronger."
Austin, who played one down last year after spending all of 2000, his rookie season, on injured reserve, used all of his height and considerable speed to make a diving interception on the Bears' goal line.
"Reggie showed up yesterday on a guy like Randy Moss," defensive end Bryan Robinson said. "You're not going to get better than that in this league.
"For a guy who doesn't usually play as much as he did, he got that call, he came in, he knocked a home run."
Jauron admitted that had Austin not committed himself to getting stronger during the off-season, the former fourth-round pick wouldn't have made the team this year.
Austin, the self-proclaimed fastest man on the team, is used to being second-guessed.
"That's happened all my life," Austin said. "People saying I'm too small, too small to go to college, they said I was too small to start in college, they said I was too small to go to the NFL and now they say I'm too small to start in this league."
All backups are told they're just a knee or an ankle injury away from playing. Depending on McQuarters' status, Austin could be starting in the NFL next week against Atlanta.
Depth of the defensive secondary was a question that was answered quickly with McQuarters and Brown out. Another question was second-year man Bernard Robertson at left tackle.
Robertson was called for holding on one play, but performed admirably against a well-prepared Minnesota team.
"Everybody's just giving a big exhale that I didn't go out there and screw up," Robertson said. "It's just like taking a bet and winning, everyone's just relieved.
"I knew I could go out there and play ball and so did the staff and team, but I had to go out there and prove to everybody else that's not in this organization."
While clearly talking about the media, Robertson also was alluding to the Vikings.
"I don't know if they were trying to take advantage of just me," Robertson said. "They were trying to take advantage of the entire offensive line. They brought a lot of stuff, you know, twists, blitzes. And they took advantage of the heat knowing that we like to double-team guys and rush the ball a lot. They did whatever they could to keep from being still and allowing us to get those blocks.
"The second we started figuring out what they were doing, we put it together, broke it down and did what we do best: pound on guys."
Jauron praised Robertson's pass protection, but hinted he still needs some work at run blocking. While allowing just one sack, Anthony Thomas rushed for minus-2 yards in the first half and the problems can be attributed to lack of holes in the line.
On the other side of tbe ball, the trio of Moe Williams, Michael Bennett and Doug Chapman combined for 136 yards rushing on the Bears' defense, known for stopping the run.
"I would attribute their running the ball to the fact that they blocked us," Jauron said. "They did a nice job. They executed and we didn't at times. The credit goes to them."
The loss of Daniels, an end who plays the run well, didn't help.