My playing days with the Bears granted me the opportunity to play with Hall of Famers. Notably, on the defensive side. LB#1 already being inducted, LB#2 on the way and of course DE #1.
Future Hall of Fame DE #1 was very quiet. He kept to himself and spoke mostly in joking manners. His ability to connect with players without really talking was always a cool thing to see. Safe to say he was introverted. Playing with him and getting to see his athletic abilities on display daily was indeed a treat. That was until the day came where we would meet in the first-team offense vs first team defense.
During the 2011 training camp, we enjoyed going up against our defense because last year’s success proved how good we could be. So we would get after it during practice. We knew that DE#1 would come screaming off the edge, so we installed a play action. The downside to this was I would have to go in motion and block DE #1.
While installing the play action, coaches urged me to chop block the DE. However, since chop blocking DE #1 in practice would cost me my job the coaches told me to speak with him and let him know not to rush hard because if it were a live game, I would chop him. So, I had a conversation with DE #1. We discussed a thumbs up so he wouldn’t rush hard and screw up the play since I could not chop block him. He agreed, and the thumbs-up plan was intact.
Fast forward to the scrimmage. The offense is doing well, and the coaches are yapping at the defense. Coaches insert me in the game and before I get in the huddle coach reminded me to give DE #1 the thumbs up. So, I did. He ignored it. I enter the huddle and get the play. I peek out of the huddle and make eye contact, and I think it was hard to see his eyes with that tinted shield, with him and give him a thumbs up. He gives thumbs up back. Perfect! I was relieved. Just for assurance, when I broke the huddle so that the film crew could record it, I gave him another thumb. He shook his head as in no… After that, I knew this play was going to be a disaster.
QB #1 calls for me to come in motion, so I do. I give another thumbs up, and obviously, he ignored it. QB#1 goes through his cadence and says hike. I have never been pushed back so far in my life. I felt as if I had been pushed back to my youth. Seriously, I felt like a little kid trying to stop their big brother during a basketball game. The worst part was that he pushed me into the quarterback. All I hear is “what the f*%k is Earl doing.” Now, I have to explain why QB #1 almost hit his hand on my helmet. We ended up getting an understanding, which was good.
Instead of giving a thumbs up to DE #1 I should have given a thumbs down to the play because there was no way I had a chance to stop this behemoth from getting close to the QB. After practice, I asked him did he see my thumbs up, he responded, “yea, but we practicing I can’t just let you of all people block me – you’re small.” Talk about humiliation. Now I can only imagine how some lineman wanted to give a thumbs down every snap they had to face him. #StoryTimeWithEarl