Why Bears WRs buy into "no loafs" system coach Tolbert has established
By John Dietz
Few things in life irritate Bears wide receivers coach Tyke Tolbert more than a lazy player.
You're in the NFL. Bust your butt at every opportunity.
This obviously goes for every route Tolbert's wideouts are running, but it also means giving maximum effort while blocking for the tailbacks.
To help hold everyone accountable, the 55-year-old Tolbert came up with a system when he was with the Broncos about 10 years ago.
"You see a lot of loafs by wide receivers in the NFL all the time," said Tolbert, who broke into the league as a WR coach with Arizona in 2003. "Guys come off the ball and they take a couple steps and just stop and watch the play. "I'm like, 'That's just impossible not to touch anybody on a run play.' So I started giving 'Impossibles.'"
Tolbert, who admits to being a tough grader, tallies up "Impossibles" while going over postgame film.
The funny thing is that guys can avoid an "Impossible" after the whistle sounds. All they have to do is tap someone on the way back to the huddle.
"It's a good thing to make sure everyone gets to the ball," said Darnell Mooney. "At first it was a frustrating thing like, 'Man, I've got to run all the way over here just to touch somebody.' But it's unique. It's nice."
Dante Pettis knew all about this system coming into this year because he was coached by Tolbert the last two seasons on the Giants.
"I probably have the lowest number. If it's not zero, it's very close," Pettis said. "This is just Tyke's way of making sure we're never going to be standing around or walking."
Chase Claypool, who came to the Bears from the Steelers via trade on Nov. 1, was introduced to the concept at his first practice at Halas Hall. During one play all of the receivers were running around trying to get a hand on someone and yelling, 'Let's go, let's go, let's go!'
"I was like, 'Oh, (expletive)!" Claypool said. "I just started running. I didn't know what was happening."
Some opponents are obviously a bit confused and wondering why they're being poked at after David Montgomery, Khalil Herbert, Justin Fields and others have been tackled.
Mooney, Pettis, Equanimeous St. Brown and Claypool have had some interesting interactions.
"You'll be going back to the huddle," Mooney said, "and just literally touch a D-lineman. They'll be like, 'Yo, stop touching me.'"
Said Pettis: "They're like, 'Take it easy. The play's over or the ball's going the other way.'"
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Tolbert's coaching career began as a graduate assistant at LSU in 1994. He spent almost a decade in the collegiate ranks, then broke into the NFL after Jerry Sullivan offered him a job with Arizona. Sullivan, who had just been promoted from WR coach to offensive coordinator, had worked with Tolbert in the past and was the first person he called.
The decision was not an easy one for Tolbert and his wife. "I was at the University of Florida at the time," Tolbert said. "I'd just got there -- one year, went to a bowl game. Like, I'm good.
"Then he called and wanted me to come. We thought about it and I almost didn't go. We decided to go ahead and do it. I figured if it didn't work out, I could always go back to college."
That never happened. Instead, Tolbert is in his 20th season as a wide receivers coach. After the Cardinals, he went to the Bills (2004-09), the Panthers (2010), the Broncos (2011-17), the Giants (2018-21) and now the Bears. "God has granted me this blessing to be able to do something that I love to do," said Tolbert, who won a Super Bowl with the Broncos during the 2015-16 season.
His players respect him as a coach but also appreciate what he brings to the table in many other ways.
He can be chill. He can get super serious. He can be intensely competitive on game day. And he can also be hilarious, as he proved last week while telling a small group of reporters that the NFL doesn't pay him a dime.
"They pay my wife," Tolbert said with a smile. "I work for free."
"Tyke's funny. I love Tyke. A lot of energy," Pettis said. "On the field he gets a little fiery.
"He lets our personalities show in the receivers room. We're a really tight group, so everyone's joking around. ...
"Our meetings are a really good time."
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Tolbert's serious side can emerge on and off the field. A father of two teenage daughters, Tolbert understands how to deliver a message to a young wideout who might be struggling or not playing. He did this with N'Keal Harry not long after Mooney and Claypool went down with injuries against the Jets in Week 12.
"Your time is gonna come now," Tolbert told Harry on the sidelines in the fourth quarter. "What are you going to do to keep it? ... You've got to be involved with anything I ask you to do. You've got to get that spot and don't give it up."
Tolbert is also happy to dole out life advice for those who are willing to listen. Giants WR Sterling Shepard was one player who leaned on Tolbert while going through a divorce. Golden Tate came in for help as well.
"Especially being an African American coach with a wife and kids, I think people see me as a person they can relate to as a father figure," Tolbert said. "My wife calls me your favorite uncle.
"But I feel there's an obligation for me to pass on whatever knowledge I have so hopefully they can do the right things. I have daughters and I look at things a whole lot differently than I used to when I didn't have daughters.
"I just pass that knowledge on to them and hopefully they can make some better decisions and treat people with respect, especially females."
Seems almost impossible not to love, like -- or at least respect -- this thoughtful approach.