By Adam Hoge-
BOURBONNAIS, Ill. (CBS) — Jay Cutler may have thrown four interceptions in Tuesday’s practice at Olivet Nazarene University, but there’s seems to be some disagreement amongst the Bears about how many of them were legitimate.
You see, three of Cutler’s four interceptions were a result of a defensive lineman getting a hand on the ball and the new head coach has rules about that.
“We try to discourage jumping up in the air for the ball so we can complete plays and let everybody go to the ball and finish,” Marc Trestman said after Tuesday’s practice. “But we allow the guys to keep their hands up.”
The rule was put in place because during practices, defensive linemen tend to end up in positions they normally wouldn’t be during games. That’s because they aren’t allowed to hit the quarterback, so they are pulling up on almost every single rep. When they pull up and put their hands up, they are blocking passing lanes that would normally be there in a game. To be fair, the coaches let the defensive linemen put their hands up, but they don’t want them jumping trying to bat the passes down, partially because the offensive linemen can’t block low in practice either.
“I didn’t know this was a rule,” defensive tackle Henry Melton said with a smile. “They’re just coming at me now. I thought we were allowed to bat them down as long as we don’t jump.”
Melton caused two of the controversial interceptions Tuesday, catching one of them on his own and ending the final two-minute drill of the day by deflecting a pass into the arms of cornerback Isaiah Frey. And at the very heart of “Swat-Gate” is whether or not Melton did more than just put his hands up.
“I didn’t bat (at the ball),” Melton said. “I don’t even know the difference really. You put your arm up, the ball is going to be thrown into it. It’s either going to go into the ground or it goes up in the air.”
Of course, this is the same guy who admits he purposely tries to drive Cutler nuts by swatting his passes down.
“He never likes when I do it. I tell him every morning I’m going to get a couple just to make him mad.”
“I think we need to remind them again,” Cutler said of the rule. “The passing lanes are usually safe, but with those guys sitting right there — usually they’re not there — so there are a few batted balls. It’s frustrating offensively because it’s probably not going to happen in a game.”
But sometimes it does happen in a game. And the third interception caused by a defensive lineman Tuesday was an example of a passing lane that can disappear quickly even when the quarterback is allowed to be hit. Second-year defensive end Shea McClellin made what was probably the best play of his young career — game or practice — when he stepped back into coverage off the line, eyed up a short Cutler swing pass intended for Eric Weems and jumped up and snagged the ball in mid-air before returning it for a touchdown.
McClellin downplayed the play after practice and Melton said the NFL sophomore made plays like that in OTAs.
“Now we want to see him do it in a game,” Melton added.
And that’s exactly why the defensive linemen are struggling to resist the urge to jump up and bat passes down. It’s an instinct that can cause the kind of huge momentum swings the Bears’ defense thrives on.
“Guys get excited and they can’t help but put their hands up and swat at them,” offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer said. “You live with it and you go on to the next play.”
It doesn’t sound like Swat-gate is going away anytime soon.
Adam Hoge covers the Bears for CBSChicago.com and is a frequent contributor to 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter at @AdamHoge.