BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- The high-pitched voice of Lance Briggs began to rise and the players in the defensive huddle were bouncing around.
The ebullient display during the Bears' second practice at Olivet Nazarene University on Saturday had to be a welcome sign for teammates, coaches and fans alike as the 33-year-old was whooping it up, if only briefly. The more vocal he is, the better for everyone involved.
Last summer, Briggs didn't make a lot of noise and he did his best to avoid questions about a defense in flux. He wasn't exactly sullen, but with a new coaching staff, a linebackers coach with no NFL experience and his buddy Brian Urlacher in retirement, Briggs wasn't in a happy place. He sure wasn't the same emotional spark plug on the field.
Now, entering the final year of his contract as part of a defense that was atrocious in 2013, Briggs sounds at peace.
"The reality really hit last year," Briggs said. "(I was) very comfortable with the way things were. There were a lot of new guys and chemistry. (I was) scaling all the way back and creating new chemistry with a guy next to me who didn't know what I was going to do and I wasn't sure what he was going to do. It was different. No, you didn't hear me much at all last year.
"To me, it's not about whether I bought in or somebody bought in. I want to win football games. I am on the field trying to help the team win."
General manager Phil Emery has revamped the defensive line totally while adding veterans and draft picks to the secondary. Former first-round pick Shea McClellin has been moved to linebacker but the only given right now is Briggs will start on the weak side.
His production at a position where he has led the team in tackles five times in 11 seasons is hugely important to Mel Tucker's second go-round leading a unit that was last in the NFL stopping the run a year ago. Briggs' absence for seven games with a small fracture in his left shoulder was just one of the major problems for the defense that allowed 29.9 points per game.
"When you hear me talking on the field that means I am extremely excited about us," Briggs said. "Because I know the guys and you are only as good as the man next to you.
"If you hear me being loud, I am proud of who is next to me. There was a lot of change last summer. I am excited to be around the guys I am around right now. Everybody is working hard and every day you get more and more excited.
"You know what? I really enjoy watching my teammates make plays. I always have been that way. That's just the way I am. A lot of guys are, 'I want to make the play,' but I genuinely get excited to watch my teammates make plays."
His demeanor hasn't gone unnoticed.
"Lance has a great personality and he has charisma," Tucker said. "For him to be at his best he wants to feel good about what we're asking him to do and he wants to feel good about the guys around him.
"Right now, he feels we're headed in the right direction. If he's not happy, I'm not happy."
Said linebackers coach Reggie Herring: "He has been through a lot of rodeos. You can gain knowledge if you learn to listen. He applies that to the young guys."
Herring provides a dose of reality when he says Briggs isn't as fast as he was at 23, but Herring is concerned only about what will happen now.
"He still possess the quickness and instincts and knowledge," Herring said. "He's older, wiser and can put himself in the right position quicker with less ability."
Briggs began training for the season after the June minicamp wrapped. He spent nearly a month with University of Kentucky strength coach Corey Edmond, whom he has known since 2004. Some players vacation in the weeks before camp. Briggs uses that time to prepare for the grind, working out at 9:45 a.m. and boxing in the afternoon five days a week. He used to spar but stopped that several years ago, now focusing on mitts, bags and conditioning.
"Lance shows the same exuberance (training) here and that's why he does it, to get that grind in that atmosphere that prepares him for the season," Edmond said. "He does the same thing as everybody else (here). He loves to compete against the younger guys.
"When you bring a guy like that on a college campus the sense of awareness heightens. He usually immerses himself into the group and when they see Briggs is there it is almost like a drag race. If you know the fastest guy on the block, everybody is going to put their car alongside him and race."
Briggs will earn $5.5 million in the final year of a deal that was extended in April 2012 in one of Emery's first moves. He has had high-profile contract showdowns in the past and made it clear he wanted more money in the 2011 preseason. That's not the case this time around.
"If this is it, I am happy I had a great career," he said. "Physically, I am fine. If somebody wants me to play (in 2015), I'll play football. If Phil wants me to come back, I'll play football. I have enjoyed every moment. The good and the bad, I've enjoyed it and I have learned from it. Chicago has been great to me."
There have been no new talks with his agent Drew Rosenhaus.
"I am really focused on football," Briggs said. "My concern is to win. That contract stuff was when I was younger. I was really worried and concerned about it. Right now, I want to enter this season as healthy as possible and make plays."
Urlacher has given Briggs space since camp opened. He didn't like former teammates checking with him in the midst of camp but he's not surprised to learn his friend is making noise again.
"I am sure another year under the staff (has him more comfortable) and I am sure he knows what they could possibly have there," Urlacher said. "They could be really good this year."
The seven-time Pro Bowl performer is optimistic but isn't about to make bold predictions.
"Everyone knows what we have to do," Briggs said. "Last year is last year. This year, we have an opportunity. We have to see what we are made of."
(c)2014 Chicago Tribune
Visit the Chicago Tribune at www.chicagotribune.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services