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Colts players embrace reunion with Matt Eberflus during joint practice with Bears

Chicago Bears coach Matt Eberflus watches warmups during the team's NFL football joint practice with the Indianapolis Colts at the Colts' football training camp in Westfield, Ind., Wednesday, Aug. 16, 2023. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

WESTFIELD, Ind. (AP) — Indianapolis Colts cornerback Kenny Moore has been anticipating the final week of training camp ever since he knew it would end with two joint practices against the Chicago Bears.

Sure, like many of his teammates, Moore wants to return home after spending nearly three weeks at the Grand Park training complex in Westfield, Indiana.

But he circled these practices for another reason; he was eager to spend some time with the coach who gave him his first big break five years ago, then-Colts defensive coordinator and current Bears coach Matt Eberflus.

“I think about foundation, that’s where everything gelled not only with him, but everybody we had over that journey,” Moore said, following a pause and a smile to reflect on those early days. “Just to see him here in a place in the Midwest, to go out and compete and show him this is where it all started is pretty cool.”

It’s also pretty a special moment for the two, who haven’t seen each other much since Eberflus took the Chicago job but admire one another.

Moore started his pro career as an undrafted rookie out of Valdosta State with the New England Patriots. One day after he was waived during the Patriots’ final cutdown, the Colts claimed Moore and he wound up starting five games in 2017 because of injuries.

The next season, Moore’s playing time increased under Eberflus and the new coaching staff and he was so successful defending slot receivers that Indy signed him to a four-year, $36 million contract extension in June 2019.

From there, Moore became the anchor of the secondary, a key leader in the locker room, and in 2021, a first-time Pro Bowler. Then came the Bears offer — and the breakup.

“We all knew how much he meant to this team, to be over a team,” Moore said. “He can get the job done and I would just tell him, he looked good and I’m proud of him being a (head) coach.”

Moore traveled to Chicago shortly after to see Eberflus but it wasn’t until Thursday when they were back on the field together that they really chatted after Moore was shoved into Bears quarterback Justin Fields. Eberflus said Fields and most of his starters will not play Saturday night because they already had enough work against the Colts.

“I know Kenny and I love Kenny. He’s a great player and a great man,” Eberflus said. “He came off the edge and we had our protection break down and at the very last minute our tackle pushed him and I told Kenny ‘You’re athletic enough to move out of that way,’ He agreed.”

The camaraderie was evident off the field — even though four skirmishes broke out in a 34-minute stretch Thursday as practice ended early.

Colts owner Jim Irsay occasionally talks about growing up in Chicago, a fan of Hall of Famers Gale Sayers and Dick Butkus before his father, Robert, took over the Colts.

Eberflus and new Indy coach Shane Steichen both donned T-shirts promoting the Colts’ mental health awareness campaign, “Kicking The Stigma,” in front of a capacity crowd on a warm, sunny Wednesday evening.

Several Colts players took the time to find Bears defensive coordinator Alan Williams, who spent 10 seasons in Indy on the staffs of Tony Dungy and Jim Caldwell, and Steichen made sure he said hello to Bears linebacker T.J. Edwards, who had been playing with the Philadelphia Eagles where Steichen spent two seasons.

Even Bears tight end Cole Kmet, a former Notre Dame star, enjoyed the spirited action.

“Our fans travel, so that’s pretty cool and it’s great being back in the state of Indiana — a great state,” he said. “It’s fun and we enjoy it and we’re getting better as well.”

But for Moore, three-time All-Pro linebacker Shaquille Leonard and two-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle DeForest Buckner among others, it’s hard to avoid the connection with Eberflus and the role he played in their development this week, even as they spend time in meetings, studying film and game prep.

For Eberflus, too.

“There’s a lot of people here (with Indy) that I love that I really support from the players to the GM to really everybody,” he said. “Shane and I have been friends the last couple of years, so I certainly support him. And so great to see the players, I saw probably 25 guys that I’m close to. Got to see Shaq and his wife and his family today, so really great.”

NOTE: The Colts put receiver Ashton Dulin on injured reserve Thursday after he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee during Wednesday’s practice. Dulin walked to the locker room with two trainers after getting hurt. He had 15 receptions for 207 yards and one TD last season with Indy.