Deiondre’ Hall was 15 years old when Tracy Porter picked off Peyton Manning and took it to the house in Super Bowl XLIV.
Now, Hall and his fellow defensive backs head to Porter’s house once a week for film sessions. Hall said the players sit on the couch while Porter sits off to the side with an iPad, pointing things out on the TV, getting his teammates on the same page as to the receivers they are about to face.
“The man got knowledge, so I'm just taking in what I can from him, the small tips,” said the rookie corner. “He sees film a little bit differently than us younger guys do. He's been there and done that.”
Porter, the oldest defensive back on the team at 30, hosts his position group at his home, offering a bonus film session — with food provided — for the Bears’ young position group.
Every player watches tape, but to truly take what is seen on the iPad screen to the field on Sundays is the next level. And the level after that is making sure your teammates are doing the same.
“You have the meetings defensively, but there's no better way to watch the film than to watch with the guys you're going to be on the field with,” Porter said. “The coaches do their job putting us in the right place and drawing up schemes and whatnot, but when you're on the field, the coaches can't be on the field, so you have to work with the guys who are going to be in the game with you. I try to get them to my house as much as I can so we can all be on the same page.”
Second-year corner Bryce Callahan said Porter has helped him polish up his game through watching tape. Porter noticed Callahan’s feet weren’t right in press coverage.
Hall said that Porter worked with him on how to recognize whether it’s a three- or five-step drop-back from the quarterback, so that he can then get his eyes to the receiver to figure out “if he’s going to go vertical or sit it down.”
The simple act of studying film, not just what’s on the screen, is something Porter teaches, too.
“Watching film before I came here, I just kind of watched it and tried to put everything together,” Callahan said, “but he broke it up for me to like, what to watch first, first and second down, then short-yardage. He helped me out with that.”
That sounds similar to the way Porter first learned to watch tape.
In his rookie season, 2008, Porter learned from Aaron Glenn, a three-time Pro Bowler who was in the NFL for 15 seasons.
“He said, 'Man, you have good feet, good hips, the longer you can square when you're pedaling with receivers, it can help you out throughout the down,’” Porter said. “He taught me how to be more of a technician versus just relying on athletic ability, because at this level, everyone's athletic. He taught me about how to watch tape, what to look for.”
Vic Fangio runs the defense, Ed Donatell coaches the defensive backs, but Porter is like the teaching assistant who uses his office hours to make sure his teammates can improve.
“Those guys, they're young. They're able to play the game, but I've been trying to get them to understand that it's more than just being physically and athletically able to play the game,” Porter said. “This game is more mental than it is physical. It's kind of hard for people on the outside to see that, but this is a mental game. If you can stay ahead of the opposing team, the opposing offense, mentally, and you have a feel for what they want to do, it's going to allow you to play faster.
“It's going to make your 4.3 look like a 4.2, your 4.4 look like a 4.3, so on and so forth. I try to get those guys to watch film and understand concepts of what offenses like to do. Because a coach can call the same defensive play every down throughout the entire game, but if you know what the offenses is doing, you're going to be able to make plays on the ball. I see them, they're definitely growing in that direction. That'll come with more years and more experience.”
Fangio said that young players “play the game from the neck down almost 100 percent of the time” and that Porter’s coaching gives them more reason to understand the importance of the mental aspects of the game.
“As you get older, you need to play the game from the neck up some,” he said. “His experiences and knowledge helps.”
Often, we’ve heard Fangio and John Fox rave about Porter’s football intelligence. It’s why they trust Porter to lock down the opponent’s best receiver each week, and why he’s been the team’s best and most consistent defensive player over the past two seasons. Now he’s imparting that on his teammates.
“By me having what the coaches consider good football IQ, I pick up things football-wise pretty quickly, so it's easy for me to see things and notice things and watching film, and I can help out the younger guys. I try to get those guys to come back and bring me things that they see,” he said. “That's my way of training those guys and getting them used to watching tape.”
Fangio said it was “pretty obvious early on” that Porter’s understanding of the game was better than most players.
“Those are the types of people that can watch film on their own constructively and gain from it,” Fangio said. “A lot of the players really can't do that, they need a coach there with them to point it out. Since we have a lot of young players, particularly in the secondary, that's the case here. But when he watches it, he can help them. Those guys know when he gives them a tip or something, that it's coming from study and experience, it's not just a guess. He's been a good influence.”
It’s easy for Porter to think of a specific moment in his career that he could directly trace back to his film study.
On the off day during Super Bowl XLIV week, Porter said the entire secondary spent 4-5 hours in the film room. What else would you do when you’re preparing for Peyton Manning?
“We didn't know what everyone else was doing, but in our mind, we were facing Peyton Manning,” Porter recalled. “He's the G.O.A.T.”
Porter, then in his second season, remembers veteran corner Pierson Prioleau pointing out a play that kept coming up on tape and telling his teammates, “Man, if we don’t intercept this pass in the Super Bowl, we don’t deserve to win.”
That led to the pick-six that has been the highlight of Porter’s career.
As Porter, in his ninth season, fights through injuries to stay on the field, he knows that what he can pick up in the film room can give him an edge even if he’s physically not at 100 percent. The film study keeps him playing at a high level. Just ask Odell Beckham (46 yards vs. Porter), Mike Evans (66 yards) and Allen Robinson (49 yards) about Porter’s abilities to contain No. 1 receivers.
“The coaches and the younger guys, they may say I'm a film rat, I watch a lot of film, I know a lot, but you don't know everything,” he said. “To have the ability to still be able to grow in my 9th year, that definitely is exciting, because you don't want to say, "OK, we're back in here, I know they're going to run hitches, I know they're going to run slants, I know they're going to do this. It's exciting. It keeps the mind fresh.”