Coaches gratified team is in shape
Physical conditioning viewed as significant head start
There are always rumors and snickering about players showing up to training camp out of shape, but this year, their union came right out and said flatly not to expect anyone to arrive ready to practice.
That doesn’t seem to be the case at Halas Hall. Despite the coronavirus pandemic nixing all offseason practices and making it difficult or impossible to access — and who among us hasn’t put on a few pounds during this ordeal? — Bears coach Matt Nagy marveled at how fit his players were when he saw them for the first time since January.
“Akiem Hicks . . . he showed up in great shape and I’m really proud of him,” Nagy said. “I know it’s not easy. And then Cordarrelle Patterson . . . he was ready for me to ask him how he’s doing, because he looks good, too.
“There’s a lot of other guys that I can tell you. I’d be wasting your time [to list them all], but . . . these guys, they’re really locked in now. They’re in shape. They look really good.”
That’s a pleasant surprise and huge head start for the Bears as Nagy and general manager Ryan Pace try to ascertain how good their roster is.
Coaches always feel like they don’t have enough time in the preseason, and there’s even less this year. Teams can’t begin padded practices until Aug. 17, and then they only get 14 of them — and no games — before they shift into preparation for the Sept. 13 opener at the Lions.
That’s a tight window for Nagy to make judgments, and his to-do list is long:
◆ At quarterback, it’s fledgling incumbent Mitch Trubisky versus well-versed journeyman Nick Foles.
◆ He’s eyeing at least three rookies — tight end Cole Kmet, cornerback Jaylon Johnson and wide receiver Darnell Mooney — for significant roles.
◆ The opt-out by ultra-proficient defensive tackle Eddie Goldman leaves a big vacancy in the starting lineup. The Bears also lost veteran special teamer Jordan Lucas and could see additional opt-outs before the deadline Thursday.
◆ Returning young players such as running back David Montgomery and wide receiver Anthony Miller have much to prove if they want to be go-to threats in the offense.
◆ The Bears believe they know what they’re getting in former
All-Pro tight end Jimmy Graham, but there’s no way to be sure until they pit him against a full-speed defense in practice.
It’s a similar question for new safety Tashaun Gipson and a handful of other wayward veterans the Bears brought aboard this offseason.
◆ The entire season might ride on the offensive line after a woeful 2019 performance, and Nagy needs more than just old film to choose his starting five.
Nagy can get merely a sense of where things stand on those fronts at the moment. The focus is still strength training and conditioning, and the on-field work is very limited. It’s all “mental reps” at this point. Sure, the rookies look fine carrying out assignments without any opponents, but any player can do that.
“We’re not there yet where you can put on the pads,” Nagy said. “You can put that helmet on, you can put the shoulder pads on, put the defense across from you, and it really makes things even tougher.”
Until then, he isn’t in any better position to draw up a depth chart than he was three months ago. When Nagy was asked whether it truly felt like training camp, he gave a long, roundabout answer that was basically a no.
And in that sense, it’d be surprising if anyone felt like football season was truly underway. There has been nothing normal about the last few months, and it’s in the back of everyone’s mind that the season itself probably won’t be normal. Nagy often talks about the Bears doing the best they can to adapt to the strangest season in recent memory, and that adjustment starts now.
A key decision will be whether Mitch Trubisky (left) will keep his starting job at QB or whether Nick Foles takes over.
The Bears hope that WR Anthony Miller (left) and RB David Montgomery will continue to develop.