Coaches grat­i­fied team is in shape

Phys­i­cal con­di­tion­ing viewed as sig­nif­i­cant head start

Chicago Sun-Times - - SPORTS - JA­SON LIESER jlieser@sun­times.com | @Ja­sonLieser

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.

AP (LEFT), GETTY IMAGES

A key de­ci­sion will be whether Mitch Tru­bisky (left) will keep his start­ing job at QB or whether Nick Foles takes over.

AP PHO­TOS

The Bears hope that WR An­thony Miller (left) and RB David Mont­gomery will con­tinue to de­velop.

Matt Nagy

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