HOME-SHIELD AD­VAN­TAGE

Bears be­lieve their ap­proach might give them an edge

Chicago Sun-Times - - SPORTS - MARK POTASH mpotash@sun­times.com | @MarkPo­tash

A year ago to­day, the Bears were in full train­ing-camp mode in Bour­bon­nais — far enough along for crit­ics to won­der if Mitch Tru­bisky and the of­fense were that bad or Khalil Mack and the de­fense were that good. And Matt Nagy was in full Nagy mode, throw­ing touch­down passes to Javon Wims and An­thony Miller in a light mo­ment at the end of one drill in prac­tice. In the first week of August this sea­son, with the re­stric­tions of the COVID-19 quar­an­tine af­fect­ing the NFL sched­ule, the Bears are still a week away from a for­mal prac­tice. They’re still limited to walk­throughs, meet­ings and strength-and­con­di­tion­ing work.

Still, Nagy can see some signs that his re­mote mes­sages dur­ing the quar­an­tine off­sea­son res­onated with his play­ers. They not only came back in “ex­cep­tional” shape, but from the start have been dili­gent about stay­ing healthy.

“And you do that by wear­ing a mask,” Nagy said. “Every­body’s say­ing, ‘Just wear a mask.’ Every­body’s got dif­fer­ent be­liefs on the lev­els of 1-10 on where it’s at. But if we just keep the sim­ple rule of ‘every­body wear a mask,’ that’s the best way to go about it. So that’s what we’re do­ing. “Our guys have been re­ally phe­nom­e­nal with it. They see it. And we po­lice each other, too. If some­body doesn’t have their mask up . . . every­body in this build­ing has the au­thor­ity to tell you to get your mask up. We’re well-stocked, and that’s the way we’re at­tack­ing this thing.” The con­fines of the COVID-19 quar­an­tine have been vir­tu­ally iden­ti­cal for all 32 NFL teams. But it re­mains to be seen if the im­pact is the same. From the top on down — chair­man Ge­orge McCaskey, pres­i­dent Ted Phillips, gen­eral man­ager Ryan Pace, Nagy and trainer An­dre Tucker, et al. — the Bears have been in at­tack mode in man­ag­ing the chal­lenges of the COVID-19 off­sea­son.

From their ex­panded fa­cil­i­ties to mak­ing Halas Hall COVID-19 com­pli­ant to Nagy’s ag­gres­sive ap­proach to Zoom meet­ings, the Bears have been on top of this. When the Bears can point to fa­cil­i­ties as a “ma­jor ad­van­tage” — as Pace put it last week — you know these are un­prece­dented times. But their state-of-the-art, 162,500-foot ex­pan­sion of Halas Hall that was com­pleted last year al­ready has come in handy like they never imag­ined.

Will it make a dif­fer­ence? Will their dili­gence and pre­pared­ness give the Bears an edge when the sea­son be­gins? They think so.

“The teams that adapt the best, the teams that take it re­ally se­ri­ous . . . we’ll have an ad­van­tage in the way we ap­proach this — our en­tire team and our staff,” Pace said.

In­clud­ing the emo­tional team Zoom meet­ing in the af­ter­math of the demon­stra­tions to protest racial in­jus­tice in the wake of the Ge­orge Floyd mur­der, Nagy be­lieves the COVID-19 off­sea­son has gal­va­nized the Bears.

“Just for me and Ryan stay­ing in con­stant com­mu­ni­ca­tion with these guys over the off­sea­son, I 100 per­cent be­lieve that, as tight as we were the last two years, we’ve be­come even tighter,” Nagy said. “You see it on the foot­ball field. You see it in the way guys talk. I can look out­side now and see peo­ple so­cial-dis­tanc­ing and eat­ing lunch and cre­at­ing re­la­tion­ships. So you love that. And you want to keep that going.”

But even more so than a strike sea­son, this is un­charted ter­ri­tory for the league.

“We’re deal­ing with a big is­sue with COVID now, and so are 31 other NFL teams,’’ Nagy said. “And to each his own. What we can do is lay a foun­da­tion of safety here. If the play­ers feel safe and they know you love them and they feel that love, then they’re going to do ev­ery­thing in their power to do ev­ery­thing they can to get them­selves right for Sept. 13.”

PAUL SANCYA/AP

Coach Matt Nagy says his play­ers have come back in ex­cep­tional shape.

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