Fallout from the fisticuffs

Tuesday's Chicago Bears practice included an on-field scuffle between the offense and defense. Players believe it will help the team but does a fight truly benefit a club with championship aspirations?

The Chicago Bears are a talented team and were one play away from the playoffs last year. After a last-second collapse that knocked them out of the postseason, this year's roster is full of players with a bad taste in their mouths.

As a result, it took just five full practices before tempers boiled over into an on-field fight.

During yesterday's OTA session, right tackle Jordan Mills and defensive end Lamarr Houston, who have been squaring off on pretty much every snap since OTAs began, got into a post-whistle shoving match. Jared Allen stepped in, then Martellus Bennett entered the fray.

Grappling, shoving, yelling and helmet throwing ensued until cooler heads eventually prevailed.

After practice, Mills said a skirmish on the practice field can help a team achieve greatness.

"The intensity of the game, you push somebody past their limits," Mills said. "When you do that, you make yourself a better player and you make them a better player, and ultimately the team becomes great."

Tim Jennings, speaking this morning on the NFL Network, said the fisticuffs showed a level of determination by this year's Bears team.

"That just lets you know the fire that these OTAs is bringing (out) in the defense and that this offense have against one another," Jennings said. "Each and everybody wants to be great. As our defensive line, you're not going to push us around. You're not going to push us around. If you're going to bark, we're going to bark back. With guys on the sideline and the coaches, we see that fire, and it just lets you know it's time for football."

Yet here's the thing, Marc Trestman isn't buying it.

In his book "Perseverance", Trestman outlines the rules of practice, which he learned as a coach for the San Francisco 49ers during the mid 1990s. Those rules include: stay off the ground, no bull rushes, no batted balls, keep your feet moving, run from drill to drill, the ball stays off the ground, etc.

The very last rule on his list: fighting wastes time.

"[Trestman] basically said we're wasting time arguing with each other when we could be getting better, getting these plays in against each other," Mills said. "It's a trickle down. When you miss plays, you miss opportunities, and we need those opportunities."

Trestman's views on fighting are interesting considering the pace of his practices, which is frenetic to say the least. He wants to put his players in game situations every day, which makes sense, but when you're running guys ragged day in and day out, one should assume tempers are going to flare from time to time.

For two seasons, I was witness to every Lovie Smith practice open to the media. I don't remember one significant fight.

In barely over a year with Trestman in charge, I've now seen two fights, both of which escalated quickly. Fighting might waste time in Trestman's view but putting players through the ringer every day is obviously a recipe for sending guys over the edge.

At the very least, a rumble with teammates shows a player's competitive side. You don't throw down on the practice field if you don't care about succeeding, even if it is for just that one play. No one is going through the motions.

That alone is a good thing. Obviously, the players on this team want to win. If they can channel that passion onto the game field, it should serve them well, but for the time being, the team as a whole might benefit more from productive reps than barroom brawls.


Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is in his fourth season covering the Chicago Bears full time. Follow Bear Report on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Bear Report Web site or magazine, click here.


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