“He was out there in full today with limited work,” Marc Trestman said today. “So we'll see again what the trainers have to say about where he is through the [concussion] protocol.”
With Conte’s status up in the air, Trestman wasn’t ready to announce his starting-safety duo heading into the Week 1 contest against the Buffalo Bills.
“I think we’re going to still wait and see,” Trestman said. “We’re rotating the guys around and we’ll talk more about that on Wednesday. We’ll get them started in the right direction. I’d just rather wait another day-and-a-half. But we’ve got four guys that we moved around. Chris isn’t … he’s been allowed to get work. He got work today, so we have to see where he is as well going into Wednesday’s practice.”
The fact Trestman is waiting on Conte’s clearance to announce his safety starters as an indication he’d like Conte to start next to Ryan Mundy this Sunday. Yet, beyond the concussion, conditioning could also be an issue, as Conte did very little during the offseason, training camp and preseason due to a shoulder injury.
“He hasn’t had the preparation time certainly that other guys have had, there’s no doubt about it,” said Trestman. “But at the end of the day, we go by what the trainers and the doctors have to say. If he’s not in condition to play, if he’s not physically ready to play, he won’t. If they feel like he is, he’s going to have to work into that because he didn’t get the preseason time that certainly the other guys did.”
Wilson’s Status Unclear
Trestman would not disclose if injured receiver Marquess Wilson, who broke his collarbone in training camp, would begin the season on Injured Reserve.
“I think I could better answer that after Wednesday's practice,” Trestman said. “It's simply because there's a lot of technical CBA rules involved in this thing and I think that to bring clarity to it, I'd rather give you that answer as we move through the week.”
The new CBA allows for one player on IR to return to the active roster after Week 6. Wilson, who is expected to miss at least half the season, is a strong candidate for a mid-year return after a stint on IR, although it appears the Bears won't make that designation until later this week.
After an entire offseason of competition, the Bears have finalized the team’s kick and punt returner heading into Week 1. Micheal Spurlock gets first billing at both spots, while Santonio Holmes will also work in the punt-return rotation.
“We've got Spurlock back there, we've got Santonio back there, and Spurlock's the guy we're going to start with,” Trestman said. “We brought in Rashad Ross, he's on the practice squad. He's got return ability as well. We're going to take a good look at Micheal and get Santonio in there and work from that standpoint in the punt-return side.”
Despite being 30 years old and coming off a foot injury, Holmes feels he can be of value as a punt returner.
“In special teams in the punt return game, with the help of the front 10 guys working their tails off like they did for Devin [Hester] back in the day, I can definitely contribute in that aspect,” Holmes said.
Talent Overcomes Chemistry
Chicago’s defense did not play well during the preseason, particularly in the third contest, a 33-6 drubbing at the hands of the Seattle Seahawks, a game in which the Bears starters played the entire first half.
Yet, as Trestman pointed out today, at no point in the preseason did the entire starting defense get significant time together on the field.
“The whole defense wasn’t together at one time during [the preseason],” said Trestman. “We’re going to have to come together. It’s going to be a process working together, getting to know each other, how each other works. But the talent level’s there.“
That perceived talent of Chicago’s defense is the crutch the coaching staff will lean on heading into the regular season. The hope is that this unit’s veteran skill set can overcome the lack of continuity and chemistry the defense has showed the past month.
“We think the talent level is in a place right now,” Trestman said, “where we’ve got a chance to go out each and every week and get better and improve. That’s what we’re going to try and do as we work through this week of practice and the start of the season.”
Trestman said special teams played a large part in the decision to load up the offensive backfield.
“Part of the reason, running-back wise, is their value to special teams,” said Trestman. “We’ve got a couple of linebackers who don’t play special teams. So we picked it up with running backs who not only can give us return ability but gunner ability also. Playing on the punt team like Shaun. Shaun can be a three- or four-core guy. So that’s part of the reason why they made the football team was not only their ability to play offense but their ability to bring value, special-teams wise.”
Beyond Marquess Wilson, the only other Bears who didn’t practice today were QB David Fales, who has a sore shoulder, and LB Lance Briggs, who was excused for a private business matter.
“I had communication with [Briggs] three weeks ago about it. We talked about it and I excused him for personal reasons,” Trestman said. “So this is not something that happened yesterday or the day before. He contacted me a couple weeks ago and I said, ‘Yeah, you can go.’ That was it.”
Briggs today is in his hometown of Elk Grove, California for the grand opening of his restaurant, Double Nickle Smokehouse, although Trestman wouldn’t confirm Briggs’ whereabouts.
“I’m not going to speak for him with what he’s doing today. I can tell you that I excused him and that this is something that now took place a long time ago. Where he’s gone is between him and the reasons that he had to go, but it was good by me.”
Some have questioned Briggs’ dedication to the team this offseason in what will likely be his final NFL season, and surely his last in Chicago. Taking off to open a restaurant during the first practice of the regular season isn’t going to quiet his critics.
Like Riding a Bike
Right tackle Jordan Mills, who has hardly played or practiced since the first week of training camp due to a sore foot, is expected to be ready for the season opener. Despite not working with his teammates much during the offseason, Mills isn’t worried about a lack of chemistry along the offensive line.
“I don’t think it’s that much of a concern because we were all together for 16 games last year even though I broke my foot,” Mill said. “It’s like riding a bike. Once you get it and you stop riding it for a while, it’s like getting back into it. You never forget how to ride it. First with Kyle [Long] with his illness, me with my foot, some other guys being out, [Matt] Slauson sometimes with his shoulder. But it’s just like we never left when we got back together. I had to knock a little rust off and once I got back in, it was like I never left.”
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.