The time has come friends.
The Chicago Bears open 2016 Training Camp tomorrow morning. The moment everyone has waited for patiently will be upon us shortly after sunrise in the Midwest, on an Olivet Nazarene University campus that will surely be buzzing with excitement.
Despite coming off a 6-10 campaign in 2015, expectations are high for a Bears team now in the second year of a full-blown rebuild. From defensive enhancements through both free agency and the draft, to the return of Kevin White, to a new-look offensive line and backfield, much of what we see in training camp will appear foreign.
Yet that's a good thing, as drastic changes were the only way to pull the Bears out of the cellar of the NFL.
While they appear better on paper, this team's progress on the field is still relatively unknown. To that end, training camp will be revealing -- the first physical phase of a season that holds the promise of better days ahead.
Practice kicks off tomorrow, with unpadded sessions on Thursday and Friday. The pads come on Saturday, which will begin the time of real revelation about this year's roster and its potential.
Today, GM Ryan Pace and John Fox, as well as select players, met with the media to officially kick off camp. Here are some highlights:
Three on PUP
The Bears will begin training camp with three players on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list: OLB Pernell McPhee (knee), G Amini Silatolu (knee) and WR Marques Wilson (foot).
"As you guys know, we’re at 88 right now on our roster. We worked out several positions today so that could change very soon. So right now, we’re still at 88," GM Ryan Pace said. "As far as injuries, three players will start off on PUP. Pernell McPhee, he came in [at] a really good weight right now. Really good shape right now. We've just got to acclimate him into football activities, so he’ll work with the trainers. Amini Silatolu, the guard that we signed in the off-season. He’s coming off an ACL, so we just want to be patient with his recovery. And then lastly, Marquess Wilson, just coming off the foot [injury]."
WR Alshon Jeffery will play this year on the franchise tag after the two sides could not hammer out a long-term deal before the July 15 deadline. It's a scenario with which Pace is comfortable.
"I’m optimistic about it. He’s at a good spot right now," Pace said. "Those negotiations were friendly the whole time. And I don’t think it’s uncommon when you’re negotiating off the franchise tag to sometimes not come to an agreement. But that doesn’t mean there’s any ill will.
http://www.scout.com/nfl/bears/story/1689909-bears-olb-pernell-mcphee-to..."So now we understand; we can revisit it after the season. But I’m optimistic. He’s a talented player. He knows he has to stay healthy. And we’ll see going forward."
Pace's statement makes it clear the Bears' desire for Jeffery, who missed seven games last year, to prove he can stay healthy. That, more than anything else, is the biggest reason Jeffery is playing this year on the tag and not the first year of a long-term contract.
At the end of the day, Pace doesn't believe the failed negotiations this off-season will affect Jeffery's future in Chicago.
"Honestly, I feel really good about where he’s at right now and kind of where we’re at. I don’t think it’s going to affect him at all.”
History of Sophomore Success
In John Fox's two previous stints as an NFL head coach, his clubs took major leaps forward in his second season at the helm.
With the Panthers, Fox inherited a 1-15 team and immediately turned them into a 7-9 club. In his second year, Carolina went 11-5 and made it all the way to the Super Bowl.
With the Broncos, Fox inherited a 4-12 team and immediately turned them into an 8-8 club. In his second year, Denver went 13-3 and lost in the AFC Divisional round. The following year, they went to the Super Bowl.
Fox now enters his second season in charge of the Bears and he sees some parallels between this year's roster and his previous sophomore teams.
“I think it’s like the first year of anything, whether it’s your job, my job, a player’s job. It’s like when I was a kid and we’d go on a trip and it seemed a whole lot longer on the way there than it did coming home. And the reason is that you’ve seen it before, you’ve been there before. So I think that’s it’s just kind of human development," Fox said. "We added Jake Delhomme in Carolina and made a big jump. Granted, we added Peyton Manning [in Denver]. But to me, we added a bunch of players. It’s not just the quarterback. I think we’ve done similar things and we’ll see where it takes us.
"There are a whole lot less questions this year than there were last year. In my mind. Again, this thing is fluid. The roster changes. A lot of things change throughout the process of an NFL season, which starts in training camp. But I feel way more comfortable compared to a year ago.”
Despite Fox's history of success in Year 2, this year's club isn't getting any love from the national media, who roundly believe the Bears will be one of the worst teams in the league.
"You know I think at the end of the day nobody has higher expectations than us," Fox said. "Whether on the outside they're low, high, medium doesn't make a rat's . . . you know. It's kind of what you do. We'll define who we are and that's the exciting part about you know starting over every season.
"I think really you're dealing with two things in life, prosperity, you know that would be the expectations are really high, and there's the flip side. You're dealing with one or the other and neither one of them is easy. It's a competitive game played by super competitive people and very talented people and it's up to you to kind of define what you're going to be within."
The Bears have finished 5-11 and 6-10 the past two years, so the lack of confidence is understandable.
"Whenever you’re coming off losing seasons back to back like that, that’s kind of how it goes," Jay Cutler said. "There’s no reason for anyone to really expect a huge change from our last two seasons, which is fine. That shouldn’t bother anyone in that locker room. Our main goal and our main objective is just to try to get better through training camp and try to win football games. As long as we’re keeping it one game at a time, it’ll take care of itself."
A few players are using the underwhelming projections as motivation heading into camp.
"We are aware of the fact that there’s kind of a league-wide disrespect on the Chicago Bears," Kyle Long said. "I know that we’re not very appreciative of it and we’re looking forward to getting after it.”
Kevin White, last year's first-round wide receiver, enters the first training camp of his career and it's anyone's guess how quickly he'll develop over the next month. After sitting out all of last season, the learning curve could be steep for White this year.
"He’s got a lot of things he’s processing, thinking through," Cutler said. "I think for anybody taking a year off of football, jumping back into it is going to be hard. As a rookie missing kind of that vital year, where you learn so much that first year, jumping into that second year, it’s a big miss for him.
"But he’s so physically gifted I think he’s gonna make it up really, really quickly. It’s just a matter of him letting those athletic gifts come through and him getting comfortable with the system and the verbiage and the splits and everything else that he’s gotta learn and being at a place where he doesn’t have to think, he can just go out and play football. I think once we hit a fast forward button and get to that point, he’s going to be something special.”
Restructured Front Five
Based on depth chart projections, the Chicago Bears will very likely enter the 2016 season with new starters at each of the five offensive line positions compared to last year.
That's a big hurdle for this year's offensive line to overcome, as cohesion is often the foundation for successful blocking units.
"As you guys know, there’s a lot of new faces on this team, so this is their first time being down here at camp," Kyle Long said. "It’s going to be hot, it’s going to be humid, that defense is going to be flying around, I can tell you that right now. It won’t all be pretty, but this is where things get welded and things happen. That’s what training camp is for."
While securing a starting front five early in the process is ideal, the Bears are in a position where one injury could leave the offensive line scrambling to recover.
"In a perfect world, you’d love to be able to say, ‘These are our 11. These are our five O-linemen. That’s what we’re doing.’ But as you guys know, the game of football, anything can happen. I stub a toe on that door, I can’t go tomorrow, who’s going to be at right guard?" said Long. "That’s kind of the nature of the beast. We’ll be really lucky if we get to have a seamless transition into the season but we know how football goes, so knock on wood. That’s just part of the game."
Long said the first step is to get on the practice field and help along the young guys, particularly second-round rookie Cody Whitehair, get comfortable.
"I'd say just taking a lot of snaps [is the next step]," Long siad. "We had two different O-lines go during the spring, obviously with Cody getting a chance to get in there and take a lot of reps, which I think was the best thing that could happen for a guy like Cody. Ted [Larsen] had a ton of reps, he's been in the league for a long time, he understands what it takes to have success, but for a guy like Cody, you need to have to have reps and that goes for all of us. It's like the first few days of minicamp I thought I'd forgotten how to play football, or OTAs. Shake the rust off and the next thing you know you're back to where you want to be and you have to have that attacking, positive mindset every day."null