Matter of Timing for Briggs & Jones

Linebacker Lance Briggs and running back Thomas Jones missed most of the Bears' off-season work hoping to get new deals before their current pacts are fulfilled. The strategy never worked, but both players are expected to report to Bourbonnais on time.

Bears coach Lovie Smith anticipates all hands on deck -- and by the midnight deadline Wednesday -- when the team is due to report for the start of training camp.

"I would definitely be surprised if we had a holdout for training camp," Smith said. "I assume we'll have all of the players. I think the players know what's at stake. We need to be here. Training camp's important.

"You can look at what happened last year with a player like Cedric Benson that held out, missed most of training camp and never got back on the right footing."

Briggs is coming off a Pro Bowl season and is in the final year of his rookie four-year contract, which will pay him $721,600. While he was demoted to the second team at weak side linebacker during June's mini-camp, he will likely climb back atop the depth chart quickly. He was at Halas Hall on Monday and trying to put the contract situation on the backburner.

"I'll be there," Briggs told the team website. "I'm looking forward to this year. I'm more excited about playing football than anything. One thing that won't change is my ability to play football."

"I'll just play football. The off-season was a time to deal with that stuff. Now I'll just focus on playing football and getting a ring. Anything less than a ring will be a disappointment."

On the other hand, Jones' situation isn't quite as clear. He's been the subject of trade rumors since before the draft. Like Briggs, he worked with the second team in mini-camp as punishment for skipping "voluntary" off-season workouts. Unlike Briggs, Jones faces a tough competition in the backfield with Benson.

At this point, Benson has the inside track to the job despite the fact that Jones rushed for 1,335 yards last season. The battle will be among the most heated in training camp.

With all 22 starters returning, every draft pick signed and the biggest off-season story cleared up for the time being, the Bears are in good position to have consecutive winning seasons for the first time in more than a decade.

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