As the curtain closes on the Bears' stay in Bourbonnais, the show is just getting started for rookies, who've just completed their first training camp.
They say the toughest three weeks in a season for a rookie are in training camp, when players practice two or more hours per day in the blazing heat, sleep in college dorm rooms, are secluded from friends and family, are constantly heckled and hazed by veterans, get scrutinized by coaches, fans and media alike – all for the possibility of making the team.
For draft picks and undrafted free agents alike, training camp is their only opportunity to prove they're NFL-caliber players. Needless to say, the stove is always on.
And all rookies are feeling the heat.
"You know coming in that no spot on the roster is waiting for you," said undrafted free agent wide receiver Freddie Barnes. "You have to go out there and earn your spot."
Barnes, who is a local product and amassed over 3,000 career receiving yards at Bowling Green, is currently one of four Bears wide receivers on the 80-man roster not listed on the depth chart – an ominous feeling with the Aug. 31 and Sept. 4 cut-down dates looming.
Barnes, however, chooses to look at the positives.
"It's been a great experience," he said. "It's something I've always looked forward to do. I had a lot of fun."
There is no denying that camp is a rough atmosphere. It's a grueling process, when mental toughness is just as important as physical toughness.
"It was definitely tough," said seventh-round offensive tackle J'Marcus Webb. "I was tested every day, but I pushed through it."
Webb, who towers over most of his teammates at 6-7 and 328 pounds, is expected to make the roster as a reserve tackle, playing both the left and right side at Olivet Nazarene University.
For some rookies, roster spots aren't so much a concern as depth-chart positioning.
Take quarterback Dan LeFevour, another local boy that passed for over 12,000 yards at Central Michigan and was Chicago's sixth-round pick this year, who is trying his best to make it a battle with Caleb Hanie to be Jay Cutler's backup.
With Hanie sidelined due to a right shoulder injury, LeFevour will get more reps in Saturday's game against Oakland to state his case.
"I just try to make every rep count," said LeFevour. "Good or bad, I think I've learned something from every rep."
Training camp is, in a nutshell, a huge learning curve. Players learn schemes, plays, routines and, most importantly, how to deal with life as a professional football player.
"It's a business," admits Webb. "We understand that. You have to work hard at it everyday to impress as a true athlete."
Webb most certainly has done his job impressing the coaches. He's expected to get extensive playing time Saturday and throughout the remainder of the preseason.
"It's a job that you have to be consistent every single day," said Barnes. "That's what they pay you for."
From an Xs-and-Os standpoint, the end of training camp only marks the beginning of a laundry list of improvements players must set for themselves to make before kickoff weekend.
"I've just been focusing on studying the playbook, getting stronger and learning from my mistakes," said Webb. "I've got some things I need to work on, but I will work hard at what I do and hopefully achieve the ultimate goal."
For some, learning the mental part of the game at this level trumps the physical attributes necessary to survive life in the NFL.
"I'm working on mental toughness and preparing for tough times," said Barnes.
Still, training camp also has room for play. Rookie hazing stories are legendary across the league, but Bears camp has been pretty lock-tight.
"I'd rather keep that off the record," Webb said with an ear-to-ear smile.
"How about we just keep that on the down-low," said LeFevour with a wink and a smile.
But if you talk to Barnes, he'll tell you without hesitation, "Rashied Davis is the biggest prankster. I carried his pads the most."
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Marco Scola is a student at Columbia College Chicago majoring in Journalism. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rookies Wrapping Up Training Camp
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