LAKE FOREST, Ill. — Here’s everything you need to know as the Bears get ready to travel to Houston for the 2016 regular season opener Sunday:
1. Everything Vic Fangio said about Leonard Floyd is fair and true. In the sports world, we want coaches and players to be honest, but it seems like when they are, an immediate riot ensues on social media.
Maybe it’s because we aren’t used to the honesty. I know those of us who cover the Bears regularly at Halas Hall aren’t used to it. So maybe that’s why we all did a double-take when defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said the following about Floyd Wednesday:
“Overall his camp was kind of choppy.”
“I don’t think he’s in the greatest condition right now.”
Now, like most quotes that end up Twitter, these short sentences were pulled from much longer quotes, and Fangio circled back and summed up his critique of Floyd at the end of his press conference:
“I’m disappointed that, yes, he got sick, missed a few days of practice. I’m disappointed he dinged his shoulder, missed a few days of practice. Disappointed he tweaked a hamstring and missed four or five days of practice. You’ve got to be careful with a hamstring that it doesn’t become a four-week injury. So, yeah, I’m disappointed that happened, but I’m not mad at him. He didn’t do it on purpose. But it has retarded his development a little bit.”
In the NFL, you’re more likely to hear Roger Goodell get a round of applause than hear a coach say something negative about a first round draft pick. And because of the fear of saying anything negative, most coaches or GMs usually say something that doesn’t match up with what everyone else is actually seeing on the field (see: Phil Emery on Shea McClellin).
But in this case, Fangio isn’t even saying anything negative. He simply described Leonard Floyd’s preseason with 100 percent accuracy. It was choppy. He missed practices. His conditioning isn’t where it should be.
Fangio never said Floyd can’t play. He was just honest about what has transpired the last few weeks. It’s simple, yet refreshing.
As for Floyd’s response, he was put in an unfair position because he had no idea what Fangio had said about him, but I did ask the rookie if his defensive coordinator has been riding him in practice.
“I wouldn’t say riding. Just more of trying to get me ready. He always tries to help me correct my things that I’m doing wrong on the field,” Floyd said.
As for the conditioning issue, Floyd said he “stayed after practice a couple days to get some extra running in, just to get back in shape before I got back out there.”
2. Not all contract extensions have to be hard, and that’s what we saw with Kyle Long. The three-time Pro Bowler officially signed his four-year extension that runs through 2021, making him a Bear for the next six seasons. At 27 years old, there’s a decent chance this contract locks Long up through the end of his career.
“I’m going to be here for a long time,” Long said. “I’m going to retire as a Chicago Bear. And that’s what I’m excited about.”
These negotiations were in complete contrast to what’s been going on with Alshon Jeffery, but that’s what happens when you not only produce at a high level, but also make it clear you want to be somewhere and consistently stay available to play. Long had two years left on his current contract and is dealing with a labrum injury, but there was little doubt to general manager Ryan Pace that Long is going to be the cornerstone of the Bears’ offensive line for a long time.
“When the talk started about (the extension), I said, ‘Look, I don’t want to be a part of the talks, but what I do what you guys to understand is that I want to be here forever and get it done,’ so that’s what they did,” Long said.
3. It will be interesting to see who returns punts and kicks Sunday in Houston. John Fox refused to say much about the situation, but Eddie Royal is listed as the only punt returner on the team’s depth chart.
“It’s something that I enjoy doing,” Royal said. “Get a chance to make a play in space and get the offense started with a big play from the beginning. Just something that I have fun with and we’ll see what happens Sunday.”
The surprising release of Marc Mariani left the team without a true punt returner and Royal couldn’t even really recall the last time he did the job regularly.
“Ha, regularly? I don’t know,” Royal said. “I think I did it in San Diego.”
Royal did return 11 punts for a total of 100 yards for the Chargers in 2014, but you have to go back to 2010 in Denver to find a season in which Royal had more than 12 punt returns. He returned 25 punts for 298 yards that year.
What’s particularly interesting is that Royal not only didn’t get a punt return rep in a preseason game, but he didn’t even play in the preseason because of a concussion. So if he trots out there Sunday to take the first punt return, Royal will be leaning on a very limited amount of practice reps he received in training camp.
“I think it’s something that you definitely have to practice,” Royal said. “I’ve been doing it in practice. Just seeing the ball off the kicker’s foot.”
It’s a very instinctual job, and Royal just hope his past experience makes it feel natural.
“Once the ball is in your hand, I think it is (instinctual). I think then you just go out there and try to make a play. Follow your blocks as much as you can, but also try to make a play,” Royal said. “Catching the ball, that’s something you need to practice though. The hardest part of the job is actually catching it.”
Another option is to have kick returner Deonte Thompson handle the duties, but he’s been dealing with a knee and ankle injury since the second preseason game and is still limited in practice. So if he can’t play Sunday, could Royal also be handling kick returns?
That’s something he hasn’t done at all since 2011 and not regularly since 2009 when he returned 26 kicks for 621 yards and one touchdown.
If all else fails, there’s another possible option deeper on the roster that I’ll get to in Thing No. 6.
4. Kyle Fuller is still working himself back from a knee scope that was performed Aug. 16, but he has no doubt it was the right decision to make.
“Definitely feeling better mentally,” Fuller said. “Physically, I’m still getting there. It’s still going to take some time, but it’s definitely something I’m working on and I feel pretty good and I feel confident that I’ll get to where I need to be.”
In other words, even if Fuller plays Sunday, he likely won’t be 100 percent. Since the timeframe for getting back from a knee scope is usually 3-4 weeks, it might make sense for Fuller to wait a week. If Fuller doesn’t play, it’s possible rookie Deiondre’ Hall gets his first start, as Bryce Callahan is still working his way back from a groin injury. Callahan was limited in Wednesday’s practice.
5. Long snapper Patrick Scales was just as surprised as everyone else when the Bears asked him to come back just a day after they had released him.
“Yeah it was a little bit (odd),” Scales admitted. “It was unexpected for me. I didn’t think this would be where I ended up at, but it happened that way.”
Scales, who lives in Dallas, had driven to Louisville Saturday to visit his parents after his release. He was there when the Bears called Sunday afternoon and asked him to return to Lake Forest.
“They just called me and said, ‘hey, we want to make the switch and put you back on the 53. So if you’re available and want to do that, let’s do it.”
Scales was back by Sunday night.
6. Another player who had a crazy weekend is new Bears cornerback Cre’Von LeBlanc. The rookie out of Florida Atlantic was one of the Patriots’ last cuts and was destined for New England’s practice squad until the Bears claimed him off waivers.
“I did a lot of praying hoping someone would claim me,” LeBlanc said.
The Bears had the benefit of seeing LeBlanc up close during joint practices with the Patriots last month.
“You never know who is watching,” the rookie said.
LeBlanc saw a lot of reps against the likes of Josh Bellamy and Deonte Thompson and obviously did enough to catch the eye of Pace.
“He’s extremely sudden, he’s very sticky in mirroring routes and he’s got excellent ball skills,” Pace said. “He just has a knack for going and getting the ball. And that’s been an emphasis on our defense right now and something that we want to improve on is ball skills and he definitely has that and that’s why he’s here.”
As an added bonus, LeBlanc also handled punt and kick return duties in college. Could that be another reason why he’s here? Maybe something to keep in the back of your mind Sunday.
7. Special teams coordinator Jeff Rodgers did not want to get into the Robbie Gould situation.
“For me to talk about player transactions when the GM and head coach have kind of addressed it with you guys, I’m going to leave it with their comments,” he said.
As for Gould, I actually ran into him at Northwestern’s practice earlier Wednesday. He has really handled himself well in the wake of his release and believes he has five or six years left in him. The guess here is that Gould shows some patience before signing with a new team. Eventually one of the better teams in the league will need a kicker and Gould will be the most experienced option available.
8. Here’s an interesting quote from Bears cornerback Tracy Porter on new Houston Texans quarterback Brock Osweiler:
“If you could create a quarterback, he would be the quarterback you create height-wise and length-wise and his ability to throw the deep ball.”
That’s quite a compliment, but at 6-8, 240 pounds, Osweiler is unique to prepare for. That said, he still needs to be able to lead an offense and make smart decisions. The early returns in Denver were very positive, but it’s completely different situation when you have a big contract and the pressure of being the obvious man in charge on an offense that desperately needs better quarterback play.
9. Not that there’s any doubt about this, but Texans defensive end J.J. Watt will play Sunday.
“I’ll be out there Sunday,” he told Chicago reporters Wednesday. “My body feels good. Conditioning feels good. I feel good. I’ve gone through two padded practices this week already and my body feels great.”
Technically, Watt was listed as limited in Wednesday’s practice, but he should be good to go after missing the entire preseason because of back surgery. Watt had a similar situation in 2012 when he missed the entire preseason with a dislocated elbow, but returned in time for the opener. He’s never missed a game in his NFL career.
10. The referee for Sunday’s game between the Bears and Texans in Houston is Pete Morelli. Thom Brennaman, Charles Davis and Peter Schrager have the call for FOX.