While much of the attention this month is on the NFL Draft, the Bears quietly begin the first phase of their offseason program Tuesday at Halas Hall.
That means players must return from their fishing boats in Florida, winter hideouts in California and gyms in Arizona and report to Lake Forest for weight lifting and conditioning work. Well, technically they don’t have to — it’s “voluntary” — but those who don’t show up (i.e. Martellus Bennett in 2015 and Alshon Jeffery in 2016) tend to end up on different rosters not too long after their holdouts.
As a quick refresher, here is a look at how the NFL offseason program is constructed:
Phase 1: Two weeks, four days per week, four hours per day
Players are limited to strength and conditioning work. Only strength and conditioning coaches are permitted on the field with the players.
Phase 2: Three weeks, four days per week, four hours per day
All coaches are allowed in the field with players and individual drills are allowed, but the offense cannot practice against the defense and there are no one-on-one drills permitted either.
Phase 3: Four weeks (OTAs and mandatory minicamp)
10 OTA practices are permitted over the first three weeks, but live contact and pads are not allowed. The fourth week consists of mandatory minicamp, with physicals on Monday and three practices the rest of the week. Players who don’t attend minicamp can be fined. The Bears’ minicamp will take place at Halas Hall June 12-15.
The offseason program is always important. It’s when systems are installed and drilled into players’ heads, allowing for more competition when the pads go on in training camp. With that in mind, here are 10 storylines to keep an eye on over the next nine weeks as the Bears start their preparation for the 2017 season:
1. The new quarterback room
The Bears’ quarterback room will look a lot different this week as Jay Cutler, Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley are no longer with the team. In comes Mike Glennon and Mark Sanchez, who already have been working together since Sanchez signed in late March. They’ll be joined by Connor Shaw and perhaps a draft pick in the coming weeks, but Glennon is the unquestioned starter in the room right now.
2. Kyle Long’s health
It has been a rough offseason for the Bears’ right guard, who tore up his ankle last November and missed the Bears’ final seven games. The surgery went fine, but the recovery was rough, resulting in Long losing a ton of weight and ultimately deciding not to have the torn labrum in his shoulder fixed. A source indicated that the shoulder really isn’t that big of an issue, but it will be interesting to see where Long’s health is at in the coming weeks. It’s possible we don’t see him on the field until training camp.
3. Participation of Pernell McPhee, others
We saw McPhee a couple of weeks ago as he accepted the team’s Ed Block Courage Award. It was there where he declared himself healthy and 25 pounds lighter, but the edge rusher still didn’t commit to being on the field for OTAs. He had surgery to repair a torn labrum at the end of the season and will continually have to manage his knee issues.
Given all the Bears’ injuries last season, there’s a long list of players who could be limited this spring after surgeries, including: Willie Young (knee), Lamarr Houston (knee), Zach Miller (foot) and maybe even new wide receiver Markus Wheaton (labrum).
4. Any holdouts?
Never say never, but it would be surprising to see any no-shows during OTAs this year. Ryan Pace and John Fox have spent the last two and a half years weeding out the players they didn’t feel were good fits and bringing in guys who are fully committed to their vision. There are no obvious contract disputes on the horizon, but it’s the NFL, so you can never rule out an unhappy player or two.
5. Kevin White’s speed/agility
The No. 7 overall pick in 2015 declared himself healthy during exit interviews back in January and the expectation is that White will be full-go for the offseason program. The Bears must be eager to see what White looks like on the field again after two surgeries to his left leg over the last two years. White was finally turning the corner when he suffered a spiral fracture in his left fibula in Week 4 last season, so there’s still hope the former first round pick can be a dynamic weapon in the Bears offense. Let’s not forget he was leading the team in receptions when he got hurt. But does White still have the same speed? Can he plant his foot, run crisp routes and get open? Is he in danger of chronic breaks in that leg, sort of like what former teammate Marquess Wilson kept dealing with in his foot?
White’s game has always been about short catches and long runs — getting him the football and allowing him to work his magic. Through two years, White has missed 28 games and caught only 19 passes. It seems like a make-or-break year for Pace’s first ever draft pick.
6. Leonard Floyd’s weight/strength
Pace’s second first round pick showed more promise as a rookie, but Leonard Floyd still missed four games with various injuries, including two concussions in the second half of the season. Floyd’s weight and lack of strength were immediate concerns last year and the Bears’ believe his injuries could have been avoided had he played stronger and with better technique. Going through a full NFL offseason should greatly help Floyd, who could be poised for a breakout season. The concussions are a longterm concern, however.
7. Where does Deiondre’ Hall stand?
The second-year defensive back begins 2017 in the doghouse after a March arrest, but if Hall remains committed to football then he still very much remains in the Bears’ plans. Hall showed off his length and ball skills at cornerback during the 2016 preseason, but was limited by a severely sprained ankle during the season. The Bears plan to move him to safety in 2017 and depending on who they draft, Hall could have a chance to be the team’s starting free safety this season.
8. The (very fluid) depth chart
While the Bears put restrictions on the media reporting who’s working with which team (first-team, second-team, etc.) during non-public practices, OTAs do give us our first idea of how the Bears are stacking their depth chart for training camp. Keep in mind that this is always fluid, as the real competition doesn’t start until pads go on in Bourbonnais. Remember, two years ago Brock Vereen was one of the Bears’ No. 1 safeties during OTAs and he didn’t make it out of the preseason with the team.
9. The newcomers
The Bears currently have 78 players on their roster, meaning they have room for 12 rookies to join them during and after next weekend’s draft. Currently holding seven draft picks, that would leave room for five undrafted free agents, which is a low number. That tells me you can expect more moves, depending on which positions are addressed in the draft. Remember, last year they drafted center Cody Whitehair and safeties Deon Bush and DeAndre Houston-Carson before releasing veterans Matt Slauson and Antrel Rolle two days later.
10. The new(ish) coaching staff
While Fox retained coordinators Dowell Loggains and Vic Fangio, he had a lot of turnover with his position coaches. Curtis Modkins (running backs), Jeremiah Washburn (offensive line), Zach Azzanni (wide receivers), Brandon Staley (outside linebackers) and Roy Anderson (assistant defensive backs) are all new to the staff. Modkins, Washburn and Anderson got a jump start, getting to work with the Bears at the Senior Bowl, but Azzanni and Staley were later hires. Position coach turnover is normal, but it will be interesting to see the impact the new coaches have. Washburn is a particularly interesting hire after Fox decided to part ways with longtime offensive line coach Dave Magazu in January.