LAKE FOREST, Ill. — Bears mandatory minicamp officially came to a close Thursday afternoon after head coach John Fox called off an official practice following a walk-through. Here’s everything you need to know following three busy days at Halas Hall:
1. This is the second straight year Fox has cut the final day of minicamp short, which is somewhat common around the league.
“The players deserved it. We had great participation for quote, involuntary workouts. We had great participation, great effort. That was their reward today,” Fox said. “So they’re off into their break and I trust that they’ll be ready to roll when they come back and report, whether they’re a rookie on (July) 19th or a vet on the 26th.”
And so begins a six-week break in which coaches trust their players to A) stay out of trouble and, B) stay in shape.
“Way back when you didn’t have the offseasons we have now, camp was six weeks long,” Fox said. “A lot of guys would come to camp to get in shape. Now it’s a little bit different. You used to grind ‘em pretty hard, a little bit like SEAL training.”
Now the expectation is that players show up to camp in shape and pass a conditioning test on the first day. From there, they dive right into installing the offense/defense and get to work on the field.
2. The Bears will be introducing a new schedule at training camp this year. In fact, there will be three different schedules.
“We have three schedules now: A, B and C. These are all things to try to reach peak performance. We tweak everything,” Fox said.
The team hasn’t released specific practice times, but it sounds like they will vary a little more. The last two years Fox has used early and late morning practice times in Bourbonnais, but in the past (particularly under Lovie Smith) the Bears practiced in the afternoon and sometimes even at night.
3. The team has also made made some noticeable technological upgrades at Halas Hall. For one, they finally got rid of the scissor lifts that were previously used to hoist up cameramen to film practice. Instead, robotic cameras have been installed on poles, with members of the video staff controlling them via video screens on ground-level. The upgraded system is not only safer, but also allows for more advanced video. Then, Wednesday, a giant video board was set up behind one of the end zones, replaying plays right after they happened. This allowed players to watch their reps while practice was going on, leading to quicker corrections.
“Technology now is great from a safety standpoint with wind, lightning, those types of things. Been pleased with (the new video towers),” Fox said. “I think you saw the video boards today, we talk about practices being parts of mini-games and that’s pretty close. We have the tablets on the sidelines for the players as well as the video boards, much like the boards are at the stadium, so those are just a couple things we’ve done this offseason to help our guys prepare to get better and help us win on Sunday.”
The Bears have also started to use virtual reality, which is of great benefit to the quarterbacks, who can essentially go through their progressions in the classroom. With practice times limited by the collective bargaining agreement, virtual reality has become more popular among NFL teams.
“There’s probably seven or eight teams in the league using it,” Fox said. “Our newness at quarterback, whether it’s Mitchell, Mark or Mike, it’s just getting reps that the other guys don’t as far as the on the field. They’re able to get it in the meeting room, where it’s ‘virtually’ like practicing.”
4. There’s really nothing the Bears can do about it, but it has to be demoralizing that up to four starters could be on the sidelines at the start of training camp. Danny Trevathan (right knee), Zach Miller (right foot) and Kyle Long (right ankle) are all in danger of missing the start of camp, and Cameron Meredith (left thumb) isn’t necessarily a slam dunk to be ready either.
“(Trevathan and Miller) are going to be cutting it close for training camp but right now they’re right on target and that’s kind of what we expected all offseason,” Fox said.
Given the severity of Trevathan’s torn patellar tendon, he seems to be in the most danger of missing significant time in August. Miller, Long and Meredith are all expected to be available at some point in training camp if they aren’t ready to go on July 26 when the team reports to Bourbonnais.
“(Long) did some explosion work this past week. He’s right on target,” Fox said. “We still got some time after (minicamp) is over, six to seven weeks. It’ll be touch-and-go whether he’s ready for the first day of training camp or maybe early on in camp. But he’s doing well.”
While Long, Trevathan and Miller are still recovering from injuries suffered last season, Meredith’s thumb injury occurred during OTAs.
5. Long’s potential move to left guard makes sense. John Fox confirmed the team is “messing around with (Josh Sitton) and Kyle both playing opposite sides,” an experiment that will take off in training camp once Long is deemed healthy.
Given Long’s unsuccessful switch to right tackle in 2015, I understand why some would prefer he just stay at right guard, but there is some sound reasoning behind this year’s potential position change. One factor is the torn labrum in Long’s left shoulder, which he chose not to have repaired this offseason because of the severity/recovery of his broken ankle. At guard, your inside shoulder is more often your “strong” shoulder, taking more of a beating. So at right guard, Long’s left shoulder was exposed more and a move to the left side could give him more strength and leverage with his right shoulder. That’s not to say he won’t need his left shoulder at left guard, which is why the injury isn’t the only reason for the potential move, but it is one of the factors. Keep in mind, the severity of the torn labrum continues to be downplayed, with one source even suggesting the injury could be rooted back to Long’s pitching days (he was a left-handed pitcher). That said, the tear was at least exasperated last year and while Long was able to play through it, it’s more than reasonable to think a move to the left side will help him at least a little bit.
Another factor, however, is the luxury of having Sitton on the team. He has been a Pro Bowler at both left and right guard, starting for four years on the right side for the Packers. Long also brings more athleticism to the table and his ability to pull to the right side in the run-game is intriguing (remember, this was a factor in the team releasing Matt Slauson last year).
The Bears also seem more comfortable with Eric Kush playing on the left side, where he started four games in place of Sitton last season. With Long potentially starting training camp on the PUP list, Kush would be the likely fill-in.
Let’s also keep in mind that it is still June and nothing is set in stone. Long, Sitton and Kush have all missed time during the offseason program, so their health and ability to adjust will ultimately decide who plays where. Flexibility and versatility is never a bad thing, especially on the offensive line.
“That versatility — you gotta understand we go into games and typically there’s seven linemen (active), so now you have to swing everything, five guys taking up starting positions, we have two guys alive (as reserves) on game day to compensate,” Fox said. “You have to have flexibility.”
At least the Bears are trying this position switch early, as opposed to moving Long during Week 1 of the season, as they did in 2015. That move didn’t do the Pro Bowler any favors.
6. Leonard Floyd opened up about the two concussions he suffered last season and the details are scary. While the first one seemed more serious — he was taken off the field in New Jersey on a stretcher and taken to the hospital — the second one left him with symptoms that lasted two months.
“It took me two months to really feel like I was back to myself,” Floyd said Wednesday. “I was just at the house, relaxing, getting my mind back together. After those two months I felt back.”
Floyd’s second concussion occurred on Christmas Eve and kept him out of the season-finale. The Bears instructed Floyd not to work out until the symptoms disappeared, which didn’t happen until February. The linebacker said he wasn’t worried about how long he dealt with the symptoms, but the way he described them was sobering.
“You just don’t feel normal, you know, it’s this thinking part, like you don’t think the same,” Floyd said. “I wasn’t thinking like I normally would think and then I’d be staring off in space some times instead of paying attention.”
Both of Floyd’s concussions highlight the long-term hazards of playing football and the league’s struggle to properly diagnose them on the field. Sometimes there are obvious helmet-to-helmet hits that everyone witnesses, but oftentimes, especially in the trenches, players hit their heads and no one notices. In Floyd’s case, he ran into teammate Akiem Hicks with his head down — twice. The first time he was left motionless on the field, which prompted the stretcher and a hospital visit. But the second time, Floyd stayed in the game even though it appeared from the press box that something wasn’t right.
Eventually, defensive coordinator Vic Fangio suspected something was wrong when Floyd misplayed an easy screen, and he was pulled.
Floyd is now fully recovered from the concussions, and he appears to be in outstanding shape, poised for a big season. But there are of course concerns about his well-being going forward, especially if he suffers another concussion, which will almost certainly happen at some point in his career.
The Bears have worked with Floyd to improve his technique, hoping he can at least avoid dangerous collisions with his own teammates.
“Being with Coach Vic, we’ve been working on bags and stuff, just putting our hands and hat in the right places and just getting good repetition doing it every day,” Floyd said. “I just had the crown of my helmet a little too low. It needed to be higher.”
There’s no doubt that’s true, but there’s also no doubt that many times, concussions are unavoidable. For Floyd’s well-being, both on the field and beyond football, let’s hope he manages to limit the scary hits to the head going forward.
7. It’s very rare for me to point out the successes of a running back in non-padded “underwear” practices, but it seems evident that fourth-round draft pick Tarik Cohen has some incredible talent with the football in his hands. Team rules prevent us from reporting specifics, but let’s just say there have been multiple times when he has done something in the backfield that was extremely noticeable.
“No. 29, he’s like a human joy stick out there,” linebacker Jerrell Freeman said. “Just get him in the open field and he’s dangerous. Really dangerous.”
Many critics balked at the Bears only drafting one defensive player in what was considered a deep defensive draft, but if Cohen and second-round pick Adam Shaheen both contribute early, no one will care that safety Eddie Jackson was the only defensive addition. Shaheen has also stood out in practices, using his big body to make an impressive diving touchdown catch on a fade in the end zone Wednesday.
“The tight end is a big body,” Freeman said. “He gets a little aggressive out there. He’s just a big body and he’s a worker. He’s going to keep working and continue to work. He’s a great guy to have on offense.”
Shaheen is making a big jump from Division-II Ashland, and he’ll be tested when the pads go on in Bourbonnais, but so far he looks like he belongs. In college, his nickname was Baby Gronk, and while those are incredibly high expectations to live up to, you can see why the comparisons are made.
“Gronk is pretty polished so I’m not going to disrespect Gronk like that,” Freeman said. “But (Shaheen) has a lot of upside. I mean, you see him out here catching fade balls and wreaking havoc there on the inside. He has a lot of intangibles. He has a lot of upside. I think he’s going to be a pretty good guy.”
8. Making a projection for Kevin White this season isn’t easy, but I’ll try anyway. Thanks to @ErikLambert1 for submitting this question on Twitter:
Making this complicated, of course, is White’s injury history. It’s not just a matter of whether or not he’ll play 16 games, but it’s also unknown how effective he’ll be after two broken bones in the same leg.
Last year on my radio show, I predicted White would catch 60 passes for 750 yards in 2016. After four games, he had 19 receptions for 187 yards before missing the rest of the season. That would have put him on pace for 76 catches and 748 yards over 16 games.
I’ll make a similar prediction for White in 2017 based on 16 games, but again, his effectiveness must be taken into question. We must also factor that with Alshon Jeffery gone, White could be matched up against No. 1 cornerbacks frequently, although Cameron Meredith’s rise could command extra attention.
So here’s my prediction if White is able to play a full season: 75 receptions, 800 yards and four touchdowns.
The Bears aren’t making this easy with their current wide-open crop of wide receivers, but if White stays healthy, he’ll still be a featured part of an offense that encourages short, high-percentage throws. White was primarily used on short catch-and-run routes last season, which is what his skill set pointed to coming out of West Virginia. That should lead to a good amount of receptions in a full 16-game slate, but not necessarily a ton of yards if his agility isn’t the same as it used to be. Keep in mind that when White got hurt last year, he was leading the team in receptions, but not receiving yards.
It’s probably unrealistic to expect White to play all 16 games, but if he does, I think my prediction is actually on the conservative side considering his skill set and the offense he is playing in.
9. There will be time for more in-depth position breakdowns before training camp, but just going through the roster right now, I count 28 players who I view as “locks” to make the 53-man roster:
QB Mike Glennon
QB Mitch Trubisky
RB Jordan Howard
RB Tarik Cohen
RB Jeremy Langford
WR Kevin White
WR Markus Wheaton
WR Victor Cruz
WR Cameron Meredith
TE Adam Shaheen
TE Dion Sims
C Cody Whitehair
OG Josh Sitton
LT Charles Leno Jr.
OG Kyle Long
CB Price Amukamara
CB Marcus Cooper
S Quintin Demps
S Eddie Jackson
LB Nick Kwiatkoski
LB Jerrell Freeman
LB Danny Trevathan
LB Willie Young
LB Pernell McPhee
LB Leonard Floyd
DT Akiem Hicks
NT Eddie Goldman
P Pat O’Donnell
There are certainly other players who are likely safe (i.e. C Hroniss Grasu, RT Bobbie Massie, DL Jonathan Bullard, LB Sam Acho, DL Jaye Howard), but the above players are the safest with virtually no exceptions.
10. Finally, I still think it’s notable, but not necessarily worrisome that Trubisky hasn’t signed his contract yet. It certainly is worth watching over the next six weeks, although no one seems worried about it, including Fox.
“Not really, I mean you know in today’s climate as opposed to say 10 years ago it’s completely different,” Fox said. “I know there was a holdout a year ago, but I don’t expect to see any of that this year.”
Fox was referring to Chargers defensive end Joey Bosa, who held out for much of the preseason, but I don’t think Trubisky is headed down a similar path. If he still hasn’t signed by July 26 when the team reports to Bourbonnais, then it will be more of a story.
Bonus Thing: This chart is about what I would expect for a No. 2 overall pick compared to the NCAA average, but I still found it interesting.
One reason why I believe Mitch Trubisky is a good fit for the Bears is because of his accuracy on short-yardage throws, which is crucial in an offense that requires precision timing and passes put in places to allow receivers to catch-and-run. A pass thrown behind a receiver on just a five-yard crossing route can be the difference of 15-20 yards. During OTAs and minicamp, I thought Trubisky showed off his accuracy, frequently putting passes right on the numbers. Now we’ll wait to see what it looks like in the preseason when he’s actually facing pass rushes and everything speeds up.
Next stop: Bourbonnais.