It’s hard to believe, but Bears training camp is just eight days away. And, after another offseason spent churning the roster, general manager Ryan Pace and head coach John Fox believe they will have better competition and a deeper roster in their third season with the team.
There will be no shortage of storylines in Bourbonnais this year, so here are 10 “things” to get you prepared for training camp:
1. Rookie quarterback Mitch Trubisky is still expected to sign his contract before training camp begins. In fact, the on-going contract talks shouldn’t prevent him from reporting to Halas Hall Wednesday with the rest of the Bears rookies. There will be no holdout, which both the Bears and the quarterback have maintained all along.
Is it a little odd that Trubisky hasn’t signed yet? A little bit, but he is represented by the same agents as Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota — another No. 2 overall pick — who bargained their client’s signing bonus and offset language and didn’t come to an agreement until eight days before the team reported to training camp in 2015.
The bottom line: expect Trubisky’s deal to be officially announced in the coming week with the quarterback arriving at Olivet Nazarene University on July 26 with the rest of his teammates.
Update: Trubisky officially signed his contract Wednesday at Halas Hall. It is a four-year contract with a fifth-year team option, which is standard for first round picks.
2. Inside linebacker Danny Trevathan will likely start training camp on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list. This is not a surprise given the severity of the ruptured patellar tendon he suffered in his right knee back in November. The more pressing question is whether or not Trevathan is available at all in the preseason and whether or not he’ll be ready for the team’s Week 1 opener against the Atlanta Falcons.
It is believed Trevathan is ahead of schedule in his recovery, but it has only been eight months since he suffered an injury that sometimes takes a full year to heal.
Two other PUP candidates are guard Kyle Long and running back Jeremy Langford, who are both recovering from significant ankle injuries. At a minimum, expect both players to be limited in their early activities in Bourbonnais.
Meanwhile, quarterback Mark Sanchez (knee) and wide receiver Cam Meredith (thumb) should be good to go when practices begin next week.
3. In an effort to reduce the amount of injuries that have plagued the Bears the last two seasons, the team has switched up its training camp schedule this year. No practices will begin before 11:15 a.m., a departure from the past when half of the practices started at 9:35 a.m. The Bears are putting more emphasis on rest and recovery this year, with three practices completely closed to the public because they are only going to be light walk-throughs.
But don’t assume that the coaching staff is making camp easier with the new schedule. The guess here is that padded practices will actually be tougher than in the past, which is why the extra rest is being built into the schedule. It will certainly be interesting to see what the intensity level looks like and whether or not the Bears suffer less injuries in Bourbonnais.
4. This is also why the rookies are reporting to Halas Hall a week early this year. The collective bargaining agreement allows teams to work with rookies more than veterans during the offseason and one veteran Bears player recently commented to me that he’s very happy he’s not a rookie this year because “they are working the rookies really hard.”
To be clear, the extra week of work for the rookies before camp will just be strength and conditioning work and it is designed to get them more prepared for the grind of training camp. In the past two years, many then-rookies — including Kevin White, Eddie Goldman, Leonard Floyd and Nick Kwiatkoski — missed training camp practices due to injuries or conditioning issues. This year, the team hopes their rookie class is healthier and more prepared for the significant jump they are making from college.
5. Two players to keep an eye on in training camp — and really the whole season — are left tackle Charles Leno Jr. and defensive end Akiem Hicks. Both players are in the final year of their contracts and potentially playing for big money. Hicks recently just hired Drew Rosenhaus as his agent and one has to wonder if the Bears might want to extend the defensive end before the season starts. Remember, Willie Young was given a contract extension during training camp last year. Of course, if Hicks can repeat his strong 2016 season, he could command a bigger pay day in the offseason.
As for Leno, I get the sense that the Bears are still evaluating him. Leno has been a nice surprise as a seventh round pick, but he could still stand to be more consistent overall. I believe the Bears are interested in locking the left tackle up longterm, but it will be up to Leno to earn that extension with a strong 2017 season.
6. Another player in the final year of his contract is cornerback Kyle Fuller, who enters training camp in a much different situation. Leno and Hicks are locks to the make the roster, but Fuller could be in trouble. The Bears signed free agent cornerbacks Prince Amukamara and Marcus Cooper in the offseason and both project to be starters, which puts Fuller in a tough spot because he has very little value as a special teamer. Fuller provides good depth at the position in case of injury, but it’s hard to be a backup in the NFL if you can’t play special teams. The Bears undoubtedly tried to shop the former No. 14 overall pick in the offseason, but there typically isn’t much of a trade market for players coming off injuries. With the roster currently at 90 players, it makes sense for the Bears to see what Fuller can do in the preseason as the cornerback should be as motivated as ever with his job on the line.
7. There were a couple of interesting Bears angles in Amazon’s “All or Nothing” series on the Los Angeles Rams. If you haven’t seen the show, I highly recommend it. It’s much better than HBO’s Hard Knocks because it focuses on an entire year and not the same old training camp stories. Also, it’s on Amazon so you can binge-watch the eight-episode series in just a few days.
While this year’s show focused on the Rams’ move to Los Angeles, there were a couple Bears nuggets in the final episode, which followed Rams general manager Les Snead at the NFL Combine and on draft night. At the Combine, Snead is shown talking to former Bears quarterback Jordan Palmer (who now trains quarterback prospects in the offseason) and Snead tells Palmer how impressed he is with tight end Adam Shaheen, who he believes will get drafted in the second round. Interestingly enough, Snead ended up drafting tight end Gerald Everett at No. 44 in the second round, one pick ahead of the Bears, who took Shaheen at No. 45.
Also caught on camera was Snead’s live reaction to the Bears’ trade for Trubisky. Snead and new head coach Sean McVay both looked stunned as the news came across that the Bears had traded up and the Rams GM immediately guessed that the trade was for Trubisky. I found this interesting because Snead also said: “They kept it quiet” and admitted that he didn’t think the Bears were taking a quarterback. By now, it’s been well documented how Ryan Pace kept the Trubisky pick a secret from everyone in the NFL, and yet, when the trade came across, Snead knew it was for Trubisky. To me, that speaks to the idea that Trubisky was the consensus No. 1 quarterback in this year’s draft, a conclusion that is easy to come by now that nearly three months have gone by and more and more teams have talked behind the scenes. We already know the Browns loved Trubisky and it is believed the Chiefs actually had Trubisky rated higher than Patrick Mahomes, who they traded up to No. 10 to grab.
“We’ve been there when we needed a QB. I never pass judgment on anyone,” Snead says on All Or Nothing.
Remember, Snead gave up two first round picks, two second round picks and two third round picks to draft Jared Goff in 2016.
We’ll end this edition of “10 Bears Things” with three bold predictions for the 2017 season:
8) Mitch Trubisky will play. Maybe it will be because of injury or because he earns the playing time, but I find it hard to believe the No. 2 overall draft pick will sit the entire season. That said, I don’t believe the Bears will rush him. Trubisky is still making a big jump from the college offense he ran at North Carolina and has a long way to go, but I believe he is ahead of where Goff was this time last year and Goff ended up starting the last seven games for the Rams.
Is Trubisky as ready as Carson Wentz was last year? No. Wentz ran a pro-style offense at North Dakota State, which made his transition to the NFL a lot easier. The (very) early returns on Trubisky are good though and I don’t believe the current gap between he and Mike Glennon is that wide. Barring injury, Glennon will be the Bears’ starting quarterback and have every opportunity to keep the job, but one way or another, I think Trubisky sees the field in 2017.
9) Adam Shaheen and Tarik Cohen will have an early impact. As long as Zach Miller stays healthy, I believe the Bears will keep him as their No. 1 tight end, but expect Shaheen to see the field and have early success. He still needs to build confidence and get more coordinated, but he has the talent to make an early impact on the Bears’ offense. A big test for Shaheen will be when the pads come out in Bourbonnais. Remember, he’s making the jump from the Division-II level, where he was bigger than his left tackle.
As for Cohen, it seems pretty apparent that the Bears already envision him as a third-down weapon. You don’t draft a 5-6 running back in fourth round unless you intend to insert him into the offense. It will also be interesting to see how Cohen fairs as a punt returner. He didn’t have much experience in that area in college, but he’s explosive with the ball in his hands and the hope is that Cohen proves to be a big upgrade in the return game, which has been severely lacking since Devin Hester left town.
10) Leonard Floyd and Cody Whitehair will be Pro Bowlers. Whitehair had a case last year and Floyd was on pace for double-digit sacks before suffering his second concussion. The injury concerns with Floyd are valid, but he looks to be more muscular and in outstanding shape as he begins his second NFL season. I believe it will be a breakout year for him. As for Whitehair, he’s already one of the best centers in the league and he’ll only get better with experience. Remember, last year was his first year at the position and he was moved there on short notice during Week 1 of the regular season.
How’s that for some Bears optimism in July? See you all in Bourbonnais next week.