BOURBONNAIS — Another Bears training camp got underway Wednesday at Olivet Nazarene University as fancy cars rolled onto campus and players got settled in their dorm rooms. As usual, general manager Ryan Pace and head coach John Fox held a press conference to kickoff camp. Here’s everything you need to know from a busy day in Bourbonnais:
1. The Bears and Akiem Hicks are working on a contract extension. Just a few hours after saying he would like to finish his career in Chicago, Hicks’ agents arrived on campus at ONU in an effort to make that dream become reality.
Hicks hired well-known agent Drew Rosenhaus earlier this month and is entering the final year of a two-year, $10 million contract he signed in 2016. Both Drew Rosenhaus and his brother Jason Rosenhaus arrived in Bourbonnais Wednesday afternoon and could be seen talking to Hicks on a bench before entering the ONU facilities. A source confirmed the Rosenhaus brothers were here to talk to Bears brass, but it’s unclear exactly where the negotiations stand. Last year, Bears general manager Ryan Pace and outside linebacker Willie Young worked out a contract extension early in training camp.
“I love the city, man. I was coming to Chicago long before I played for the Bears. My mother’s from here,” Hicks said Wednesday. “When my mom found out Chicago was a team that was interested in me coming here, she was ecstatic. She wanted to be able to come here and see her son play in her home city. In living here, I’ve grown to love it — go Cubs. I just enjoy my time here and I’m completely open to ending my career here.”
When pressed on the urgency of getting a new deal done, Hicks said: “I know this: I know that I’m interested in playing here for a long time.”
Pace declined to go into detail about a possible Hicks extension, simply saying, “You know how it is with contracts, we’ll keep those things internal,” but one would think the Bears would like to keep Hicks around. Still only 27, Hicks emerged as one of the better 3-4 defensive ends in the league last year and had an argument to make the Pro Bowl. He also is an ideal character-fit in the Bears locker room, which both Pace and head coach John Fox value a lot.
2. The Bears might not have anyone on the PUP list to start camp. Pace wanted to wait until after physicals and the team’s conditioning test was completed Wednesday, but he expressed hope that everyone would avoid the Physically Unable to Perform list.
“We feel pretty optimistic about it heading into this,” Pace said. “So that’s really a credit to those players, how hard they worked, you know the trainers, the strength and conditioning staff. We feel pretty good about it.”
This is obviously great news for a team plagued with injuries last year, but it’s particularly good news for inside linebacker Danny Trevathan, who is only eight months removed from rupturing the patellar tendon in his right knee.
“There’s a chance that he’s ready to roll, that we don’t have to P. U. P. him, but again we need today to kind of evaluate and we’ll go from there,” Pace said. “And that doesn’t mean that we won’t still ease those guys in slowly but it might mean we might not have to P. U. P. him.”
Even if they avoid PUP, it’s likely that Trevathan and even Kyle Long (ankle) and Jeremy Langford (ankle) are limited early in camp.
UPDATE (11:10 p.m.) — In a surprise, the Bears announced late Wednesday night that outside linebacker Pernell McPhee will start training camp on the PUP list with a knee injury. This is the second straight year McPhee begins camp on PUP as last year he wasn’t ready until Week 7 of the season. Still, this is a surprise as McPhee, 28, participated in OTAs and appeared to be healthy. In April, he spoke about how he had lost 25 pounds and felt “sexier.”
“Dangerous, it’s going to be dangerous, because obviously last year wasn’t a great year, and the year before wasn’t one,” McPhee said on April 4 when he accepted the team’s Ed Block Courage Award. “Hopefully by me losing weight and staying focused, we can turn this thing around.”
McPhee remained upbeat and confident during OTAs and minicamp, so there was no indication he would be sidelined at the start of training camp.
3. I detailed the Bears’ new training camp schedule in this column last week, but John Fox explained it further on Wednesday:
“We’re not going to go three hard days in a row. That’s an oversimplification. We have what we call our ‘C’ schedule that will be plopped in there. There will be three of them during the course of our training camp here in Bourbonnais that actually gives them the chance to recover.”
So with extra recovery days built in, will the Bears actually practice harder to help better prepare the players for the regular season? Fox didn’t exactly say yes, but did stress the importance of balancing rest with the rigors of the regular season.
“To get that ready and calloused enough for a very long, physical season and having some guys to get there with, it’s a fine line, it always has been,” Fox said.
4. The Bears are also using player tracking devices this year to help monitor work loads and training habits.
“Every player has a tracking device, a GPS device, in their shoulder pads that can track total distance traveled, speed, acceleration — but the main thing is basically their training load,” Pace said. “The goal over time is to figure out everybody’s optimal training load. Every player’s different. And you know when you’re crossing a threshold, when you might need to back off a player or push off a player a little bit.”
The players started wearing the devices during the offseason program, so the Bears already have some valuable data going into training camp.
5. Is it possible that Jordan Howard was actually out of shape while breaking Matt Forte’s Bears rookie rushing record? Howard ran for 1,313 yards as a rookie, but wasn’t satisfied.
“I definitely should’ve had more yards,” Howard said. “I should’ve been in better shape. I should’ve been playing earlier if I would’ve handled what I had to do. I definitely could’ve had a lot more yards.”
Asked if he could have ran for 1,800 yards, Howard replied: “Maybe so.”
Howard has worked on his explosion in the offseason and cut down his body fat in hopes that it gives him more speed downfield and leads to longer touchdown runs.
6. Josh Sitton was the only player who did not report to Bourbonnais Wednesday, but he had a good reason. Fox said Sitton just had a baby born and the guard is expected to report by Saturday when the Bears hold their first padded practice.
7. Pace reiterated that Mike Glennon is the Bears’ starting quarterback and that Mark Sanchez is once again the No. 2. Sanchez suffered a minor knee injury during OTAs, which allowed rookie Mitch Trubisky to get more reps during the offseason program, but when the team takes the practice field Thursday, Trubisky will be leading the third-team. Of course, that doesn’t mean the rookie won’t win the backup job by September.
“Mike Glennon is our starter, and then there’s competition at the backup job,” Pace said.
Whether it’s the quarterback position or any other position, keep this in mind between now and the regular season: The next six weeks matter. A lot happens. So while many want to know on July 26 what the depth chart is going to look like on Sept. 10, the reality is that a lot can — and will — change between now and then.
8. For what it’s worth, Pace singled out the Bears’ front-seven as “a strength of our team,” while Fox mentioned the tight ends as a deep position. Pace also said that slot receiver will be one of the more competitive battles in camp. Newcomer Markus Wheaton probably has the inside track at that job, but the entire wide receiver depth chart is interesting this year with names like Victor Cruz, Kendall Wright and Rueben Randle mixed in with younger guys like Daniel Braverman and Tanner Gentry. Of course, Cameron Meredith and Kevin White figure to be the top-two starters.
9. The Bears have three coaching interns joining them during training camp: Todd Washington (offense), Kevin Vickerson (defense) and Matt Willis (special teams).
10. Finally, an important reminder if you are planning on attending any training camp practices this year: You have to register online for free tickets. The Bears will have customer service staff on site at ONU to help anyone having issues, but don’t forget about the new registration process. Also, don’t come on Fridays as those light practices are closed to the public.