Can the Bears win 'Nervous Season'?

Can the Bears win 'Nervous Season'?

It’s not yet the preseason. That comes next. It falls under the umbrella of 'offseason,' but regulated team activities are now over. Coaches and general managers call it The Nervous Season.

Why? 

After all, the same could be said from the end of a team’s season in the winter until it reconvenes in the spring for non-supervised workouts. But this time of year comes after the OTAs and minicamps, when work has been put in, steps taken, progress, hopefully, made. It’s the six-week vacation written into the collective bargaining agreement six years ago in which players are on their own, required to stay away from the team facilities until it’s time to report to training camp in late July.

The nervousness comes with all the free time to enjoy as they see fit, unsupervised, potentially letting their physical conditioning slip. Or, in a worst-case scenario, their judgment. 

All John Fox and other coaches can do after the final minicamp workout is ask them to be smart.

“After embarking on a lot of these over the years, you see a lot – I don’t wanna say see everything,” Fox said after Thursday’s Halas Hall farewell to his roster. “Hopefully they make good decisions, and we’re trusting they take good care of themselves and come back in great shape.”

More recent examples of the opposite include the Giants’ Jason Pierre-Paul-Paul’s fireworks accident two years ago and the Packers’ Andrew Quarless discharging a firearm in a Miami parking garage that same Fourth of July night. The most heinous was the late Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez, who eventually was arrested and charged with murder for a 2013 incident in Boston.

“I think a lot of it’s trust, whether it’s the guy next to you, a guy at your position. Under the new CBA this is what it is, they go away for six weeks,” Fox added. “I think you have to have that trust that they know they’re wearing the same (Bears) name on their back, and to be accountable and dependable to each other. Knock on wood, we haven’t have a lot of 'situations,' and hopefully that’ll be the case when they report back.”

Among the things we know in the early stages of this time for the Bears is Sam Acho already being off on his annual trek with his parents and others to Nigeria to help poverty-stricken natives with medical needs. 

Fellow linebacker Jerrell Freeman has spent this first weekend of football freedom helping spread the game abroad, back in his CFL roots in Regina, Saskatchewan for an NFL Play 60 event. 

And rookie quarterback Mitchell Trubisky has already shared social media posts of a return home to Ohio to visit his family before heading back to Chapel Hill to visit his coaches and others at North Carolina. We trust the Camry is holding up.

This is the lone breather for those rookies for the first time in about 10 months. From heading to their training camps prior to their final collegiate season last summer, it’s been a non-stop whirlwind of pre-draft interviews and workouts, to rookie minicamps, to formal workouts with their new teams. They’ll squeeze every bit of rest they can before the Bears’ class checks into Lake Forest again a week before reporting to Bourbonnais July 26th. 

Veterans have a better sense of what they need to do to balance physical maintenance with relaxation, but it’s still an inexact science.

“I think there’s definitely a fine line to it,” said wide receiver Markus Wheaton. “You wanna come in as 'in shape' as possible, but at the same time you want to rest your body. I think that’s something everybody tries to continue to find throughout their career.”

The new challenge for the former Steeler (who just got cleared for unlimited activity after last season’s shoulder surgery) is not forgetting what he’s learned in a new playbook, while building his knowledge even further. Still, there’s nothing quite like the rapid-fire call by a quarterback and trotting to the line of scrimmage with an assignment in mind.

“Going over the plays at home isn’t hearing it in the huddle,” he said. “ Obviously we’ll go home and continue to study, but when you hear it in the huddle a few times you gotta get used to it again and get back on it for sure.”

And the same goes for that signal-caller, who tries to be the offense’s MegaBrain, and hopes to convince a few of the wideouts to reconvene during this time on their own for an informal workout or two. Rust never sleeps.

“It’s more football than not,” Mike Glennon said about managing this month and a half. “There’s a lot to get ready for both mentally and physically. Make sure you’re in great shape, getting your body ready for the season. It’s a long season, 17 weeks, it’s long. As far as mentally, continue to study the playbook, continue to learn opponent defenses. There’s a lot to do mentally while relaxing, and just getting your mind right getting ready for the season.”

While hoping all his teammates keep their bosses’ nerves at ease.

Heading into summer, it's good vibrations for John Fox and the Bears bunch

Heading into summer, it's good vibrations for John Fox and the Bears bunch

It might’ve been more relevant if the Bears entered their six-week summer break in a collectively sour mood, but for a team coming off a 3-13 season, some semblance of positivity is encouraging. 

John Fox’s decision, for the second consecutive year, to cancel the final practice of veteran minicamp on Thursday fueled some of the good vibes going around Halas Hall over the last few weeks. But there’s a sort of cautious optimism running through the Bears with an eye on reuniting in Bourbonnais at the end of July. 

“(The players) feel it,” Fox said. “I know as a staff, the personnel department, the building here at Halas, we feel it. We’ve got way more competition, guys that were ‘starters’ before. It’s going to be challenging and that’s what you want to build and create. I think we’re the furthest along that we’ve been, at least in our tenure here.”

OTAs and veteran minicamp were the Bears’ first opportunity to see how their offseason additions — of which there were plenty — would compete, even if it was in a non-padded setting. 

The wide receiver group was the most competitive, with three free agent additions (Victor Cruz, Kendall Wright, Markus Wheaton) and a former first-round pick returning from an injury (Kevin White). But every other position — including quarterback, excluding Mike Glennon — had some level of competition in it, too. 

“We have a deep group at tight ends, deep group at running backs and then mixing the receivers in,” Glennon said. “We can give a lot of different looks. I think we can create some matchup problems with some of the guys we have.”

This era of good feelings may or may not mean anything for training camp and the 2017 season — getting, and staying, healthy will probably mean the most for this team. But the Bears could use some positivity after last year, and seem to have found it during May and June. 

“I’m working with the quote-unquote second and third stringers,” linebacker Jerrell Freeman said. “It doesn’t matter. We’re in there with everybody just making sure that we’re able to communicate. That everybody sees everything the same. So I mean it’s that working together. We’re getting better everyday.”
 

John Fox doesn’t see cause for concern with Mitch Trubisky still unsigned

John Fox doesn’t see cause for concern with Mitch Trubisky still unsigned

Mitch Trubisky exited the Bears’ offseason program without a contract, but that seems to not be a big deal.

Trubisky took part in veteran minicamp this week at Halas Hall and previously hadn’t sounded worried or miffed that he hadn’t signed yet. Coach John Fox echoed that sentiment on Thursday. 

“Not really,” Fox said when asked if he was concerned about Trubisky not having signed yet. “In today's climate as opposed to say 10 years ago it's completely different. I know there was  holdout a year ago but I don't expect to see any of that this year.”

The holdout Fox referred to is the Los Angeles Chargers’ Joey Bosa, 2016’s No. 3 pick who didn’t sign a contract until late August last year. 

Trubisky and Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes have yet to sign, while fellow first-round quarterback DeShaun Watson signed with the Houston Texans in May. 

Last week, Trubisky brushed off a question about why he hasn’t signed yet. 

“That's not really for me to worry about,” Trubisky said. “I’m going to be out here at practice everyday. My agent and the Bears organization is going to handle that. But I'm not really sure how that stuff works. I'm here to play football, I'm not worried about contracts.”