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.

#BearsTalk Pick Six: Results of most important storylines from Bears minicamp

#BearsTalk Pick Six: Results of most important storylines from Bears minicamp

Earlier this week, JJ Stankevitz and Chris Boden picked six things they were interested in keeping their eyes on heading into the Bears' final off-season workouts, a mandatory three-day minicamp. Here's what they found:

1. Roll Call

The good news? It appears the team escaped without any new injuries (though calling off Thursday's final scheduled practice prevented a head count). John Fox provided a little more information than usual in running down where things stand with players who we saw on the field, but were not done yet with rehab and recovery: Danny Trevathan (torn patellar) and Zach Miller (broken foot) are on schedule, but Fox said would be "cutting it close" to be ready for the first training camp practices. He said Kyle Long (ankle surgery) was still “six to seven weeks away" from being able to rejoin his teammates on the field. Wideout Cam Meredith (thumb) and backup quarterback Mark Sanchez (knee) were still expected to be ready on time. No specifics were given about Josh Sitton (chest), but the player seemed positive he'll be ready. No timetables were given for Marcus Cooper (soft tissue) nor Lamarr Houston (unknown), neither of whom were even on the field over the course of the first two days.

— Chris Boden

2. Mike Glennon’s command of the offense

Glennon had a lot thrown at him over the last few weeks, which were his first opportunity to dive into Dowell Loggains’ offense and actually run some of its plays in a practice setting. Glennon exited the offseason program feeling much more comfortable with the Bears’ receivers, and felt confident in the on- and off-the-field chemistry he developed with his teammates. Overall, Glennon feels like he’s on solid footing heading into training camp in late July.

“There's been some good things, there's been some thing we need to work on but just overall getting more comfortable in the offense, getting just every rep counts,” Glennon said. “Every time I'm out there is probably the first time I've run the play in this particular offense, so every time I’m out there it matters, and the more we do that, the more we'll grow as an offense.”

— JJ Stankevitz

3. "Tru” at No. 2

By this set of eyes, I didn't see a whole lot of overall difference between Mitch Trubisky (as he moved up to the "twos" with Mark Sanchez's injury) and Mike Glennon. Neither was head and shoulders above the other as both were victims of their share of drops from the wide receiver corps. What's also hard to equate is the level of talent each had him around him in various drills when the offense went up against the defense, as injuries and competition made personnel on both sides a merry-go-round. Then there's also the original play-calls and defensive looks each respectively was given. Personally, however, at this point on the results I saw, I didn't see Trubisky as being that far behind Glennon. Then again, this is not training camp, the preseason, or the regular season. It's still way too early to fire the flames for a true quarterback competition and reverse the stated intention to bring the rookie along slowly.

— Chris Boden

4. Where does Kevin White fit?

The Bears did plenty of mixing and matching with their receiver group this week with Cam Meredith sidelined. Expect that to continue in training camp as the Bears continue to allow the likes of White, Kendall Wright, Markus Wheaton, Victor Cruz, Deonte Thompson to compete against each other with an eye on settling on a top two or three by the end of August. But what’s clear is while the Bears have players who have previously had success in their receiver unit, White is the key to this group — if he can live up to the promise he showed coming out of West Virginia, it’ll open up plenty for the Bears’ offense. But that’s a big if for a guy who’s only played four games in two years.

— JJ Stankevitz

5. The first thing for the secondary

At this stage of the year, the defense is usually ahead of the offense, and the Bears were no different than the NFL norm this week. Developing a ballhawking mentality won’t happen overnight for this secondary, but OTAs and veteran minicamp were important for developing a trust among defensive backs that’ll help this unit mesh better when the pads come on during training camp. Cornerback Marcus Cooper was the most notable absence from this group, and while rookie Eddie Jackson wasn’t able to fully participate, he was praised by coach John Fox this week.

“He’s wired right, he understands the game, in the classroom setting, questions and answers, he gets it,” Fox said. “He’ll get plenty of time in Bourbonnais.”

— JJ Stankevitz

6. The ‘Baby’ Bear

Yes, the only game equipment they were wearing this week were helmets, and these weren't game situations played against angry, opposing defenses. But fourth round draft pick Tarik Cohen showed enough quickness, burst, and evasiveness that could make the 5-foot-6 part of this fall's offensive package. Between Cohen and tight end Adam Shaheen, there's a bit of encouragement that while the wide receiver situation sorts itself out, any immediate contributions from this pair separated by more than a foot in height could add options for a unit desperately seeking players opposing defense's have to account for.

— Chris Boden

A special Mitch Trubisky package? It’s not a yes or no question for Bears

A special Mitch Trubisky package? It’s not a yes or no question for Bears

John Fox didn’t rule out the Bears developing some sort of special package to deploy Mitch Trubisky this year, but also didn’t say “yes” or “no” when asked about such an idea. 

Instead, Fox pointed to his time with the Denver Broncos working with Kyle Orton and a certain minor league outfielder in the New York Mets’ farm system. 

“I’ve been around situations like that before, back in my time in Denver with (Tim) Tebow,” Fox said. “We’re going to do whatever we can as coaches and put guys in positions where they can utilize their skillset and it won’t be any different this year.”

That’s a vague non-answer, but it would’ve done Fox no good to say, in mid-June, that the Bears are or are not thinking about a special Trubisky package. If Bears are thinking about ways to get Trubisky on the field without encroaching on Mike Glennon’s starting job, publicly announcing that three months before the season starts wouldn’t be the best strategy. 

It’s likely that when Trubisky plays won’t be determined by some sort of specially-designed package, given he and Glennon are far more similar quarterbacks than Orton and Tebow. Instead, how quickly Trubisky develops — and how successful Glennon is — will determine when the No. 2 pick plays meaningful snaps for the first time, be it in 2017 or later. 

“He's been great,” Glennon said. “He works really hard at it. He asks questions. He's done a really good job of learning the offense, understanding what we're trying to accomplish, and I think he does a great job picking that up for being a rookie.”