The Chicago Bears and Olivet Nazarene University expected an outpouring of football fans at Saturday’s first public practice, but even the Bears had to be surprised with just how high Saturday’s turnout came to be.
According to the Bears, more than 8,000 fans were on hand for the summer’s first public practice, one that featured plenty of fireworks and theatrics.
“I think what we just experienced as a team, as players, as coaches, coming out to that sea of fans and everybody out there, I don’t even know how to put it into words how much that means to us,” Bears coach Matt Nagy said. “Who our fans are, what our city’s all about, it literally gives you goosebumps.”
Saturday was second-year linebacker Roquan Smith’s first taste of fans taking over Bourbonnais after missing last season’s camp due to a contract holdout.
And for Smith, seeing the abundance of orange and blue clad fans was worth the wait.
“It definitely changes the atmosphere, just being out here in front of the best fans in the nation,” Smith said.
The position that not only fans of the Bears, but fans of the entire NFL, were most interested in examining Saturday was the beginning of the Bears’ kicker battle. And rookie Elliott Fry left fans, coaches and players in awe with the show he put on.
After just missing on his first attempt, Fry’s foot caught on fire, as he went on to make his next eight attempts of the first kicking segment, highlighted by a 60-yard bomb that perfectly split the uprights.
“I know obviously it’s gonna be the first question that gets asked, it’s the elephant in the room, but it was a pretty good day for our kicker and for what he did,” Nagy said.
Nagy said the plan for camp is to give each kicker, Fry and Eddy Pineiro, alternate days as the kicker, which will allow them to mentally prepare for their times to shine.
“We don’t care about weather, we don’t care about what’s scripted for that practice, whatever happens that day, that kicker can mentally prepare and understand that today is his day,” Nagy said. “Today was Elliot’s today, tomorrow will be Eddy’s day and that’s what we’re gonna do.”
Fun in the sun
Over the course of practice, the Bears halted everything they were doing to set up one-on-one drills for receivers and cornerbacks, with the losing unit being hit with a set of up-downs.
On the first one-on-one battle, Mitch Trubisky flung a beauty of a deep ball to Allen Robinson, who beat all-pro cornerback Kyle Fuller to give the offense a victory, while cornerback Prince Amukamara bested Taylor Gabriel in the day to even the score.
“It creates a little bit of pressure — everybody’s watching you,” Nagy said. “What better way than in front of our fans how you’re gonna produce one-on-one.”
Although running back Tarik Cohen wasn’t in either of the one-on-one competitions, he was fully involved in live action that saw the competitive levels ratcheted up on both sides of the ball.
“You know that everybody’s giving their best,” Cohen said. “Nobody’s trying to get embarrassed.”
The next step
The Bears will be back out on the practice field Sunday morning, again at 8:15 a.m. But Sunday will be a little different than Saturday, as it will be the first day the team will practice with pads.
Smith said he’s been chomping at the bit to go live with full gear, but knows there’s a process involved with the preparation, and that’s a process he’s taking full advantage of.
“It’s definitely great, but there’s a process and you have to respect that,” Smith said. “You start with no pads and then get into the pads, so I’m looking forward to it and taking every day for what it’s worth.”