BOURBONNAIS — Just as quickly as the Bears arrived at Olivet Nazarene University for training camp, they packed up and left town but not before one last closed practice Sunday afternoon.
“The number one thing that we wanted to do coming out of this camp was come together with physical practices, but yet, be smart the way we do it,” coach Matt Nagy said after Sunday’s practice. “[To] become better as a team than we were in OTAs, you couldn’t put the pads on, now they got to put the pads on, we as coaches got to see who the tough guys are and who [are] the guys that aren’t tough.”
While camp is essential for the offense, defense and special teams equally, this camp featured a bit more emphasis on the offense.
Between the hiring of the offensive-minded Nagy and the offseason acquisitions of a handful or so skill players, implementing new players in a new offense was camp’s focal point.
“I think for us, coming in, learning such a big offense, it was really big for us. To be able to stay around, be close to each other, have those conversations, not only in the film room, but outside,” newly-signed receiver Allen Robinson II said. “I think it was very beneficial for us, as well as going against the defense. We have a Top-10 defense in this league, and they give us a lot of different looks, and they challenge us each and every day, pre-snap and post-snap.”
The Bears travel to Denver, where they will spend the week practicing with the Broncos ahead of Saturday’s preseason game. For Nagy, who never has had the coaching experience of joint practices, he thinks the week of fresh competition finally will build that final layer of callus he has hoped his team would build in the preseason.
“We’re not there yet with the callus, but I think after this week with Denver, you’re going to see it jump up a bit, as far as the callus part,” Nagy said. “Just the competitiveness, some of the live, and, of course, we have three more preseason games left.”
At the conclusion of Sunday’s practice, about 30 bikes ridden around camp by Bears coaches and personnel were given to local children via various local charities. The tradition was started in 2004 by then-head-coach Lovie Smith and is a part of the community aspect Nagy has enjoyed in his first training camp with the Bears.
“The one thing that you see with this organization and what we do is giving back to the community — that’s just such a huge part of it,” Nagy said. “Giving back, it just means so much to these people. You see the charities over here and the kids over here, they’ll remember that forever. And our guys will remember it; it’s just a really neat deal.”
With fan appreciation night marking the final public practice of camp, defensive end Akiem Hicks had some time to reflect on the progress the defense has made the past few weeks as the team transitions into the thick of its preseason schedule.
“Early on, we had to battle some of those things like guys being younger and not knowing the scheme,” Hicks said. “Just watching everybody over the past couple weeks, seeing everybody come together, and be able to really have a good grasp of the team and know what it takes to build our culture and how to work hard and how to build something out of our team.”
The team had more 11-on-11 scrimmage time than almost any practice session during camp, leaving players on both starting lineup and roster bubbles extra opportunities to stand out.
While several receivers and tight ends had the chance to make highlight catches, including a pair from backup tight end Daniel Brown, it was his position mate, Adam Shaheen, who shined in practice.
Shaheen’s solid night came after his three-catch, 53-yard performance against the Cincinnati Bengals on Thursday. According to the second-year product from Division II Ashland, the differences in Nagy’s offense versus last year’s offense under former head coach John Fox have allowed him to begin to blossom.
“Just recognizing coverage is a big part of this offense and getting where you need to be,” Shaheen said. “How you get there is everything.”
As for the rest of the team’s performance Thursday, Nagy, his staff and his players were all displeased, particularly with the first-team offense, which finished with minus-1 yard on two drives.
“Early on, offensively, the Bears were just beating the Bears — a lot of mental mistakes,” Nagy said. “It can happen right now; it can’t happen during the season.”