BOURBONNAIS — Now that the Chicago Bears have wrapped up a week of training camp, fans have begun to set expectations and wonder aloud about the prospects of the 2018 season.
Whether it be the addition of head coach Matt Nagy, a continually-improving defense, a second year of experience for quarterback Mitchell Trubisky or the new-look receiving corps Trubisky will throw to, fans at Thursday’s practice seem cautiously optimistic this could be the season the Bears return to relevance.
“I think (cautiously optimistic) is the right term,” 31-year old Dave Goldberg, from Chicago, said. “I’m looking forward to the development of Trubisky.
“I’m pretty pleased with what (defensive coordinator Vic) Fangio has done,” Goldberg said. “The defense has been a mainstay, so I’m looking forward to the offense.”
Matt Calich, a 29-year-old from Midlothian, agreed with his friend, Goldberg, even noting the Bears defense could yet again improve after finishing 10th in total defense last season.
“Fangio’s defense has improved every year, so, hopefully, it stays at par,” Calich said. “But, it will probably get better again.”
For 29-year-old Decatur resident Alex Griffin, it’s the handing of the keys over to the offensively-minded Nagy (“Swaggy Nagy” as Griffin called him) that has him optimistic the Bears can finish above .500 for the first time since 2012.
“We’re seeing the game evolve to the point where even coaches get old because their way of thinking and the way they play gets outdated,” Griffin said. “No offense to (former coach) John Fox, but everybody knew what he was going to do.”
While Griffin’s friend and co-worker, 41-year-old fellow Decatur resident Justin Brinkoetter, agreed with Griffin that Nagy will make for a terrific coach, he’s most excited for another year of development for the players drafted under general manager Ryan Pace.
“The biggest thing for me has been Pace’s drafts — what he’s been getting out of the fourth and fifth rounds,” Brinkoetter said. “How many times have we seen where we maybe get one or two guys in seven rounds? This guy gets four or five contributors.”
Griffin and Brinkoetter see the Bears as the 2018 version of the Los Angeles Rams — a team under an offensive-minded rookie head coach and second-year quarterback, turned a 4-12 2016 season into an 11-5 2017 campaign.
“I’m thinking if they go 8-8 or 9-7, I’d be very satisfied,” Griffin said. “But, then again, this is the NFL, and they could very well be 13-3 or 14-2 and be the best team in the NFL.”
For the family
While the on-field product is certainly what draws a majority of fans to Bourbonnais, training camp offers plenty more. A pair of families made different nine-hour drives to attend camp and see all it has to offer.
Steve Carlton and his 11-year-old son, Xander, made the drive from Grand Lake, Okla. Steve grew up a die-hard Bears fan despite living in Nevada and Oklahoma, and finally was able to see his team up close.
“It’s almost like a dream come true. I’ve been waiting on this moment all my life,” Steve said. “It’s awesome being able to experience this with my son.”
Xander said his favorite part of camp was getting to see the players up close, particularly his favorite player, Trubisky.
Ryan and Katie Kvols, of Laurel, Neb., took their family on a vacation to Chicago for the week, but concluded it with a stop at camp Thursday morning before heading back west.
Their son, 6-year-old Alex, had a blast with everything that was at his disposal, especially the Meijer Chicago Bears End Zone, an area of fun and games for young children.
“I liked the End Zone, and I did the dive zone and rock climbing,” Alex said. “And, I got a (teddy) bear and autographs. My favorite was (Trubisky).”
Alex’s step-siblings, 13-year-old Sutton Ehlers and 16-year-old Delaney Ehlers, were on hand as well. For Sutton, a football player himself, seeing an NFL team in action was a highlight of the family’s vacation.
“(Training camp) was in the top two things we did,” Sutton said. “It was either Bears camp or going to a Chicago Cubs game.”
While the Daily Journal staff patrolled camp, they encountered a particular fan for the second time in the past handful of years. Bill Turney, also known as “Santa Bill,” has been coming to camp ever since it moved to Olivet in 2002.
He arrives in the wee hours of the night — at 3 a.m. Thursday for the 8:15 a.m. practice — to get a pristine position for autographs. He takes the autographs around Christmas time to sick children at hospitals in Peoria, where the 61-year-old resides.
The Daily Journal featured Turney in a 2015 feature story.
As for the longtime fan’s expectations for the 2018 season, they seem to be the same every year, no matter the expectations from anyone else.
“You’ve got to start somewhere, and I don’t care if they don’t win any games all year, as long as they beat the (Green Bay) Packers,” Turney said. “If we don’t make the playoffs, as long as we beat the Packers, I’m good.”