The initial high felt around Olivet Nazarene University when the Chicago Bears arrived for training camp last week has yet to show many signs of fading, even with wet weather rolling in at Monday morning’s practice.
A healthy helping of fans were on deck to catch the Bears’ rainy practice session. After an opening weekend that saw roughly 17,000 fans attend the first two public practice sessions, Bears coach Matt Nagy was thrilled at what he has seen from fans thus far.
“I’ve never seen anything like it, I really haven’t,” Nagy said. “We talk about it in our team meetings — this city and these fans are special and you feel it.
“The support and the backing we have is so powerful, it juices you up a little bit and makes you want to play so well for these fans.”
John Fox preceded Nagy as the Bears’ coach, and he often moved practices indoors when rain was present. Nagy and his staff have changed that approach.
“The rain, that’s part of the elements, we’re gonna see that … but the guys did a good job,” Nagy said.
Quarterback Mitch Trubisky echoed Nagy’s sentiments and noted that no matter the conditions, the Bears are focused on one thing every day — improving.
“(We) fought through the conditions, but we love that,” Trubisky said. “We come out here every day, we got better in some areas and then we’ve got to go back to the film in some areas we need to improve on.’’
The elements perhaps had the biggest impact on the most competitive position battle in camp, the battle between Elliott Fry and Eddy Pineiro for the kicker spot.
In the pattern of alternating days, it was Fry who was asked to handle the slick field and strut his skills on Monday. He missed a pair of kicks — one that looked to be caused by a bad snap and another that was never attempted due to Fry slipping, but was still able to finish an admirable 8-of-10 on the day.
Nagy’s ideas on the kicker battle being partially duked out in the rain didn’t provide much in the excuse department.
“We don’t care about wind, we don’t care about rain, we don’t care about whatever,” Nagy said. “Conditions don’t matter … you saw Elliott slip on that one, that could happen.
“Just rebound, (have a) next play mentality and make the next one. I thought (Fry) did a good job today.”
On the surface, the Bears seemed to be loaded, both in terms of top-tier talent and depth, at virtually every position on the field. But the most loaded group just might be found in the wide receiver group, a position that has even more room for growth in second-year man Anthony Miller.
Trubisky said that Miller has continued on his success last year, when he led the team with seven touchdown catches.
“We’re putting him in a lot of different spots, and this offense can be very explosive and very complicated at the same time,” Trubisky said. “It’s fun for me to see from the quarterback position because he’s starting to understand where he fits within each scheme, he’s understanding timing a lot better and he’s seeing the big picture on the offensive side.”
Nagy said that increased understanding, not only of his own routes on a given play, but his route in terms of the concept of an entire play, is a trait only possessed by the best.
“That’s what separates the good receivers from the great receivers, when they know what the concept is of the play,” Nagy said. “There’s stories of hall-of-fame receivers going up to the line of scrimmage, and they know before the snap whether or not they’re getting the ball, just based off the coverage they see.
“We don’t have every receiver right now that’s at that point — we’d love for our guys to get to that point, to where they know, ‘Hey listen, this is my job in this play versus this coverage. I know I’m not getting the ball but it’s my job to open somebody else up,’ and that’s what he’s working on,’” he added.
What’s the sitch?
One of Monday’s points of emphasis was situational play. Whether it was one-on-one drills, both between receivers and defensive backs and running back pass protection against linebackers, two minute drills or red zone battles, there were plenty of moments Monday that focused on winning in the micro.
“It was a good tempo, we had some good one-on-one drills the guys worked on,” Nagy said. “We did some two minute situational stuff that we worked on too.
“We want to be a really situationally smart football team. The only way you can do that is by practicing, so that’s what we did.”
According to Trubisky, each side of the ball showed some positives in different ways during Monday’s inter-squad competitions. And although several cornerbacks such as Buster Skrine, John Franklin III and Duke Shelley made plenty of notable plays, the offense seemed to almost always strike back.
“(The defense) got us in the two minute (drill) today and then we got a little bit of the red zone section and it’s all about that positive mindset, putting the last bad play behind us, moving on and making the next play,” Trubisky said. “We did a lot better job of that today than yesterday, so I would say that’s growth for us.”