The 2020 edition of the Chicago Bears training camp got started in a most unusual way as the team media began with the introduction of head athletic trainer Andre Tucker. A most unusual press conference of a very unusual year began with Tucker detailing the extent to which players, coaches, and even staff members will go through a gauntlet of Covid screening before even entering the team’s Lake Forest, Illinois practice facility.
The daily screening process includes a temperature check, a questionnaire, a color coded day pass, a check in station, a Covid test, plus a thermal scan. This is not some sci-fi movie. Just what has to be done to ensure the safety of the team. The brand new facility has undergone additional modifications to accommodate social distancing in the weight room, cafeteria, locker room, and meeting rooms. Even the showers have been spaced apart. Some resources are being relocated to the Walter Payton Center to further facilitate physical distancing. Rookies and other players who do not yet have permanent housing in the area are being put up at a nearby hotel, where efforts are also being made to extend the safety net beyond Halas Hall.
“What most people do is focus on in house,” says Tucker. “but with the Bears it’s not just the people that are in the building, it’s also their families and people that are going to be involved and around them the 2020 season, outside of the building. We’re planning on address this with all players, all staff. Anyone involved on the football aspect, along with their families. It’s very important from an educational standpoint that you calm down some of the anxieties of the unknown. That’s where education is key. THe more you know, the more you can make a sound, long lasting, positive decision.”
Matt Nagy echoed those sentiments. “We have a plan in place in regards to how to to teach them what we know. And then listen to the questions that they have. Whether that’s with family members, which we know is is just as important for the players ,and the coaches, and the support staff that are in this ‘bubble’ we have here at Halas Hall. It’s just as significant to be able educate their family members and the people they are going home to, whether that’s players throughout the day or coaches on the weekends. We’re going to discuss that with the family members so they can ask questions.
Nagy and Ryan Pace were asked about the risk versus reward of moving forward under these unusual circumstances. Pace was trying to be realistic about the challenges. “I look at Matt and I as leaders and communicating and educating our staff and players on the challenges ahead. Our head is not in the sand. It’s going to be hard. Every individual can look at this a little different, and being sensitive and respectful of that. For us, it really comes down to actions more than words. I’m really excited when our veterans get here and they walk in the building and see everything that we have done. We have gone above and beyond.
I really believe we have the best setup in the NFL in regards to how we are handling this. We know there’s going to be challenges and we’re going to have to adapt. These are uncertain times. We have an advantage with our square footage, and being creative with how we set set up all our rooms.– Ryan Pace.
Nagy followed up by saying, “It’s a creativity deal. What are you given in regards to what we have here at Halas Hall, and how do you make it work. There were so many people behind the scenes that were part of this process. We feel that we are one of the top teams in the league at providing for our players. There was a lot of work that went into that. We need to open up the schedule to alleviate the stress of getting from one place to another.” Players and staff will have to wear masks at all times inside the building.
Then the conversation turned to the mechanics of practice and enabling training camp to function. “Not having the preseason games,” stated Nagy, “and with the schedule, we need to be creative within these drills. Make sure the time that’s given to us in practice, that were using it as much as we can with competitive periods. It’s hard to to that in walk thro ughs. It’s hard to do that in meetings, even if they’re in person. But when we get a change to go out there, we’re evaluating those quarterbacks with every single play. Not just throws. But every single check they make at the line of scrimmage. Every bit of leadership they show in and out of the huddle. Where there watching how they react to a specific play in practice.
Is free agent quarterback Nick Foles at a disadvantage? Nagy thinks for sure he’s at disadvantage not having the timing he’ll have with the wide receivers. “Neither one of them (QB’s)should go out there and try to do too much. They just need to be themselves when they’re out there, play football and let the results take care of themselves. Nick knows that. He’s a smart guy. At the same time he’ be hungry to get back out there and build those relationships he’s lost (due to Covid.)
Pace stressed the importance of a constant dialogue with Nagy as the evaluation process moves along. “Understanding there’s going to be ebbs and flows to the evaluation. The entire process. Not just each practice . Let it play out naturally. Let it come to us. With Matt, it’s constant communication and constant collaboration between him and I, and his coaching staff. Like everything we do.”
Pace was also asked about creating a bubble in Lake Forest. “We just took the parameters that the league and the union agreed upon. It came as no surprise to us that these were the circumstances. And now we just keep on calling it ‘our bubble’. We just try to create that environment here. The most at risk we are at, is when people leave Halas Hall at the end of the day. It’s not just the players. It’s the staff, it’s everybody. I think that just goes back to educating our players and staff to not make selfless decisions when you leave here. You owe it to your counterparts. You owe it to your teammates to make the right decisions as we go through the season.”
Nagy explored other areas where there was going to be competition during training camp. “At corner we have a nice little battle there at corner. You’re looking at the safety position. Inside, at on the offensive line at guard with those guys there. There could be some other positions for us, whether it’s at the wide receiver or tight end position, maybe depth wise. I think that could be real intriguing to see if some of those guys step up. When you don’t see these guys in five weeks from OTA’s to training camp. There’s somebody that jumps up that surprises you.”
When we do go live, It’s important, were losing preseason games. But at the same time we have to get some tackling in. And it’s good for the players. But you can’t overdo it, and you have to be smart with how you do it. Obviously the guys are going to come in and get the ramp up in the next couple of weeks. This is the first time in a long time that the guys will have the pads and the helmets on.-Matt Nagy
Nick Foles feels he can fit right in with the Bears offense. “There’s a lot of similarities in this offense from my Philly offense. So I feel right back at home. Whether its the run game , the pass game there are similarities. It’s been a year since I was in that offense, but it’s nice to have the verbiage and have this feel and understand why were’ doing it. The history of the Philly offense came from KC. We evolved it in Philly, but coach Nagy brought the KC offense here and it’s become the Bears offense.
The situation is what it is. My focus is acclimating to being in Chicago. Getting to meet a lot of people at this facility. Trying my best to memorize names. Looking forwards to getting to know my teammates. I’m enjoying the QB room The big thing is we help each other and improve in the QB room.– Nick Foles
“The staff has done a great job with all the protocols around the building. The physical distancing. How the meeting rooms are set up. Just how safe we have to be with testing. Every day my morning starts with a Covid test. So we go in, we get tested.” He went on to complement Tucker for the job he’s doing. “He’s done a great job just keeping everyone safe with the protocols and getting those results back, and making sure we’re taking the right safety steps to keep everyone in our building as safe as possible.
Trubisky was asked about that work he did on his mechanics in the offseason. “I’m not going to dive in specifically,” he replied. “Hopefully, it shows on tape this year. Just me having better balance in the pocket. I did a couple of things with footwork, how I’m holding the ball, and where my release is coming from. It’s really the first time I ever adjusted my mechanics. I just really loved working with Jeff.” He’s referring to QB Guru Jeff Christiansen, who the coach who tutored Patrick Mahomes and Jimmy Garoppolo. He added, “I feel like my motion is better. I feel like I’m more in balance and the ball is coming out better. I’m excited about it.”
When you get on the field you try not to think about it, and just play football, which we’ve been doing.Mitch Trubisky
Foles summed up the mood very well. “Everyone’s been affected by this. And it’s a very serious situation. Your mind does wonder like what’s going to happen. I just have to focus on the little things, and just focus on the moment. I have to prepare and do the bet I can. The Chicago Bears and the NFL are doing the best they can. I don’t know what the future holds. It’s been a tough 2020 for every single person.”