The pre-camp portion of the 2015 offseason was a health disaster for some high-profile players. The problems have not, however, moved Bears coach John Fox to follow the leads of some teams and dial back an already limited workload for rookies beginning their NFL lives in sessions like this weekend’s rookie minicamp at Halas Hall.
The Bears used the No. 7 pick of the 2015 NFL Draft on wide receiver Kevin White, who developed pain in his left shin through early workouts, then was lost for the season when the injury turned out to be a stress fracture.
The Miami Dolphins and a handful of other teams have dialed back the limited work schedule in their minicamps even further, intent on orientation of rookies rather than exposing them to injury risk.
But Fox and the Bears do not put White’s injury in the same classification as those that took down some prominent rookies in minicamps this time last year.
“With Kevin, his ‘injury’ was more training, more a track-style of injury rather than football,” Fox said. “It obviously set him back, his rookie season back. But those things aren’t preventable as far as what you’re doing in practice and those types of things. But we’re always conscious of keeping guys out there, keeping guys healthy so they can practice.”
The Jacksonville Jaguars lost Dante Fowler for the season when the rookie linebacker, the No. 3 overall pick of the 2015 draft, tore an ACL barely an hour into the first minicamp. The Denver Broncos used a third-round 2015 draft pick on Ohio State tight end Jeff Heuerman, then saw him go down with a torn ACL suffered in rookie camp.
Former Bears offensive coordinator Adam Gase, now Dolphins head coach, is putting his rookies through on-field practices. He didn’t learn that from Fox.
“I can’t speak to what Adam or anyone else did,” Fox said. “I know what we do and believe in and we’ll pretty much stick to that.”
The twist in all of this is that numerous coaches lament the rules under the collective bargaining agreement that dramatically dialed back the amount of hitting and other practice encounters permissible. Yet some are taking it upon themselves to reduce the practice load for incoming new players.
Fox sees a huge evaluation job, though, and that has to happen primarily through practice until preseason games arrive. And these practices are “Super Bowls” for many of those players, their one big chance.
“We’ve got 33 just tryout guys who aren’t under contract but were out there today,” Fox said. “I’ve seen these guys come from all different places, high picks, low picks, not picked. They understand they get an opportunity, had one of those chairs in the rooms last night, and they’re being evaluated. So they’ve got a time, albeit a short time, to catch coaches’ eyes.”