As the NFLPA continues to encourage players not to show up to the voluntary portion of the NFL offseason program, the Chicago Bears are pushing back the start of their full-speed practices to June 1.
OTA (offseason training activity) practices were originally slated to start May 25, with the team utilizing the 10 full-speed, non-contact practices allowed under the collective bargaining agreement. The adjustment to the schedule means the Bears will only have seven of those practices ahead of mandatory minicamp, which will run June 15-17 at Halas Hall.
Shortly after rookie minicamp concluded Sunday, Bears head coach Matt Nagy hinted that the team would be scaling back the physical work the next few weeks.
“We’re going to really focus on the strength and conditioning part and see where they’re at and let (strength and conditioning coach) Jason Loscalzo evaluate them there,” Nagy said. “And then do a lot more ‘class on the grass’ mentally, and then just slowly ramp it up and see where they’re at and hopefully by the end of it we’re doing more field work and the guys feel good and it feels like a win-win for everybody.”
The second phase of the NFL offseason program begins Monday with virtual meetings and on-field drills with coaches at a “teaching pace,” but Nagy admitted he’s unsure what attendance will look like.
“Tomorrow we’ll probably know a lot, is my guess, with the guys that are coming in or not coming in,” he said. “We, as a coaching staff, are going to be prepared for a lot of different situations, because we have to set up all these schedules and make sure everything is, No. 1, within the rules and the limits -- and there’s a bunch of them -- which is good, but, OK, now if X amount of players come, if X, Y and Z come, we gotta know how we react to that.”
The first reaction came Sunday evening with chopping off three OTA practices. Essentially the move replaces the first week of OTA practices (May 25-27) with more “teaching pace” on-field drills. The full speed practices will now begin June 1.
“There’s still going to be the on-field work, and there’s still going to be full-speed stuff where we’re really trying to get that timing that we’re breaking down on the front end,” Nagy said. “What I’m saying is, we might pull back the volume of how much we do, based off of where they’re at, and how they feel -- you know, feedback from them of how their bodies are, and we can temper that and take that into where we’re at into training camp. But, whatever the rules are that permit— we’re using that and making sure that it’s smart for our team and our players.”
One year after signing a new CBA that runs through the 2030 season, the NFLPA has pushed its members not to attend the voluntary portion of the offseason program, pointing to data from 2020 that claims there were 23 percent fewer “missed time” injuries last season after the entire offseason program was wiped out due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Most of the offseason program was already voluntary, but there were still inherent consequences to not showing up – such as losing reps to a younger player who did show up. With the NFL expanding the regular season schedule to 17 games this season, the union has encouraged a strength-in-numbers push to limit offseason attendance.
When asked Sunday if the adjustment to less physical practices next week was “an olive branch to encourage participation,” Nagy responded by saying:
“There’s no encouragement. What I’d say for us is, it’s more about being able to see these guys and where they’re at so we can ramp them up.”
Regardless, in past years, players would be expected to show up Monday at Halas Hall and attendance would be close to 100 percent. With practices not open to reporters until June 1 now, it might be a couple weeks before we have a good idea of what the attendance looks like.