BEARS INSIDER

Practice takeaways: Why Saturday's scrimmage mattered

BEARS INSIDER

LAKE FOREST, Ill. – The Bears scrimmaged for the first time in 2020’s abbreviated training camp Saturday at Halas Hall, taking an important step toward Sept. 13’s opener against the Detroit Lions in the process.

Most of the 11-on-11 scrimmage was played under “thud” rules – meaning no tackling – though there were live periods later in the day involving backups on both offense and defense (and with Tyler Bray as the quarterback).

But the scrimmage was an opportunity for Nagy to script some gameplay-specific conditioning work into a practice only 22 days before the Bears begin the 2020 season at Ford Field.

“That's the most plays we have taken in training camp so far,” center Cody Whitehair said.

Nagy has a tough balance to strike between exercising caution in ramping up activity and needing urgency to be ready for a season that starts in only three weeks. He said he felt like a referee during Saturday’s scrimmage, making sure everything was done correctly and no player was doing too much in a more game-like (but not really game-like) setting. But he was pleased, too, with how players handled being pushed in some extended drives throughout the day.

Going forward, Nagy said he’ll sprinkle in more live hitting periods, though it’ll be difficult to truly “callus” his team – borrowing a word the coach likes to use – before mid-September. The reality, though, is every NFL team won’t be physically calloused when the season starts, and might not be until October in this bizarre year.

 

It’s why you’re probably going to see some ugly play next month.  

But conditioning is important, as is just getting re-adjusted to the speed of live action. The Bears can control those two thigns, and on Saturday, worked with a purpose of being as ready as possible for the Lions on Sept. 13.

Continued patience with injuries

Defensive tackle Akiem Hicks was not present for the second consecutive practice with a quad injury, Nagy said. Wide receiver Allen Robinson was also not present on the back fields at Halas Hall due to an ankle issue that cropped up Friday, per Nagy.

“He should be ok,” Nagy said of Robinson. “It didn’t make sense to try and push him out there today.”

Among the other players who were held out of Saturday’s scrimmage: Tight end Jimmy Graham (veteran rest day), wide receiver Anthony Miller, cornerback Jaylon Johnson and edge rusher Robert Quinn.

It’s hardly surprising to see Nagy and the Bears’ training staff bring these guys along slowly. It was a common practice in 2018 and 2019, and with everything happening in 2020 (no offseason program, shorter training camp) it makes sense for the team to be even more cautious with these guys.

Practice can sometimes be overrated – Khalil Mack was just fine in 2018 despite not participating in offseason workouts or a single snap of training camp – and I wouldn’t be worried about Hicks, Robinson or Quinn just yet. Same with Miller being held out of Saturday’s scrimmage.

But Johnson’s light workload may become a problem for his Week 1 readiness unless he’s cleared to begin ramping things up soon. Buster Skrine’s ability to play outside corner might come in handy in early September.

Swing tackle Jason Spriggs left Saturday’s practice with a left knee injury, the severity of which was not known by Nagy in his post-practice Zoom call with reporters.

Painful memories return

On what looked like a third-and-long – the Bears’ scrimmage, by the way, took place on the far back field at Halas Hall, about 100 yards away from where the media sits – Nick Foles threw a floating duck of a pass that Eddie Jackson picked off.

Nagy said there was some pressure on Foles but he’d have to go watch the tape to truly diagnose the throw. All I could think about, though, was a pissed-off Jackson standing on the sidelines at Soldier Field for 2019’s Wild Card game against the Eagles as Foles threw some of those ducks – and completed them.

The rangy, ballhawking Jackson probably would’ve had some success getting to those lofted, arcing throws Foles had on a cold January night. What we saw Saturday was a reminder of how badly the Bears missed Jackson in that 16-15 loss.

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