Bears begin 'final approach' to 2015 season with start of OTAs


Bears begin 'final approach' to 2015 season with start of OTAs

Up to this point a lot of the Bears’ offseason work – minicamps, strength and conditioning, etc. – has involved orientation with a new coaching staff, and evaluations by that staff. In the next several weeks the process moves to a different level, one that represents swinging onto the beginnings of final approach to the 2015 season.

Organized team activities for all but the St. Louis Rams start this week – the Bears hold their first three from Wednesday through Friday – and through the second week of June. The sessions, all at Halas Hall for the Bears, are not open to the public.

The orientation and evaluation processes will be continuing; they are in fact on going even into the season. But these will combine veterans and rookies for the first time and take on increasing importance as installations proceed on offense, defense and special teams.

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And they are mandatory, making the attendance of Martellus Bennett and Matt Forte, two who did not attend the voluntary minicamp prior to the draft, more notable. Forte is expected for the sessions; Bennett’s attendance is less certain.

The April minicamp was optional but “[players] miss the installation, they miss the mental time, they miss the on-the-field work,” head coach John Fox said. “So we have a next-man-up approach here, so guys will get opportunities. When one door closes, another door opens for somebody else.”

Players work in helmets but no pads, and hitting is not permitted. Full-team drills are allowed under the collective bargaining agreement.

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Rookies had their own minicamp after the draft. This represents the first coming together of the whole team, and with it an acceleration in the NFL learning process for new players.

“They’re going to be further down the depth chart,” Fox said. “But I don’t think there’s any better teacher than vet players, seeing it be done the right way. That’s why it’s important to have the right kind of guys that are your veterans to do it the right way and do it the right way every day.”

After this week, the Bears hold OTA’s June 1-3 and conclude with four sessions from June 8-11. Training camp commences in Bourbonnais on July 29. 

Roquan Smith helps shear a sheep at Bears community event

Roquan Smith helps shear a sheep at Bears community event

Roquan Smith has more sheared sheep than tackles on his stat sheet as a pro football player.

Smith and several other Bears rookies participated in a hands-on community event at Lambs Farm in Libertyville, Illinois on Monday where he assisted farm staff with the sheep's grooming. Smith said it was a first for him despite growing up around animals. 

"It's like on the norm for me though, playing linebacker you're in the trenches," Smith said of the experience.

"Shaving a sheep, I never really envisioned myself doing something like that," Smith said via "I was around animals [growing up], but it was more so cows and goats here and there and dogs and cats. I've petted a sheep before, but never actually flipped one and shaved one."

Bears rookies got up close and personal with more than just sheep.

Smith was selected with the eighth overall pick in April's draft and will assume a starting role opposite Danny Trevathan at inside linebacker this season. Here's to hoping he can wrangle opposing ball-carriers like a sheep waiting to be sheared.

The Bears' defense is ahead of its offense, but Matt Nagy doesn't see that as a problem

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The Bears' defense is ahead of its offense, but Matt Nagy doesn't see that as a problem

Asking players about how the defense is “ahead” of the offense is a yearly right of passage during OTAs, sort of like how every baseball team has about half its players saying they’re in the best shape of their life during spring training. So that Vic Fangio’s defense is ahead of Matt Nagy’s offense right now isn’t surprising, and it's certainly not concerning. 

But Nagy is also working to install his offense right now during OTAs to build a foundation for training camp. So does the defense — the core of which is returning with plenty of experience in Fangio’s system — being ahead of the offense hurt those efforts?

“It’s actually good for us because we’re getting an experienced defense,” Nagy said. “My message to the team on the offensive side is just be patient and don’t get frustrated. They understand that they’re going to play a little bit faster than us right now. We’ll have some growing pains, but we’ll get back to square one in training camp.”

We’ll have a chance to hear from the Bears’ offensive players following Wednesday’s practice, but for now, the guys on Fangio’s defense have come away impressed with that Nagy’s offense can be. 

“The offense is a lot … just very tough,” cornerback Prince Amukamara said. “They’re moving well. They’re faster. They’re throwing a lot of different looks at us and that’s just Nagy’s offense. If I was a receiver I would love to play in this offense, just because you get to do so many different things and you get so many different plays. It just looks fun over there.”

“They’re moving together, and I like to see that,” linebacker Danny Trevathan said. “We’re not a bad defense. They’re practicing against us, so they’re getting better every day, and vice versa. It’s a daily grind. It’s going to be tough, but those guys, they got the right pieces. I like what I see out there. When somebody makes a play, they’re gone. Everybody can run over there. It’s the right fit for Mitch, it’s the right fit for the receivers, the running backs.”

Still, for all the praise above, the defense is “winning” more, at least as much as it can without the pads on. But the offense is still having some flashes, even as it collectively learns the terminology, concepts and formations used by Nagy. 

And that leads to a competitive atmosphere at Halas Hall, led by the Bears’ new head coach. 

“He’s an offensive coach and last year coach (John) Fox, I couldn’t really talk stuff to (him) because he’s a defensive coach and it’s like Nagy’s offense so if I get a pick or something, I mean, I like to talk stuff to him,” Amukamara said. “He’ll say something like ‘we’re coming at you 2-0.’ Stuff like that. That just brings out the competition and you always want that in your head coach.”