Bears preparing for epic cold temperatures and Packers in different ways

Bears preparing for epic cold temperatures and Packers in different ways

Everybody complains about the weather but nobody does anything about it. Well, maybe the Bears do.

With game-time temperatures predicted to be at perhaps historic lows, the Bears practiced outside on Thursday.

“It was probably as close to what we think the game conditions will be, so it was kind of good to get the guys out there, get the proper footwear and clothing,” said coach John Fox, then conceding, “but it was a little chilly.”

Wind is more of a factor than cold in games. Usually. Brutal cold, however, is its own factor. Michael Vick once effectively quit in a 2005 game (coincidentally, also on Dec. 18, like Sunday’s Bears-Packers game) at Soldier Field that was inexplicably scheduled at night along the lakefront. Wind chill started at minus-3 at kickoff, and Vick wanted no part of the moment, at one point hurling the football at Brian Urlacher after the Bears linebacker had planted the Atlanta quarterback in the frozen turf in a game that saw Vick suffer to the fifth-lowest passer rating of his 143-game NFL career.

Bears players have their own plans for cold-management. Or not:

-- Quarterback Matt Barkley: “Probably [wearing sleeves], yeah. I’m not a polar bear.”

-- Coach John Fox: “One of the things I've shared is hydrate. A lot of people don't understand. I've seen a lot of guys cramp in cold-weather games and sometimes they don't hydrate either during the game or prior to the game as much. The common thought is it's just the humidity in the hot weather. But when you're wearing so much clothing and your body sweats like it does I've seen a lot of guys cramp in really cold games.”

-- Wide receiver Alshon Jeffery: “I don’t think the weather really matters… .I could (not) care less how cold it is. I’ve played in colder games.”

-- Linebacker Pernell McPhee: “I ain't wearing sleeves. As a D-lineman, as a front-seven guy, as a guy who plays defense, I think it's a sign of weakness, but I ain't wearing no sleeves.”

-- Guard Josh Sitton: “Stay by the heater all the way until the timeout’s over; don’t go on the field early.”

-- Considering that Barkley is from southern California, Jeffery is from South Carolina, and McPhee and Sitton are from Florida, Sunday’s game could be as much an exercise of adaptive skills as football skills.

Sitton played the first eight years of his NFL career with the Packers, whose Lambeau Field has been the scene of legendarily cold game days (“Ice Bowl”). He claimed to like Thursday’s outdoor practice, offering, “I’ve been playing in the cold for nine years now,” Sitton said, “so I think you can get used to it.”

Washington QB Jacob Eason has the confidence Bears need

Washington QB Jacob Eason has the confidence Bears need

General manager Ryan Pace made it clear Tuesday from the NFL Combine that the Chicago Bears will add competition to the quarterback room this offseason. They'll have a chance to accomplish that goal in the 2020 NFL Draft, especially in the second round where Washington's strong-armed gunslinger Jacob Eason is expected to come off the board.

Eason is considered one of the more naturally gifted passers in the 2020 class with an arm that ranks alongside Oregon's Justin Herbert, who's projected to be picked in the first seven selections. So why is Eason more likely to be a second-rounder?

“There are little nitpickers here and there," Eason said Tuesday from Indianapolis. "They nitpick about [my] speed and the pocket awareness, footwork, all of those things. There are things [I] need to work on and there’s always room to improve.”

One thing about Eason's game that there's no debate on is his right arm, which will instantly be one of the strongest in the NFL in 2020. He models his game after another big-armed quarterback who spent nearly two decades haunting Bears fans.

“A guy like Brett Favre. A guy like Peyton Manning. They are both big inspirations,” Eason said. “I like the way they play the game. Their toughness and competitiveness; those are the guys I modeled my game after.”

There's no doubt Eason would offer the Bears more of a pure passer's skill set; there's no comparing his arm talent to Mitch Trubisky, who routinely struggled to place the ball on target on deep throws in 2019. Eason would instantly expand Matt Nagy's playbook and make downfield chunk plays more realistic.

Confidence is important, too. Eason, who said he's stressing the confidence he has in his arm during team meetings at the Combine, isn't afraid to take shots downfield. Trubisky, on the other hand, doesn't play with that killer's instinct. And as we saw last season, it impacts the overall effectiveness of Nagy's system.

This Eason discussion assumes, of course, that he's on the board at No. 43 overall. A big week in Indianapolis could skyrocket his draft stock into the first round; there's been some speculation that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers could even take him at No. 14.

Adding a player like Eason would create one heck of a storyline for training camp and a quarterback battle that would likely end with the rookie as the victor.

Ryan Pace says Bears are 'exploring every avenue' to upgrade tight end

Ryan Pace says Bears are 'exploring every avenue' to upgrade tight end

Bears general manager Ryan Pace didn't come across as a guy willing to go down in flames with his decision to sign tight end Trey Burton back in 2018 when he met with the media at the NFL Combine on Tuesday. Instead, he confirmed the Bears will be heavily invested in the tight end market this offseason, both in free agency and the 2020 NFL draft.

"We’re looking at it in free agency and the draft," Pace said of this year's available tight ends. "It’s deep in different areas. That’s an area of focus for us, I don’t think that’s a secret. This offense, a lot of it goes through the tight end, so we’re exploring every avenue."

It's hard to envision a scenario where Pace would be willing to travel down the big-money free-agent path again, but Falcons pass-catcher Austin Hooper could be too tempting to pass up.

Atlanta confirmed on Tuesday Hooper will be allowed to test the open market, and if he ranks high enough on Pace's wish list, we could be setting up to see a $10 million per year offer. It may seem like a waste of resources to tie that much money up in the tight end position (he and Burton would cost the Bears close to $20 million in 2020), but they experienced just how limited Matt Nagy's offense is without a capable playmaker at the position. Hooper would fix that.

The cheaper alternative for Pace to upgrade at tight end would be the draft, where several quality prospects will be on the board when the Bears pick at No. 43 and No. 50 overall. Players like Purdue's Brycen Hopkins, FAU's Harrison Bryant and Notre Dame's Cole Kmet could all be available when the Bears are on the clock, and all three of them would represent a marked uptick in talent for the depth chart.

Pace is being logical and rational when it comes to his evaluation of the tight end group. It's especially impressive considering the top two options currently on the roster -- Burton and Adam Shaheen -- were hand-picked by him and cost Chicago a top-of-the-market free-agent deal and a high draft pick (second round, 2017). 

Pace has a great opportunity to right his wrongs at tight end over the next couple of months.