Injury concerns not causing John Fox to curtail Bears minicamp work

Injury concerns not causing John Fox to curtail Bears minicamp work

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.”

Rob Gronkowski 'highly unlikely' to play Sunday against the Bears

Rob Gronkowski 'highly unlikely' to play Sunday against the Bears

Sunday's game against Tom Brady and the Patriots will be a tough test for the Bears, but it looks like they're going to receive a big break.

According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski didn't travel with the Patriots to Chicago and is "highly unlikely" to play Sunday.

Avoiding Gronkowski, who is one of Brady's favorite targets, would be a huge break for the Bears' defense. In six games this season, the tight end has 26 receptions for 405 yards and a touchdown; in 14 games last season, Gronkowski had 69 catches for 1,084 yards and eight touchdowns.

Gronkowski has not officially been ruled out yet, though time is running out for the Patriots to make a decision.

Meanwhile, Khalil Mack appears set to play Sunday despite dealing with an ankle injury. Between having Mack on the field and Gronkowski off of it, good news keeps coming for the Bears' defense.

Final thoughts: Cody Parkey quickly moves on from missed game-winning kick

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Final thoughts: Cody Parkey quickly moves on from missed game-winning kick

There’s, probably, only one position in sports that can match the you-had-one-job scrutiny of a placekicker attempting a critical field goal late in a football game. As in: If you make the kick, it was expected; if you miss it, well, you didn’t do the one thing you were brought on to do. 

The comparison here is a closer in baseball. The expectation is whoever is called upon with a one-to-three-run lead in the ninth inning will convert the save and win his team the game. 

But when a closer blows a save and is in the spotlight during baseball’s regular season, there’s always a game the next day or, at worst, in two days. The immediacy and pace of a Major League Baseball team’s schedule lends itself to closers having to “flush” a bad outing and move on to the next one, since it might be tomorrow. 

For Bears kicker Cody Parkey, though, he’s had to wait a week until he gets his next “meaningful” chance at making a field goal after missing a game-winning 53-yard attempt last weekend against the Miami Dolphins. But moving on from a critical missed kick has never, and is not, a problem for the fifth-year veteran. 

“(It takes) five minutes,” Parkey said. “You kick the ball, and if it doesn’t go in you’re not going to sit there and cry on the field, you’re going to continue to move on with your life. I don’t think there’s really much to it other than knowing you’re going to have to kick another one sometime throughout the season, next game, in the next week, you never know. You stay ready so you’ll be ready for the next week.”

Not allowing those missed kicks to fester is an important trait for a placekicker to possess. What helps Parkey quickly work through his misses is focusing on having a good week of kicking in practice, and also an even-keel mindset that’s been instilled in him since a young age. 

“I think I’ve always been pretty mellow,” Parkey said. “At a young age, my coaches told me never let the highs get to high, never let the lows get too low. And I’ve kind of taken that to heart. If I miss a game winner, make a game winner, I’m going to have the same demeanor. I’m just going to be super chill and knowing it’s a game, it’s supposed to be fun, we’re supposed to go out there and try our best. I put in a lot of work and I try my best on the field.”

That’s something, too, that special teams coach Chris Tabor sees in Parkey. 

“He's always been like that,” Tabor said. “He hit a good ball, his line was just off. In his career going in he was 7-of-8 over 50 yards. I'll be honest with you, I thought he was going to make it. And next time we have that situation, I know he will make it.” 

Age is just a number

Sunday will mark the 6th time in Tom Brady’s career that the 41-year-old has faced a head coach younger than him, but the first time it’ll be a coach other than Miami’s Adam Gase (who’s 40). Brady is 3-2 against Gase’s Dophins. 

Matt Nagy, meanwhile, is also 40. Brady just missed playing Kyle Shanahan (38) and Sean McVay (32), facing the San Francisco 49ers and Los Angeles Rams in 2016, a year before both those youthful coaches were hired. 

Meanwhile, the youngest player on the Bears — 21-year-old Roquan Smith — was three years old when Brady made his unassuming NFL debut on Nov. 23, 2000. 

They said it

A couple of amusing one-liners out of Halas Hall this week…

Nagy, when it was brought to his attention that Mitch Trubisky (105.6) has a better passer rating than Brady (98.2), chuckled: “You want to say that one more time?” 

Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, when asked if he’d ever heard of “Baby Gronk” Adam Shaheen: “(long pause)… Sometimes.”