Fourteen weeks after cleaning out their lockers following their brutal playoff loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, Bears players will return to Halas Hall on Monday for the beginning of the team’s offseason program. Coach Matt Nagy said he expects full participation from players in the coming weeks, which will culminate in three rounds of OTAs in late May and early June as well as a veteran minicamp June 11-13.
Plenty has changed since Cody Parkey’s double-doink dumped the NFC North champions out of the playoffs sooner than anyone in Lake Forest expected. For starters: Players can finally enjoy the amenities provided to them by the renovation of Halas Hall, including a new locker room, weight room and various other state-of-the-art accoutrements after a year of being “inconvenienced” by construction, as Bears chairman George McCaskey put it.
“It will be as good as any facility in the league,” McCaskey said last month at the NFL annual meeting. “And that’s what we want. We want our guys to have the best facilities because we want them to have peak performance. One way to do that is have the best facilities possible.”
Or, as Ryan Pace — whose fingerprints were all over the renovation plans — said: “When you walk in there, it’s a game-changer. … It’s going to maximize our players. I think it’s going to be a situation where they don’t want to leave.”
It’s not just the facility that’ll be different, of course. While, largely, the Bears’ division-winning core is back in 2019, there have been a few changes. Gone are key defensive pieces in Adrian Amos and Bryce Callahan, while Jordan Howard was shipped to the Eagles. Well-respected locker room presences and depth pieces in Benny Cunningham, Josh Bellamy and Sam Acho aren’t back. Parkey, of course, won’t be around, while three kickers without NFL experience (Redford Jones, Chris Blewitt and Elliott Fry) will be.
Prominent new additions Cordarrelle Patterson, Mike Davis, Buster Skrine and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix will have to acclimate to their new surroundings and assimilate into a locker room with a strong established culture. More importantly: A new defensive coaching staff, save for defensive line coach Jay Rodgers, will begin implementing and installing Chuck Pagano’s system into a group that was the league’s best defense in 2018.
But the perhaps the biggest challenge for Matt Nagy and the Bears in the coming weeks will be setting the tone for a team that accomplished so much in 2018, only to fall painfully far from their ultimate goal.
“Within our Halas Hall, our players are going to realize and they're going to feel it from our staff and from myself that last year is gone,” Nagy said. “It was the same thing for us last year, I told them I don't care anything about what happened in 2017. I don't care, this is a new year. So, when I stand out there and I hold the trophy and I tell you, this is why we're here, you've got to believe it. Not sure that everybody believed it at the beginning of the season last year. Now when we get in there April 15th, every one of those guys in that building is going to believe it.”
The Bears’ belief in winning a Super Bowl will be the undercurrent to everything that goes on at Halas Hall between now and the end of veteran minicamp in mid-June. As Nagy said, that belief didn’t exist a year ago, when so many players in the building had only experienced losing in Chicago.
Nagy, too, said he told players in their exit interviews after last season that they’d be returning to a team that’s now “the hunted” in the NFL. Expectations can be a burden, but if everybody in Halas Hall has a genuine belief those expectations can be met, they don’t have to be a burden.
“Now we go into our first meeting April 15, 90 percent of our players now know how we work as a staff,” Nagy said. “They know what I’m saying. Now I need to connect the dots with these guys in having them realize that this is no longer 2018. This is 2019 and we gotta start all over again and how do I do that and we have good people and good players on the team, good coaches. Again, trust. Trust the process. Trust where we’re at and know there’s a lot of hard work ahead of us.”