NFL training camp

Postcard from Camp: Let the games begin

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USA Today Sports Images

Postcard from Camp: Let the games begin

BOURBONNAIS, Ill. — Fans weren’t allowed in to Tuesday’s practice at Olivet Nazarene University, but hopefully none of you had any FOMO while being kept away. Not a whole lot worth noting happened during a light, non-padded walkthrough with the Bears looking ahead to Thursday’s Hall of Fame Game against the Baltimore Ravens. 

So with that in mind, let’s take a look at how the Bears will approach the first NFL game to take place since last February’s epic Super Bowl…

OFFENSE: Play the waiting game

Matt Nagy declined to say who will and won’t play on Thursday, but Jordan Howard went on NFL Network later in the day and said he won’t play and doesn’t think Mitch Trubisky will, either. This is hardly surprising: Last year, Blaine Gabbert and Trevor Knight were the quarterbacks used by the Arizona Cardinals (who entered the season with Carson Palmer as their starter); the Dallas Cowboys used Kellen Moore and Cooper Rush (instead of Dak Prescott). 

For the Bears, there’s no reason to put their offensive centerpieces into harms’ way on Thursday. Not every expected starter will sit, but a quarterback (Trubisky), a heavily-used running back (Howard) anyone coming off an injury (Allen Robinson, Kyle Long) will, or most likely will. So while that’s sort of a bummer that we won’t get to see a glimpse of what Nagy’s offense could look like a week early, it’s certainly the prudent thing to do. 

DEFENSE: Hit somebody else

While the same player-protection strategy will apply to the Bears’ defense, for the guys vying to make the 53-man roster, getting to go live with no restrictions is an awfully welcome change. In particular, Thursday night should feel great for the Bears’ outside linebackers, who will have a chance to chase down Lamar Jackson and actually get their hands on a quarterback for the first time. 

“Part of preparing your team for the season is making sure you pick the right 53 guys,” defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said. “We’re heavy into evaluation in this game, more so than evaluating scheme. We want to see these guys play, see how they do.”

SPECIAL TEAMS: Make your case

Whatever happens on Thursday will only slightly move the needle on position battles (that’s why, for example, if James Daniels doesn’t play due to a shoulder issue it won’t really change things for him). But for special teams coordinator Chris Tabor, Thursday night will provide him his best opportunity to date to evaluate who could be a part of his special teams units come September. 

“I’m going to be able to see guys who really are for what they are,” Tabor said. “I have an idea, but their tape is going to tell me if I maybe need to move them to a different spot. So I’m excited about it.”

So for all the undrafted free agents or fringe guys who are hoping to stick with the Bears — or with any of the other 31 teams — what they put on tape on Thursday night will be a big part of those efforts. For a guy like running back Ryan Nall, rushing for 120 yards on 17 carries would be great, but putting some good special teams work on tape would be equally, if not more, important. 

COACHES: Work on clock management

The Bears — like the Ravens — didn’t do any gameplanning for a bonus preseason game that’ll mostly be populated by guys who will have to fight their way onto a 53-man roster or work to secure a practice squad spot. So specific playcalling or anything along those lines isn’t going to be a focus for Nagy and offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich. 

What Thursday does represent is an early opportunity to treat clock management like a game situation, though. 

“There's a test for all of us coaches as far as how we want to go about it, especially me for time management, game management, how you want to do that stuff,” Nagy said. “But as far as game plan, this is about the players and letting them play so they can show off their talents to us so we know who we want to keep.”

NFC North: Packers LB Jake Ryan suffers serious knee injury

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USA Today

NFC North: Packers LB Jake Ryan suffers serious knee injury

The Chicago Bears will open the 2018 regular season against the Green Bay Packers on Sunday Night Football and they could be facing a Packers defense that will be without starting linebacker Jake Ryan.

Ryan, 26, suffered a knee injury in practice on Monday, one that's been described as serious by NFL Network's Ian Rapoport. 

Packers coach Mike McCarthy said Ryan is undergoing additional exams.

Ryan started 12 games for Green Bay last season. He registered 81 tackles on the year, including eight tackles in two games against the Bears. 

"We have some young players that have showed some promise out there," Packers GM Brian Gutekunst said Tuesday in response to Ryan's injury, "and we’ll let them continue to grow into those roles and see what we have. At the same time, we’re always behind the scenes preparing for anything.”

Candidates to start in Ryan's place at inside linebacker alongside Blake Martinez include Oren Burks, Greer Martini, Marcus Porter, Naashon Hughes and Ahmad Thomas.

Postcard from Camp: Tarik Cohen's 'rare' talent might be more mental than physical

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Postcard from Camp: Tarik Cohen's 'rare' talent might be more mental than physical

BOURBONNAIS, Ill. — As the morning fog lifted along I-57, so did the intensity of things here at Olivet Nazarene University, with the Bears only going in shells for their final public practice before heading off to Canton to play the Baltimore Ravens on Thursday. Tuesday’s practice will be a light walkthrough. This is a game week, after all. 

Matt Nagy described Monday’s practice as more important mentally for players, though we still saw some impressive physical moments — specifically, when Adam Shaheen bodied up Bryce Callahan and Michael Joseph for touchdowns in seven-on-seven red zone drills. We’ve seen that before from Shaheen, though (like in OTAs a year ago), and as always his growth will be tied to what he’s able to do with the pads on.

Those seven-on-seven drills produced the most ooohs and ahhhs of the day. We saw Mitch Trubisky show a good connection with Allen Robinson a few times and fire a handful of perfectly-timed strikes to Tarik Cohen who, yes, did another backflip after getting in the end zone. 

“That’s the late night practices, coming out to the field, doing one-on-ones and having that timing and you and the quarterback being on the same page,” Cohen said, “and the end product, you get a touchdown.”

Cohen, too, terrorized undrafted rookie safety Nick Orr in one-on-one drills with some video game-esque juke moves to get himself wide open downfield. What’s clear is that, mentally, Cohen is more than able to handle the responsibilities bestowed upon him by Nagy and Mark Helfrich. Put him at running back, any wide receiver position, returner, quarterback, whatever — he actually even downplayed the mental workload he has to learn all that stuff. Maybe because it’s not that daunting for a guy with roundly-praised work ethic and football intelligence. 

“I don’t feel like it’s necessarily a lot that goes into it,” Cohen said. “I only have a certain amount of plays at each position. It’s not like I’m learning the whole playbook at every position, so that makes it a lot easier.”

That kind of attitude hasn’t gone unnoticed by a coaching staff that’s quickly warmed to the diminutive playmaker. 

“He’s awesome,” Helfrich said. “He’s fun to coach. He’s a guy, literally, you can tell him anything—to line up at any position, he’ll do it with an unbelievably great attitude, a giant smile on his face and run 4.3. It’s amazing how many places he has never lined up before, and you say, ‘Hey, it’s like this,’ and he goes out and does it. That’s invaluable, to be able to plug and play a guy like that, that has the kind of characteristics he does with the ball in his hands. That’s rare.”

Your daily Roquan update is that…

… There’s nothing new to report. No. 58 still isn’t here, and after Sam Darnold joined the New York Jets on Monday Smith is the lone 2018 first-round pick to not have signed a contract yet. Meanwhile, ESPN’s Dan Graziano published a column blasting the Bears for how they’ve handled the Smith situation

Ryan Pace joined ESPN1000’s “Kap & Co.” from Bourbonnais on Monday and didn’t directly answer the questions about Smith posed to him by NBC Sports Chicago colleagues David Kaplan and Pat Boyle, but did have this to say:

“Sometimes all the details aren’t maybe fully out there. We’re going to work through it and we’re going to do it the right way with agents that we respect, with a player that we respect.”

Pace declined to say if there’s a deadline for Smith to get into camp to be ready for the regular season, but made a point to reiterate that Smith’s football intelligence was one of the reasons why the team drafted him eighth overall back in April. The point, then, being: Smith should be able to quickly pick things up whenever he does join the team. 

We’ll be interested to hear what Vic Fangio, who’s not one to B.S. with the press, has to say about the whole situation when he speaks to the media after Tuesday’s practice. 

Quote of the Day

“I understand the rule. I was an example last year.” — Bears linebacker Danny Trevathan on the NFL’s new rule on helmet-to-helmet contact, which Nagy said over the weekend is part of why Smith still isn’t in camp. Trevathan was suspended for one game last year after a violent helmet-to-helmet hit on Green Bay Packers wide receiver Davante Adams.