It’s time for some football. The Bears will take the field Friday for the first practice of training camp. Hub Arkush and Tom Musick discuss:
Musick: The grass has been mowed. The bleachers have been built. The gift shop has been stocked. Bourbonnais is on the big stage yet again. But for Bears fans who don’t live particularly close to Olivet Nazarene University, is training camp worth the trek?
Arkush: If you’re one of those folks who just loves ya some Chicago Bears football, the answer is absolutely yes. But you have to come with some realistic expectations of just how close you’re going to get to your navy and orange heroes and how happy they’re going to be to see you. Remember, you’re playing hooky for a day or two to have some fun. But while they’re playing a game, they also are hard at work.
Musick: That’s a good place to start. If your mission is to collect autographs from Bears players, understand that a couple of thousand people alongside you at training camp have the same mission. So let the kids go first – they get to stand in a roped-off area where players enter and leave the field, which is really smart by the Bears – and be aware that you probably won’t get a star player to sign your stuff.
Arkush: Another thing fans need to realize is this isn’t an NFL game they’re coming to watch. There will be no tackling during practice and no contact anywhere but on the line of scrimmage. But if you want to see receivers and defensive backs making acrobatic plays at full speed or Jay Cutler throwing darts all over the field and heaving the ball 60 yards in the air to a streaking Brandon Marshall, from reasonably up close and personal, Bourbonnais is the place to be.
Musick: Exactly, and you can’t beat the free admission. So for those who make the trip to training camp and want to learn more about the Bears this season, what drills would you recommend that they focus on?
Arkush: In the old days we yearned for the Nutcracker, two guys straddling a two-by-four, each trying to knock the other off, but that’s gone the way of Ditka and Wanny. Nobody hits anybody anymore. Look for 7-on-7s and “All 11” passing drills. See how many guys Cutler can hit in stride at full speed and watch how routes are strung together to begin to understand coach Marc Trestman’s West Coast offense.
Musick: Definitely, anybody who likes precision passing will get a kick out of the 7-on-7s. I’m also a big fan of the 1-on-1 pass rush drills. Those should tell us a lot about big rookie Kyle Long. As we wrap up, how about giving a couple of nonhousehold names to keep an eye on during camp?
Arkush: Unlike last year, when undrafted rookie free-agent offensive tackle James Brown was in the bull’s eye on everyone’s radar, there are no easy calls this year. Another offensive tackle I know the Bears are very hopeful about is fifth-round pick Jordan Mills. I expect seventh-rounder Marquess Wilson to be this year’s Evan Rodriguez – as in never should have touched him – but smarter people than me think he’ll grow up and be a steal. And watch Brandon Hardin closely. Unfortunately, Hardin’s another player I’m not optimistic about, but he has to earn playing time if general manager Phil Emery’s first draft is going to get a decent grade.