CHICAGO – The Bears made their 2014 Soldier Field debut at the annual Family Fest fan promotion Saturday night in front of a crowd of their most rabid supporters of about 27,000.
Bears coach Marc Trestman was clearly energized by the crowd and felt his players were too.
“You know this is our home, this is where we’re going to play our games and you know any time the guys are in front of a crowd like this the energy is great and it’s just fun for them to come out at night and practice,” Trestman said.
As the Bears faithful cheered almost every move players made on the field, the biggest story may have been the substantial list of veterans who remained on the sidelines.
Some of the biggest cheers of the night were reserved for Pro Bowl guard Kyle Long who dressed out and participated in offensive line drills but was held out of full team activities.
Trestman said, “Just watching him [Long] warm up it was good to see him in pads. Things are looking up and the plan is still in place.”
Long said he was glad to be back as well, “It was really nice to get into pads. It was really nice to be out there with the guys who have worked so hard all training camp. I’ve missed out on a lot of it, so it was good to get back today. We’ll keep the ball rolling on Monday.”
Earlier in the week the head coach indicated he was targeting Saturday night for Long’s return and cautioned not to make anything out of the likelihood he would not be thrown right into 11-on-11 work.
The Bears also were glad to have Roberto Garza back as well after the veteran center missed Friday’s practice for “personal reasons.”
Running back Shaun Draughn was excused from Saturday’s practice for personal reasons and was not at Soldier Field.
Seeing Jared Allen and Jeremiah Ratliff out of uniform and watching from the sidelines was a bit of a surprise but their absence was nothing more than veteran nights off aimed at taking advantage of the Sunday off day as well giving them two full days rest at the end of the first full week of camp.
The club is slightly more concerned – emphasis on slightly – by the continued absence from practice of sixth offensive lineman Eben Britton and Pro Bowl cornerback Tim Jennings.
Britton has missed the last four practices after tweaking a hamstring but we are told he is day – to – day and will hopefully be back soon.
Jennings has been nursing a “tight quad muscle” and had actually participated in individual drills at recent practices while sitting out team drills but he was held out completely Saturday night.
The two most notable fixtures on the sidelines continue to be safeties Chris Conte and Craig Steltz who both remain on the PUP list while rehabbing from offseason shoulder surgery and a groin injury respectively.
It’s hard to guess how significant their injuries are to the team’s future at safety as both players could be long shots to make the club this year after Adrian Wilson, Ryan Mundy, M.D. Jennings and Danny McCray were all brought in via veteran free agency and Brock Vereen was drafted in the fourth round.
Wilson got his first reps with the starters at Friday’s practice and quite a few more Saturday night. While both starting safety spots will almost certainly be up for garbs for at least a few more weeks, the five-time Pro Bowler will be extremely difficult to unseat if he proves to be 100 percent healthy.
Trestman indicated his two safeties would be interchangeable rather than focusing on finding a strong safety and a free safety. “The job is really to some degree interchangeable. That could change once we figure out where we are, but they’re really interchangeable at this time.”
Wilson and Mundy are the most experienced and accomplished of the safeties in camp and while both have played mostly strong safety, it’s hard to ignore they ran together with the first unit at Saturday night’s practice.