Attending Bears training camp at Olivet Nazarene in Bourbonnais is always an interesting experience, especially in years like this one... where fans are expecting big things from the Bears.
I spent the first two days of camp open to the public, July 27 and July 28, and also spent the last day, August 10, with the Bears.
In fact, Windy City Gridiron was all over this camp, with at least one (and often several) staff members attending most days.
I’d like to share some thoughts, and I’m going to break this down into two parts. First, some thoughts about the Bears team both in general and in specifics. The second part is about this year’s Bourbonnais experience.
Part 1: The Chicago Bears In Camp
This year’s Bears camp was a very positive experience, and fortunately it was also a very healthy one. There were some knocks and bruises, but it looks like no serious injuries that will threaten anybody’s season.
The overriding impression that I came away with from this camp is that the Bears defense is not going to regress, and that in fact it may be better than last year barring injury (of course).
The consistent level of ferocious attacking done by that unit reminds me of two other teams that I have seen in the past, the 1985 & 1986 Bears defense, and the 2000 Ravens.
Offensively the Bears are much more advanced than they were at this time last year pretty-well across the board.
Perhaps the most noticeable thing... what really pops up in front of you... is how changed the running back position is with the addition of Mike Davis and David Montgomery over Jordan Howard and Benny Cunningham.
Davis and Montgomery, simply put, are doing things that last year’s squad simply could not do, and their versatility is allowing the play calling to be masked more efficiently... no longer does the presence of a back on the field signify “oh, this is a running play”, and that’s going to be a huge addition to the team’s arsenal.
Let me just run down position by position and drop some thoughts for you.
Much has been made about Mitchell Trubisky’s “up and down” camp by the media, I think far too much. In my three days at camp, I paid close attention to the quarterbacks two sessions and very little to them the first day (I was keying on defensive line, outside linebackers, inside linebackers and tight ends).
Let’s jump to the chase: Mitchell Trubisky, while still a work in progress, is better now than he was last year... in some ways significantly better. I’m going to be strait up and honest, I have no idea how much Mitch will develop, and neither does anybody else.
The second day of camp he missed several long throws short, which is a dangerous thing. He wasn’t just short, he was consistently short... as in short the exact same amount every time. Here’s the big difference between being a fan and being on the coaching staff, though... they know if he was missing or if he was throwing the balls there on purpose (i.e. to see if the receivers and the DB’s would make adjustments) and we don’t.
There were also several that it was obvious were flat misses, or that the wind carried away. On day 2, he wasn’t as crisp as other days with his interior passing, as the defense cranked up the heat to 11.
By the end of camp, however, things had changed. Mitch still missed several long throws, but they were rather obvious “see if you can run under this” kinds of throws that were in no danger of being intercepted.
Other than those throws, and one bad pass that Prince Amukamara intercepted, Mitch and the pass catchers cut the Bears defense apart like a patient getting surgery. That’s a pretty good defense to be doing that to.
Chase Daniel is a fine backup, not much to say there other than if he has to play, he can manage a game just fine and give us a chance to win if the defense does its part.
Tyler Bray, as an quarterback who knows the offense intimately well, is a great player to have in camp because he can lead the third teamers in learning the offense. I’m fine with him on the practice squad, and I’m fine if he never plays a down outside of pre-season for us.
Tarik Cohen you know, so I will jump right to David Montgomery. It was the second day of open practice, the first day of them being in pads, when the 8,000+ of us in attendance got to see David Montgomery do David Montgomery type things, busting through seams spinning like a dervish. The young man is the real deal.
Mike Davis also had a decent camp, nothing spectacular on the field but when it comes to pass blocking and receiving out of the backfield, he’s by far the most polished back that we have.
Kerrith Whyte didn’t really feature much in camp when I was there, I was hoping to see more of him. Ryan Nall looked fast and ran hard again this camp.
Allen Robinson is an absolute beast. He and Mitchell Trubisky are locked in, and they were connecting all over the field all day, every day. Taylor Gabriel also had a nice camp, as did Anthony Miller, Javon Wims and Marvin Hall. I only got to see Riley Ridley on the last day, and he had up and down moments.
I did see Anthony Miller on the drill when he got hurt, and saw him walk off back to the locker room a bit gingerly but without a huge limp.
Marvin Hall surprised me with how fast he was. There are going to be a couple of really good wide receivers cut this year, and I fully expect Emanuel Hall to be put on the season ending IR and kept until next year.
Health was, of course, the key to the two weeks and Adam Shaheen was injured early but was starting to come back in form the last day of camp. He was fairly monster. Ian Bunting also impressed with his range, speed and toughness.
I was shocked to see how thin Bradley Sowell was as well; there’s no way he can go back to offensive tackle this year. He either makes it as a tight end here or somewhere, or is out of the league. To his credit he went all in.
From a fan’s perspective, the switch of positions between Cody Whitehair and James Daniels was seamless.
Kyle Long looks like his old self, which is both great and much needed.
Both Bobbie Massie and Charles Leno had very, very difficult camps because they got to line up against Khalil Mack and Leonard Floyd every day. Still, I thought they did very well when I was there (considering the task), especially Massie. No, they didn’t beat Mack, but then again, nobody beats Mack.
Beyond that, Rashaad Coward had a really nice camp, seemingly (until the first preseason game) cementing the position of swing tackle. As good as he looked in camp, he really struggled in the game. Odd. We will have to see what we see.
Ted Larsen didn’t get into any fights, so that’s a plus. Early on, Alex Bars looked overwhelmed and unprepared to my eyes, but he got better as camp went on.
Not really much to say here, except that Bilal Nichols has cemented the starting role with Roy Robertson-Harris in over Johnathan Bullard. Is Bullard on the bubble?
I could rave all day about Khalil Mack, but I won’t. The man is simply beyond.
Leonard Floyd was the most disruptive I’ve seen him, and it’s obvious he is not only in prime condition but also that he’s been working really hard on his moves and hand placement.
One thing to note about the outside backers: Chuck Pagano has them playing a lot more where one man has his hand in the dirt. That’s something Vic Fangio rarely did.
Roquan Smith will be an All-Pro this year, whether he gets voted onto the team or not. He’s just that good right now. Danny Trevathan hasn’t lost anything. Those two are really, really good together.
Depth? Well, there’s not as much depth as I think everybody would like, and I think we all know that. It is what it is.
Prince Amukamara is playing at an All-Pro level right now, he’s been giving all three quarterbacks and the wideouts that he is covering fits.
Kyle Fuller has had a good camp, nothing to worry about there.
I have to admit, I’m MUCH more comfortable with Buster Skrine in this defense than I was before I saw him in camp. I think he’s going to be good at it, he’s very sticky, faster than I thought he was and he has good recovery speed.
Duke Shelly also had a nice camp for a rookie on the defensive side of things, but needs further work on his special team roles.
Other guys who looked good were Kevin Toliver and John Franklin. One guy to watch out for on the practice squad this year is Clifton Duck.
Eddie Jackson we know, I will just state he’s healthy so you know what you have.
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, unfortunately, was out almost all of camp. I saw him a bit Saturday, but not enough to really get an impression one way or the other.
Deon Bush, however, impressed the heck out of me. He had a great camp, was flying all over the place. This is a contract year for Bush, so it will be interesting to see if we can keep him beyond this year.
Sherrick McManis seemed to rotate into his new role as a backup safety just fine, and I think it’s going to come down to a decision whether to keep him or the other special-teams ace safety Deandre Houston-Carson.
Both of the kickers looked good, as did Pat O’Donnell. Enough said about them.
There are many options at returner, and frankly it was hard to tell much from camp about the returners so I’ll just leave it at this.
Part Two: The Bourbonnais Experience
Bears fans are excited about the start of the year, and they showed that excitement by showing up in massive numbers at camp this year. All three days I was there attendance was well over 8,000 fans with the last day topping out well over 9,000.
The first day, fans waiting in line got a real treat as Chicago Bears President George McCaskey walked the entire half-mile long line shaking hands with fans and welcoming them to camp.
It was a classy thing to do, and it was refreshing that most fans knew who he was. I certainly did.
Hanging with George McCaskey pic.twitter.com/p9VT32mYit— Ken Mitchell (@WCGBearsDenDude) July 27, 2019
Isn’t that a snazzy looking Windy City Gridiron shirt?
I don’t have kids, so I can’t tell you about the kids stuff... and I don’t go to training camp to shop, so again I can’t talk about the shopping. I go for football, so I set myself up as quickly as I can to get the best views (under shade).
- Don’t go alone. You need somebody with you to hold your spot in line so you can go to the Kybo, drop stuff off at the car, etc.
- Go EARLY, and tailgate! If you want to bring a grill, they have metal charcoal bins all over the place for you to use.
- If you get there by 5:30 AM, even on the most crowded of days, you will be able to park right next to where your spot in line is, making it easy to have all of your tailgating stuff nearby. On a busy day like Saturday, showing up at 6:30 may mean you sit your car in a traffic jam until after the Bears have hit the field. I’ll take a hard pass on that, if you are going to practice then GO.
- If you can, while waiting in line, ask a security person which field they will be using, and go right straight to that field so that you can snag yourself a seat in the shade. Practice is MUCH better with a seat in the shade.
- If you get to the bleachers early, grab the top row so you can lean back against the fence, and also so you can stand up without bothering people behind you. Besides, it’s cooler at the top.
- If you see somebody you know from social media or the real media, don’t be shy, walk up to them and say hello!
- Unless you are there seeking autographs, when the football ends, hit the exits unless you REALLY like sitting in traffic.
- If you take a chair in with you, then you REALLY need to be near the first of the line to get a front-row seat, so make 5:30 AM a firm be-there-by
- You can get through the entry area very quickly if you don’t have a bag, so consider not taking any kind of bag.
I’ll try to remember to re-publish these and other tips next year before camp begins to help out any first-timers that may read it. I hope to see you good people there next season!