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A Scout’s Take: The Value of Joint Practices for the Bears

Greg Gabriel lets us know why this week is so important for these two franchises.

Chicago Bears Training Camp Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images

NFL clubs began doing joint practices about 30 years ago, but initially, I felt they were almost useless. Why? Because they were new, coaches didn't necessarily know how veteran players would treat them.

When I was with the Giants in the late '80s, we had joint practices a couple of times, and we found that the veteran players on each team would "help" each other so that they wouldn't have to go all out. We called it the brother-in-law syndrome. Things changed once the coaches caught on, and they became much more useful.

A few years ago, when the League dropped the fourth pre-season game, I felt that it was very important to have at least one set of joint practices and perhaps two during training camp. It gives both the coaching staff and the front office a much better evaluation of players. Each joint practice is like having an extra pre-season game.

In the joint practices I have been involved with, each club goes through stretching and the individual periods by themselves. Once they get into one-on-ones, nine-on-seven, seven-on-seven, and 11-on-11s, it's one team against the other. The intensity level of the players gets much higher to the point where it is very similar to a game. In reality, each team can get more reps done because one field will have the Chicago Bears defense against the Indianapolis Colts offense and the other will be the Bears O vs the Colts D. That alone is invaluable.

In a regular practice, it's often a team's ones on offense versus the twos on defense and visa-versa. In a joint practice, it's one club's ones versus the other club's ones. The evaluators get much more out of each rep.

As we all know, pre-season games are very basic football when it comes to play-calling and formations. The game tape of each pre-season game goes to the other 31 clubs, so teams want to keep things simple. The tape of joint practices is not shared; the only people with the tape are the two teams involved in the practice. With that, each club can be much more aggressive regarding their play calling and showing different concepts.

On my way to the gym this morning, I was listening to one of the sports stations, and they were saying they would like to see Justin Fields play at least a half and throw downfield more in his time in the game. That may or may not happen, and it doesn't matter. That type of play calling will be used during the team portions of the practices. That gives the team what they need to know. The reality is it's none of the fan's business what they are working on for in-season calls, regardless of what a radio host wants to see. Remember, pre-season games are for evaluation and getting the team ready for the season, nothing more.

The added value of a joint practice is in the evaluation of the young players. In a regular practice, players go against the same players day after day. They learn the strengths and weaknesses of that particular player and learn how to "beat" him. Like in a game, in a joint practice, the young guys are going against new people. That means he has to learn how to beat his opponent. It gives the evaluators a much better opportunity to see how a young player reacts.

What it gets down to this week is there are two practices against the Colts, and each practice is like a mini-game when it comes to evaluating players and getting their team ready for the regular season. If it were up to me, I'd have joint practices twice during the pre-season with practices set up versus your game two and game three opponents. In the long run, your team will be much more prepared for games that count.