Bears Camp Brings Competition, Some Normalcy

The Bears held their first full-contact practice Monday.

Chris Emma
August 17, 2020 - 4:48 pm

LAKE FOREST, Ill. (670 The Score) -- Secluded on a tree-lined football field, the Bears were back to work.

Monday at Halas Hall marked the Bears' first full-contact practice of this calendar year. With the August sun beating down, the sound of shoulder pads popping and the echo of coaches' voices across the field, it finally felt like training camp had begun.

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After months of players and coaches being away from their team and following nearly three weeks of coronavirus testing and protocols alongside a gradual ramp-up period, taking the practice field in full pads was welcomed.

"Coming back to football gave us a sense of regularity," defensive lineman Akiem Hicks said after practice.

There are just less than four weeks remaining until Sept. 13, when Chicago opens its season at Detroit. Between Monday morning and then, the Bears have plenty to accomplish.

The most important priority for the Bears during the next three weeks before installing a game plan for the Lions will be determining their starting quarterback. 

Despite the challenge of not having preseason games, Bears coach Matt Nagy is confident in the team's ability to create an earnest competition between incumbent starter Mitchell Trubisky and veteran newcomer Nick Foles. That work hit a different level Monday, when the Bears lined up their first-team offense and defense. Trubisky and Foles split reps evenly, with Trubisky taking the first snaps as Nagy had previously promised.

Nagy and his coaching staff need to ensure every rep for Trubisky and Foles is meaningful. With that in mind, the Bears plan to "stretch" the competition out during their training camp work.

"We're just going to let them play it out, roll the ball out, have no agenda and let the best man win," Nagy said.

Without fans lining the sidelines of training camp as they have in years past, the Bears will let Trubisky and Foles compete behind closed doors at Halas Hall. Beyond the quarterback position, there are plenty of other voids to also fill on the depth chart.

Third-year defensive lineman Bilal Nichols has expressed his desire to be the Bears' leading nose tackle this season after Eddie Goldman opted out amid the coronavirus pandemic. 

"I’m ready to step up," Nichols said. "I’ve trained hard. I’m ready for this opportunity. I’m ready to just showcase what I can do and just put my best foot forward.

"It’s not nothing I can’t handle."

The Bears also have two spots to fill in the secondary, where there are competitions at cornerback and safety. Nagy indicated that newcomer Artie Burns, a first-round pick in 2016, will get the first chance opposite of Kyle Fuller at cornerback. The Bears are also letting fifth-year player Deon Bush factor in initially at safety alongside Eddie Jackson.

"He understands the defense," Jackson said. "Just from seeing him my rookie year (2017) to now, just how much he understands about defense now, his playmaking ability is through the roof right now. It’s really showing up on the field.

"He was kind of overthinking a lot of different things. Now you see he’s getting settled. He’s more relaxed. He’s more comfortable. He knows his stuff. He’s just going out there, he’s flying around, he's having fun."

In lieu of preseason games and joint practices, the Bears will have to be creative to make the most of this time before the regular season. It's something Nagy has embraced. 

The Bears may test their offense often against their top-flight defense, understanding well what kind of challenge that would pose for Trubisky, Foles and the rest of the group. Nagy and his coaching staff could also conduct more simulated scrimmages, allowing them to run through game scenarios. It was an approach they used in 2019 while holding starters out of the preseason games.

It's a tall task for the Bears and the 31 other NFL teams to maximize what time is allotted in the unique preseason format. Through it all, they must balance the new health protocols and staying mindful of the risks away from Halas Hall.

But once the Bears stepped back between the lines with full pads being worn, it was just football again.

"You find your groove again," Hicks said. "It just becomes natural. It feels natural. We have a lot of precautions and things going on around here to make sure we’re safe as we can be. After you get past all that, it turns into a regular day -- a regular day of just preparation for your season."

Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670.