Bears players had perfect attendance during organized team activities and minicamp the past 12 weeks, with every player showing up to each workout they were expected at. To show their appreciation for those efforts, the team’s coaches reciprocated with a gift every player was looking for – an early vacation.
After stretching and a light workout on Thursday morning in anticipation of the final scheduled practice of veteran minicamp, coach John Fox gathered the players and told them the offseason program was officially over. Players cheered and celebrated on their way back to the locker room, ready for six weeks off before training camp begins in July at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais.
“We shortened up our final day of minicamp and offseason, because our players deserved it,” Fox said. “We had great participation in involuntary workouts, great participation and great effort. And that was their reward today. So they’re off into their break and trust me, they’ll be ready when they come back and report.”
Over the past three months, Fox and his staff have been working on improving the depth of the Chicago roster. Along with the draft choices and free agent signings that have been added to the team since the final snap of the 2016 regular season, coaches are confident that many players that were with the team a year ago can continue to show improvement. The upgraded depth gives Fox a belief the team is further along at this point of the calendar than either of the clubs he coached the previous two years.
In addition to an upgraded roster, Fox has made changes to how the team is managed. With his third offseason program with the Bears now completed, the head coach is confident that his influence is making an impact with players.
“I think some continuity helps,” Fox said. “Hopefully we’ve built some more depth and guys that understand our systems better, understand our culture better. And it takes players in that locker room to really carry that through – not just coaches. I feel good about where we are.”
Fox said that he’s currently the most encouraged about the team that he’s been in his tenure with the Bears, thanks in large part to the effort and performance of the players during OTA’s. The perfect attendance at practices the players aren’t contractually required to attend shows that the guys on the roster really have a passion for football. It also displays that there will be serious competition for several spots once the team begins training camp in July, which is exactly what the coaching staff wants to see.
“I feel good about the vibe they have and you know the relationships they’re starting to build already and for a younger team it’s great,” Fox said.
“I think really throughout our whole team, you know regardless of the position, I think we’ve created a lot more competition,” the coach added. “You know whether they were a starter a year ago or not, a lot of times people talk to coaches but players know better than us about competition. They see it, they feel it, I think that’s a lot of the reason why we had the participation we did and the effort we get.”
The offseason program also helped raise the level of the teams play. The new players mixed with the returning talent give Fox an optimism as the Bears enter vacation, the calm before the storm of 2017 training camp and season begin.
“I think just that we’re improving,” said Fox. “Guys are playing faster. They’re executing better. Individual assignments. This is the ultimate team game, 11 guys doing it right and doing it together. That’s really the key in all three phases, in offense, defense and special teams. So we’ve got some young guys we played with last year who are another year better and more comfortable with what we’re doing. So we’ll plug in some new guys as well this year, with the draft class. And I’ve been impressed really with all those areas this offseason.”