This week the Bears report to Bourbonnais for training camp.
Yea, they do this every year; pack up their shit and invade the campus of Olivet Nazarene, a university that sounds like it should have Pontius Pilate as Athletic Director. Training camps used to be brutal, grueling tests of survival – a series of two-a-days in sweltering sun, with players completely cut off from their families and friends. Oh, and there used to be tackling. Tons o’ tackling. Way more tackling than not tackling.
Parcells, Walsh and Gibbs wore their teams out in the summer the way a good drill sergeant wears out recruits on Parris Island. They believed war was coming and the only way to properly prepare was to mirror those conditions. Players HATED it. Free agents would postpone signing contracts until the last possible minute if it meant missing a single day of camp.
Prior to the innovations of Bill Belichick, who introduced the idea that a game plan could be altered each week for that individual opponent, camp was when the entire system was installed. The great teams in NFL history were completely unsurprising before Belichick. Those coaches did what they did. If you beat it, you won.
Now training camp is simply part of the installation process. Practices are short. Contact is minimal. Time in the classroom is more important than time on the field (for the most part). And with starters seeing less and less preseason game action, teams won’t know if any of it is working until that first weekend in September when they print the scores in the morning paper.
But this training camp is pivotal for the Chicago Bears because it is hopefully about the establishment of the team’s leadership for the next decade at its two most essential gigs.