What used to be an annual tradition among NFL teams is nearing extinction. By my count, only 10 of the NFL’s 32 teams left their year-round facilities this summer to begin training camp.
Both the pros and cons of going camping have long lists, and there really isn’t a side I would choose.
I do know that the Bears could never welcome the tens of thousands of fans to their Lake Forest headquarters that showed up in Bourbonnais, so the nearly three weeks at Olivet Nazarene offer a real reward to their fans — one that head coach Matt Nagy feels strongly benefits his team.
Over 8,000 fans showed up to the Bears first public training camp workout this year and immediately after practice Nagy went out of his way to express his gratitude.
“I think what we just experienced as a team, as players and coaches, coming out to that sea of fans and everybody out there, I don't even know how to put it into words how much that means to us on just who our fans are, what our city is all about, it literally gives you goose bumps," Nagy said.
“While we are on the golf cart just coming to practice and you see everybody just down the sidewalk with all their jerseys on, they're just so excited to get this thing going again. So, I just want to say thank you from our players and our coaches to this whole city, to all of our fans, to everybody here that shows support.”
So there is that, but what did we actually learn in Bourbonnais about the 2019 Bears?
For openers, the most important part of camp remains with three exhibitions to play, and even though the Bears are back home now, there are no losers or unresolvable issues yet.
But there do appear to be several things to be excited about, and yes, a few remaining areas of concern.
1. With Jordan Howard, Adrian Amos and Bryce Callahan the only three significant departures from last year’s 12-4 team, there was some question going to camp just how deep the secondary will be this season.
With the play in Bourbonnais of last year’s starters and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Deon Bush, Buster Skrine and youngsters John Franklin III, Kevin Toliver II, Duke Shelley, Michael Joseph and even Clifton Duck, it now looks like it could be the deepest group on the roster.
2. With the recent injury to Anthony Miller and the inability of youngsters Riley Ridley and Emanuel Hall to stay on the practice field, the wide receivers have not been as exciting as I expected.
But Allen Robinson is a true No. 1, and he and Mitch Trubisky have developed a clear and present chemistry. Taylor Gabriel isn’t a legit No. 2, but he’s a stud as a No. 3, and Javon Wims may be the most improved player on the team.
3. With Kyle Long enjoying his healthiest offseason in three years and looking like the best guard in football again, James Daniels and Cody Whitehair now in their natural and best positions and Ted Larsen and most likely Alex Bars behind them, the interior of the Bears offensive line may be as good as any in the league.
4. Panic about kickers if you must, but both Elliott Fry and Eddy Pineiro were actually pretty good in Bourbonnais.
1. While tight end isn’t necessarily a disaster, we have less clarity there now than we did when camp opened.
Trey Burton will be fine but it’s tough to be confident about Adam Shaheen at the moment ... or anyone behind him.
2. The Bears love Rashaad Coward — and it’s easy to see why — but he’s raw as an uncracked egg. Coward might be able to step in if necessary for Bobby Massie, but what they would do if Charles Leno has to miss meaningful time is really unclear.
3. It is possible that Chase Daniel is a much better instructor, mentor and life coach than he is a football player, but if Mitch Trubisky were to miss significant time the Bears would have a real issue.
Those are just the most obvious observations. Fortunately, there are three more weeks to sort everything out.