Bears break training camp at Olivet Nazarene after laying foundation

BOURBONNAIS — John Fox has had good teams in bad training camps, and vice versa, in his 16-year head-coaching career. More often than not, though, the way his team performs in camp is an indicator of the season ahead.

“It’s pretty much the foundation,” he said Monday after the Bears’ short, final practice of camp. “It’s been my experience. It’s not the end-all once camp breaks, but it’s a good foundation. Guys’ chemistry and how they get along, it’s beneficial. And I liked what I saw, for the most part. I think there’s a bonding that occurs when you go away to camp. One of the values I’ve seen in it, at least in my career, [is] they’re with each other 24/7.”

The Bears drove home to Lake Forest on Monday afternoon content with Fox’s third camp. As he noted repeatedly during the Bears’ 19-day stay at Olivet Nazarene University, this year’s roster has “competition at a lot of spots” — which wasn’t the case the last two years.

“There’s a lot of position battles out there,” inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman said. “And everybody’s going out there and trying to earn a spot out there.

Bears head coach John Fox broke training camp Monday. (AP)

“I mean, it’s training camp. It’s a grind. It’s one of those necessary evils, but it’s good to get out here and compete and to get better.”

The Bears operated by a new schedule at Olivet Nazarene this year, with three different practice plans, ranging from full pads to walk-throughs. They never held a padded practice more than two days in a row.

“The coaching staff, they’ve done a very good job getting in what we need to get in but not grinding us too hard,” said outside linebacker Dan Skuta, who’s entering his ninth season. “That’s such a balance. I think that’s something that’s probably a tough call for a coach.”

After finishing last season with 19 players on injured reserve — including two quarterbacks who had started games — the Bears were desperate to try something different.

“One thing I know for sure,” Fox said. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. If it is broke, you can’t be, ‘SOS,’ so you change.”

Even players who normally prefer a harder-hitting schedule embraced this one. Entering his 10th NFL season, safety Quintin Demps still maintains he needs padded practices more frequently. That won’t happen.

“I think Coach Fox has done a good job of helping us recover,” Demps said. “It’s definitely been a little grind mentally — not so much physically — because we’re not going pads six days in a row, which I’m accustomed to. But it’s going to help us be fresh for the season. So it’s a positive.”

The Bears’ schedule will normalize back at Halas Hall.

“Everything’s closer. Everyone’s more used to it,” Fox said. “Like they said in ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ there’s no place like home. Most everybody agrees with that.”

Follow me on Twitter @patrickfinley.

Email: pfinley@suntimes.com

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