BOURBONNAIS — Those who checked into the Bears’ Olivet Nazarene University dorms Wednesday know that few outside of it think they’ll make the playoffs.
“I know that (the outside opinion) is not guiding our decision-making throughout the day,” three-time Pro Bowl guard Kyle Long said, one day before the first practice of training camp. “I will say that. But I will also say that we are aware of the fact that there’s kind of a league-wide disrespect on the Chicago Bears.
“I know that we’re not very appreciative of it, and we’re looking forward to getting after it.”
Quarterback Jay Cutler, who knows something about being disrespected, had the perfect answer when asked about the lack of playoff projections: Why would outsiders think any differently?
The Bears followed a 5-11 2014 season with a 6-10 mark last season. Their 11 wins in the last two seasons were less than all but five NFL teams, a veritable who’s-that? list: the Browns, Jaguars, Titans, Buccaneers and Raiders.
If it’s the truth, it’s not disrespect.
“Whenever you’re coming off losing seasons back to back like that, that’s kind of how it goes,” Cutler said. “There’s no reason for anyone (on the outside) to really expect a huge change from our last two seasons, which is fine.
“That shouldn’t bother (Long) or anyone else in that locker room. Our main goal and our main objective is just to try to get better through training camp and try to win football games.”
Entering his 11th career camp and eighth in Bourbonnais, Cutler is the longest-tenured Bears player not named Robbie Gould. He knows not to make bold declarations — coach John Fox’s under-promise and over-deliver mantra has been, at least, half right thus far — but sounded optimistic.
In a camp devoid of big names and personalities — Matt Forte and Martellus Bennett are in different uniforms — quiet optimism feels like the appropriate tone.
“I think all 32 teams are going to say they feel good about their chances right now,” Cutler said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do. But obviously Day 1 at training camp, we feel pretty positive about our team.”
After two-straight last-place finishes, the Bears are ready for their role as a stalking horse in the NFC North — or at least one that has moved close enough to the pack to keep mud off their blinders.
“Until I got to the Bears, I’d never really been on a team that didn’t have those really, really high experiences of winning championships and running the table and having an opportunity to make our mark in the postseason every year,” said Long, an Oregon alum.
He senses progress, though, even if those outside ONU do not.
“I’ve experienced a lot of new attitudes here in the last few years,” Long said, to chuckles from observers. ”This is above and beyond my favorite attitude that we’ve adopted. …
“You don’t get paid to play; you get paid to win. I’ve heard John Fox say that a million times, and I’m pretty sure I’ll hear it two million times this year.”
Fox has seen both sides. His second year in Denver, the Broncos went 13-3 with new quarterback Peyton Manning before being upset in their first playoff game. In his second season in Carolina, the Panthers were surprise Super Bowl participants.
Expectations cut both ways, he said; dealing with predicted prosperity is often as difficult as underdog status.
“I think, at the end of the day, nobody has higher expectations than us,” he said. “Whether on the outside they’re low, high, medium doesn’t make a rat’s . . . you know.
“It’s kind of what you do. We’ll define who we are. And that’s the exciting part about you know starting over every season.”
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