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Practice makes perfect? Bears insist they’ll be ready to go vs. Packers

Bears players supported coach Matt Nagy's decision to not play his starters in a preseason game against the Chiefs on Saturday. "They wouldn’t just pull straws out of a hat and decide like that," guard Kyle Long said. "There’s a method to the madness." | Nam Y. Huh/AP photo

Are 37 preseason snaps enough preparation for the NFL regular season? Like many of his teammates, Bears guard Kyle Long is putting his faith in coach Matt Nagy.

“It’s obviously the coach’s decision, and they know what they’re doing,” Long said before practice Monday. “They wouldn’t just pull straws out of a hat and decide like that. There’s a method to the madness.”

Nagy accelerated a league-wide trend of limiting preseason snaps when he held out most of the Bears’ starters against the Chiefs on Saturday at Soldier Field. It was an unorthodox move but appears to be the wave of the future in the NFL — and a wave that players such as Long seem happy to ride, especially after seeing Jaguars wide receiver Marqise Lee suffer a season-ending knee injury against the Falcons on Saturday.

“I think you’d be crazy to say, ‘I want to play more reps of meaningless football,’ ” Long said. “Until they start [counting] for wins and losses, it’s an opportunity for the younger guys and the backups to . . . make the team. Unfortunately, you saw with Marqise Lee and guys like that — I think that answers your question. It’s kind of pointless.”

It remains to be seen exactly where this trend is heading. As a rookie in 2013, Long played 131 snaps in the preseason. But he had only 52 snaps with the rest of his starting offensive linemates, Jermon Bushrod, Matt Slauson, Roberto Garza and Jordan Mills — not many more than the 37 the starting group had this preseason.

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“It’s very tough [to not play in games],” running back Tarik Cohen said. “You want to be on the field competing, because whenever you get in the atmosphere, you’re always in game mode. But you understand the decision by the coaches, and when you look at it from their point of view, it’s a smart decision.”

From a preparation stand-point, the Bears won’t be at a competitive disadvantage in their opener against the Packers on Sept. 9 at Lambeau Field. Overall, the Packers’ starters played even fewer preseason snaps than the Bears’ starters did. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers played seven snaps. The offensive line had zero snaps as a unit, with only center Cory Linsley (30) and left tackle David Bakhtiari (17) playing any at all.

And while Rodgers is a future Hall of Famer and the Packers’ offense in general has plenty of experience to lean on, the Packers’ defense — 26th in the NFL in points and with a new coordinator in Mike Pettine — also took most of the preseason off. Eight projected starters had 34 or fewer snaps, including linebackers Clay Matthews (25) and Nick Perry (zero), defensive linemen Kenny Clark (34) and Mike Daniels (zero) and cornerback Tramon Williams (24).

But from a conditioning standpoint, both teams could be at risk. Going from mostly training camp contact to regular-season game-speed contact is a significant jump and could lead to injuries.

“A hundred percent,” Bears linebacker Sam Acho said. “That’s why we have to do a really good job of staying conditioned and staying in great shape. Coach Nagy’s got some great stuff prepared for us to stay in shape. But also, the onus is on us to stay in shape because there is a difference between practice and games, and then between preseason and regular season.”

While the Bears’ offense is a work in progress under Nagy, the defense is leaning on familiarity under coordinator Vic Fangio to make a seamless transition from camp mode to the regular season. It sounds good in theory, anyway.

“As a defense, I feel we’re more ready [than in previous years] because this is the fourth year Vic’s been in this defense,” Acho said.

Even against Aaron Rodgers?

“A hundred percent,” Acho said. “Two, four, six, [seven] times playing him, with the same defensive coordinator. We’ve been here before. That’s got to count for something.”