When coach Matt Nagy saw a published report lauding the Bears for having 98 percent attendance in their voluntary offseason program, he was miffed more than impressed.
“That bothered me,’’ Nagy said. ‘‘It was 100 percent. That [98 percent] was just that one day. We have 100 percent attendance right now. That’s who our guys are.”
Full attendance in the voluntary portion of the offseason program in the NFL isn’t quite as expected or customary as it used to be. Half the league has at least one player not participating this year — and in most cases, it’s not a big deal. But “all-in” is Nagy’s baby. Developing a culture of teamwork, family and sacrifice is not a cliché to him but a way of doing business. And his success last season gives him the right to sell it that way.
“I think that’s the most important part of who we are going to end up being,” Nagy said. “When we try to make the run and get as far as we possibly can, we’re going to need each other. There will be times when I need them and they’re going to need each other and they’re going to need me.
“If you don’t have that culture of family, then in those times you are going to break. I just want to make this bond as strong as we can make it, so when those [tough] times come, we’re prepared.”
The Bears face several hurdles in parlaying last year’s rejuvenating 12-4 season into a run of sustained contention and ultimately a Super Bowl. Staying healthy. A tougher schedule. High expectations. They’re combating those obstacles with a roster of playmakers and Nagy’s resolute will to develop a brotherhood willing to embrace the notion of sacrificing personal gain for the good of the team.
For what it’s worth, he’s getting his point across. Harmony is at a peak as the Bears prepare to take the next step of the journey. Everybody is here. Guard Kyle Long accepted a pay cut to stay here to give the team flexibility to sign other players. Cody Whitehair, who was switched from guard to center two years ago and made the Pro Bowl as an alternate last season, agreed to switch back to guard to put second-year lineman James Daniels in his best position.
Offensive tackle Bobby Massie gave up a chance for bigger money in free agency to re-sign with the Bears. And this team has an unusually tight bond — on both sides of the ball — with a quarterback who has yet to win a playoff game. Mitch Trubisky bringing his offensive line with him to throw out the ceremonial first pitch at the White Sox’ game against the Indians last Friday being the latest example of how tight this team is and why it loves its quarterback.
“We preach being a team, and we really are a team,” Whitehair said. “You see guys play for each other. This is all voluntary, and yet we have 100 percent attendance. Guys are coming on on new contracts. Guys are looking for new contracts, but yet they’re still out here working for the guy next to him. It’s really cool to see.”
Nagy deserves much of the credit for creating that atmosphere.
“Coach Nagy makes it fun,” Massie said. “[Practice] is not something you want to do every day, just beating up on guys and getting beat up. But coach Nagy, he makes football fun. We’re glad we’ve got him.”
That’s a big reason why Massie signed a four-year, $30 million contract ($14.5 million guaranteed) rather than test free agency.
“This team can do some amazing things; I wanted to be a part of that,” Massie said. “Love the team. Love the players. Love the organization . . . that meant more to me than a couple of extra dollars. That’s why I came back.”
Whitehair is due for a contract extension after his Pro Bowl-alternate season. It’s possible he’ll get it before the start of the season. But until then, it’s all Bears football for him.
“You always want what’s best for the team,” Whitehair said. “That’s what I’m here to do — to help this team win a championship, whether they ask me to switch to a different position or whatever it has to be. I’m all-in. I’ve bought in. I’m a team player. And that’s what I’ll always be.”
If the Bears are headed in the right direction, though, this is the easy part. The challenge could be sustaining that unity if the Bears win, and egos, money and agents become a bigger part of the process. You can’t keep everybody happy. The Lions’ Darius Slay and Damon Harrison are holding out of mandatory minicamp for more money on existing contracts — and the Lions won six games last year.
“I have zero issue with us sustaining it,” Nagy said of the team’s current unity, “and you know why? Because we have good people. We have great players, and we have great people. I have zero reservations of us, if we have success, ever having an ego [problem]. It won’t happen because we talk about it every day — what it takes [to win]. And when you have high-character people, it carries you a long way.”