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No ‘turds’ on these Bears: Kyle Long and Co. wrap up a refreshing training camp

Bears leave Bourbonnais supremely confident despite bleak final practice.

Kyle Long described it as the most enjoyable and productive training camp of his 7-year run with the Bears.
[Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times]

BOURBONNAIS — Guard Kyle Long has gone through training camp with the Bears seven times, and none of the previous six was quite like this.

He hadn’t experienced this level of anticipation among the players, nor the uproar in the bleachers at Olivet Nazarene University. They drew overflowing crowds, including more than 9,000 in the public finale Saturday, and everyone on either side of the yellow ropes lining the practice fields was eyeing the Super Bowl.

“I just know this city’s dying for a great football team,” Long said. “And I think we have one primed and ready to give to them.”

It was sharply different from dismal outlooks of a few years ago or even the wait-and-see curiosity when coach Matt Nagy took over last season. These Bears know who they are, and this camp was about trying to perfect a team that took a strong first step by going 12-4 last season.

This time of year is often drudgery, especially with the Bears staying in dorm rooms, but camp didn’t feel that way this year.

It was sharply competitive, and that’s what happens when a roster is loaded with excellence. And with so many players returning, there was a collective sense of purpose and widespread confidence.

“Training camp usually has a negative connotation for players,” Long said. “We’re always complaining. . . . But coming down here with this group of guys, it was as fun of a time as I’ve had — and as productive of a time as I’ve had — in Bourbonnais.

“Having a group of guys that just understands the culture and really lives by this code — there’s a lot of things we’re doing here, and I’m excited to be part of this.”

Long deserves it more than most. He’s a three-time Pro Bowl selection who survived multiple rebuild attempts and gutted out the Bears going 27-53 before Nagy’s arrival.

Camp was businesslike, and Nagy was proud to see players keep the effort and mood high for almost all of it. That’s hard to do when they spend so much time banging into each other knowing they still have to wait nearly a month until the season opener against the Packers.

It didn’t break bad for the Bears until the final session, a closed practice Sunday morning under gloomy skies, and who could blame them for being worn down after 2½ weeks of this?

Knowing they would depart Bourbonnais in the afternoon, the Bears gave what Nagy gently called a “decent” practice. Too many mental errors cropped up, there was a harmless dustup between Long and defensive lineman Akiem Hicks and the coaches lit them up repeatedly over the course of nearly three hours.

“When you have high-character people, they can handle that,” Nagy said. “If you have a bunch of bad people or turds, they don’t. And we don’t have turds on this team.”

Nonetheless, one bad day didn’t ruin the whole camp.

That’s particularly true for Long, who looks ready for a resurgence after missing half of last season because of a foot injury. This was the first time he was in good-enough condition to work every day of camp without a break, and mercifully he gave a more specific description of his health than the “best shape of my life” cliché.

“I got a little more definition in the belly area,” Long said, grinning. “There’s more definition. It’s less convex, which means outward. There you go.”

That’ll work.

Long wasn’t the only one who enjoyed this camp, and Nagy seems to have just the right sense of how hard to push. The work has been good but not overly taxing. Many players left the dreary final practice smiling like Long, happy for the break but eager for the season.

That’s how the best teams feel coming out of camp, and it’s refreshing to see that aura around the Bears.