Can Bears turn adversity into prosperity?

Matt Nagy is hoping the Bears’ diligent approach in managing the challenges presented by COVID-19 restrictions will give them an edge in readiness for the 2020 season.

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Bears coach Matt Nagy said he likes the way his team has responded to the awkward 2020 offseason that has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic quarantine. “We’ve become even tighter,” he said.

Tim Boyle/Sun-Times Media

A year ago today, the Bears were in full training-camp mode in Bourbonnais — far enough along for critics to wonder if Mitch Trubisky and the offense were that bad or Khalil Mack and the defense were that good. And Matt Nagy was in full Nagy mode, throwing touchdown passes to Javon Wims and Anthony Miller in a light moment at the end of one drill in practice. 

In the first week of August this season, with the restrictions of the COVID-19 quarantine affecting the NFL schedule, the Bears are still a week away from a formal practice. They’re still limited to walk-throughs, meetings and strength-and-conditioning work. 

Still, Nagy can see some signs that his remote messages during the quarantine offseason resonated with his players. They not only came back in “exceptional” shape, but from the start have been diligent about staying healthy. 

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“And you do that by wearing a mask,” Nagy said. “Everybody’s saying, ‘Just wear a mask.’ Everybody’s got different beliefs on the levels of 1-10 on where it’s at. But if we just keep the simple rule of ‘everybody wear a mask,’ that’s the best way to go about it. So that’s what we’re doing.

“Our guys have been really phenomenal with it. They see it. And we police each other, too. If somebody doesn’t have their mask up . . . everybody in this building has the authority to tell you to get your mask up. We’re well-stocked, and that’s the way we’re attacking this thing.” 

The confines of the COVID-19 quarantine have been virtually identical for all 32 NFL teams. But it remains to be seen if the impact is the same. From the top on down — chairman George McCaskey, president Ted Phillips, general manager Ryan Pace, Nagy and trainer Andre Tucker, et al. — the Bears have been in attack mode in managing the challenges of the COVID-19 offseason. 

From their expanded facilities to making Halas Hall COVID-19 compliant to Nagy’s aggressive approach to Zoom meetings, the Bears have been on top of this. When the Bears can point to facilities as a “major advantage” — as Pace put it last week — you know these are unprecedented times. But their state-of-the-art, 162,500-foot expansion of Halas Hall that was completed last year already has come in handy like they never imagined.

Will it make a difference? Will their diligence and preparedness give the Bears an edge when the season begins? They think so. 

“The teams that adapt the best, the teams that take it really serious . . . we’ll have an advantage in the way we approach this — our entire team and our staff,” Pace said. 

Including the emotional team Zoom meeting in the aftermath of the demonstrations to protest racial injustice in the wake of the George Floyd murder, Nagy believes the COVID-19 offseason has galvanized the Bears.

“Just for me and Ryan staying in constant communication with these guys over the offseason, I 100 percent believe that, as tight as we were the last two years, we’ve become even tighter,” Nagy said. “You see it on the football field. You see it in the way guys talk. I can look outside now and see people social-distancing and eating lunch and creating relationships. So you love that. And you want to keep that going.”

But even more so than a strike season, this is uncharted territory for the league. 

“We’re dealing with a big issue with COVID now, and so are 31 other NFL teams,’’ Nagy said. “And to each his own. What we can do is lay a foundation of safety here. If the players feel safe and they know you love them and they feel that love, then they’re going to do everything in their power to do everything they can to get themselves right for Sept. 13.”

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