Bears coaches giving strange preseason the old college try

Assistants are leaning on their college coaching experience to try to find some answers at the pro level.

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Chicago Bears v New York Giants

Bears running backs coach Charles London encourages players in 2018 against the Giants.

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Deshea Townsend never felt out of shape until he had to use one of those Janet Jackson microphones.

The Bears’ secondary coach wraps the wireless mic around his ear and angles it toward his masked face. His players tease him, saying they can hear him huffing and puffing between words.

“It lets me know,” Townsend said, “that I need to do more cardio.”

Townsend holds position meetings at the Walter Payton Center, the Bears’ practice dome, so his defensive backs can stay socially distanced. The microphone is one of a thousand little things Townsend and all Bears coaches are figuring out during the early days of the most bizarre training camp in league history.

The Bears have spent the last week trying to make sure their veterans are in football shape after not seeing them since the end of last season. They can’t hold padded practices until Aug. 17, less than four weeks before the season opener Sept. 13 against the Lions. They won’t hold preseason games at all.

It doesn’t feel like the NFL at all.

“This does resemble more of a college offseason than it does your typical NFL offseason,” said running backs coach Charles London, a former assistant at Duke and Penn State. “In college football, you don’t have any preseason games, [and] you practice for about a month before you go into the season. It’s going to be similar to what every NFL team is doing this year.”

Bears assistants are leaning on their college coaching experience to try to find some answers at the pro level.

“You have to gradually ramp your players up to get ready for the season,” London said. “And it gets hard. You’re practicing for a month without a game, and you get sick of beating on each other. That gets old for players after a while.”

Safeties coach Sean Desai, who was an assistant at Boston College, Temple and Miami, said the college game is a reminder that teams don’t need hitting in exhibition games to be sharp for the opener.

“I have friends and people that tell me, ‘Oh, what are you going to do without the preseason?’ ” Desai said. “Well, people do it all over the country without the preseason, and they’ve been doing it forever in college. So the biggest takeaways are the way you prepare, the way you practice.

“I think [coach Matt Nagy] is really emphasizing, when we get a chance, to get out there and actually practice. Having a tough, physical camp, keeping the urgency on these guys, making them learn and making them apply it to the field quickly.”

Townsend, who coached at Mississippi State from 2013 to 2015, said he teaches physicality as a mentality — players either want to tackle or they don’t. He’ll exaggerate tackling drills in practice to try to make up for the lack of preseason games.

“That’s the biggest thing you miss when you come into a first regular-season game — that opportunity to make those tackles that you’re not really making as much in practice,” Townsend said.

A typical college season features spring ball and offseason weight training. The Bears didn’t even have that this year.

“By the time we got to training camp with our college players, they knew the systems, and they’d already had a couple hundred reps of every call,” said outside linebackers coach Ted Monachino, who has been an assistant at Arizona State and Boise State. “Right now, we’re trying to catch guys up. Fortunately, we get this big, long block of time where we can really catch them up mentally.

“We’re all excited to get them out there and get them going on the practice field where we’re actually competing.”

They’ll have to hit each other until the opener — just like college.

“It can be done, right?” Desai said. “Because there is proof that it can be done.”

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