Rather than simply shaking their fists at the sky after a deluge of injuries derailed their season, the Bears spent the last three months trying to figure out if their medical struggles were a result of what the team was — or was not — doing.
The upshot after those frank discussions: changes to the team’s scheduling and training-camp plans and weight-room and training-room activities.
“Just dialing things [in] to adapt,” general manager Ryan Pace said. “And not just putting our heads in the sand and saying, ‘Bad luck.’ ”
The Bears will not practice against another NFL team during camp, the way they did in coach John Fox’s first two years.
“If you travel to work against somebody, you’re uprooting, you’re getting out of routine, you’re getting out of your recovery system, you are traveling,” Fox said at the NFL owners meeting this week. ”And that’s proven to be a little hazardous to your health, albeit part of football.
“If you don’t have to do it, avoid it, even to that point.”
In camp, the Bears will have a softer practice every third day. Fox said injuries are starting to catch up with the collective-bargaining agreement that limits in-house workouts, as well as NCAA rules that cap the weekly hours of college players.
The CBA expires after the 2020 season, “so you have to learn to deal with it,” Fox said.
A spate of in-practice soft-tissue injuries in Fox’s first year forced the team to improve Halas Hall fields and tweak its schedule last offseason. The injury report “actually got worse” last season, Fox said, because of serious game-day injuries. Brian Hoyer broke his left arm, fellow quarterback Connor Shaw broke his left leg and wide receiver Kevin White suffered a spiral fracture to his fibula. Linebacker Danny Trevathan ruptured the patellar tendon in his right knee, and guard Kyle Long damaged ligaments in his right ankle.
“Our injuries actually dropped in practice [last] year,” Fox said. “But we got more catastrophic injuries in games.”
In their meetings, the Bears discussed ways to cut down on high ankle sprains. They examined the benefit of tape, no tape, different support devices and even shoe technology.
“There are a lot of different things we’re looking at to educate our players and hopefully turn the tide,” Fox said.
The Bears have learned to streamline data, too, and hope it will help shape their practices. When Pace arrived, the Bears began wearing Catapult sensors, which monitored players’ physical states during practice.
“Year 1, you give a coach a five-page report on Catapult data,” Pace said. “You can streamline it down to, ‘Here’s a one-pager of what we’re looking at.’ Knowing when to back on or off certain players, finding their optimal training load.’’
There’s more data than ever leaguewide.
“I don’t think we’re overwhelmed with the new information we have,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “We have enough people that are trying to figure out what is the best information, but it’s also so new that we haven’t had a lot of background in it.”
After his second training camp in 2012, Panthers coach Ron Rivera examined why — and when — his players got hurt. He found that an inordinate number of their camp injuries happened after two hours and 15 minutes, when players were fatigued.
‘‘What we started to do was, at the end portion of practice, we slowed things down a lot,” he said.
Rivera considers practice or training-camp injuries self-inflicted — “It’s something we’re doing,” he said — but thinks on-field injuries are simply bad luck.
The Bears’ changes are based on that same premise.
“You’re building the team to be at their absolute highest state Week 1, and that’s our goal,” Pace said. “I feel good about where we’re at with that right now.”
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