To Practice or Not to Practice

Union said Bears players would be non-participants in voluntary on-field work but GM Ryan Pace begs to differ
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The vision of the NFLPA and Bears general manager Ryan Pace differ greatly.

The players union issued a statement earlier this month "on behalf of" Bears players saying the majority of the locker room chooses not to participate in voluntary workouts in person to stay safe from the pandemic.

On Tuesday when he discussed this week's NFL Draft, GM Ryan Pace had a different view of what Bears participation would be for the voluntary work in person. He anticipates it will be 90% to 100% participation, which differs a bit from the statement issued on behalf of players by the union.

"That's what our hope is," Pace said. "We'll see. It's such a unique time. But we're optimistic that a lot of the guys, we have a really close group and a really close locker room. I think they enjoy being together. I think they enjoy the competition.

"And there are tweaks, too. With Sean Desai as the defensive coordinator, I think it's important for us all to be together and continue to grow as a team, especially with our new additions."

The players are doing on-line meetings now and conditioning on their own, although some are doing conditioning at Halas Hall. Pace didn't say the number.

On May 17, the on-field voluntary work begins. This is what has become known as organized team activities. In June there is a mandatory on-field minicamp which isn't a part of the union's discussion in the statement issued on behalf of players.

"As we approach that May 17 date, I expect it to be good," Pace said. "I think with just the feeling I have with our guys and the excitement of this offseason and the upcoming season, I feel it. I feel it from our leadership. I feel it throughout our team.

"I can already tell from the guys who are coming in now and just kind of the energy and the momentum that I feel from that group. I expect it to carry right into May 17 when they can be here at Halas. And I think with us having the facility that we have and you’ve seen it. We’re lucky to have the resources that we have. And I think our players are excited to take advantage of that."

It's Pace's contention the modern and expansive Halas Hall practice facility, as well as the team's past practices to prevent COVID-19 from spreading, will make the decision to practice easier for players.

The importance of the off-season work has always been debated by players and the union. Safety and better health are believed to by byproducts of avoiding too much offseason work according injury statistics they've put forth in the past.

Bears coaches last offseason made the lack of offseason on-field work a constant talking point as they discussed why younger players might be trailing where other rookie classes have been at a particular point.

Bears wide receiver Darnell Mooney on Tuesday couldn't have trumpeted the team's beliefs more by his reaction to OTAs.

"I mean, last year I wasn't able to get a feel for OTAs, so I don't know how OTAs work," Mooney said. "I don't even know what we're supposed to be doing right now. So I wouldn't have an understanding of why people would want to go and why people would not. This is my first year coming just like other rookies, so I wouldn't know what's going on."

That's precisely the point coaches made. Not enough players knew what was going on in general and specifically with their position duties.

"I'm down with whatever the team goes with," Mooney said. "And whatever it is, just like last year, I wasn't able to come in. I had a pretty solid year, others would say. I'll be fine regardless of whichever one we do."

Mooney set the Bears rookie record for receptions with 61 in 2020.

Veteran Allen Robinson couldn't say he'd be a participant. However, his reason for not participating could be different than other players because he has received a franchise tag in free agency and doesn't have an actual contract. It's common for franchise players to skip voluntary work.

"My main focus is on trying to figure out how I can continue to get better and to continue to better my game," Robinson said. "Again, going into this offseason and moving forward, trying to stack a couple years on top of each other.

"Right now, for me, I'm working on my approach this offseason and whatever comes about, for me, it's just trying to improve my game and continue I'm ready for training camp and prepare for the upcoming season."

The pandemic could still be a concern here still for players despite government efforts to vaccinate. Mooney and Robinson both said they have yet to receive vaccinations, but did not necessarily oppose it.

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