Seemingly every year, there’s a handful of NFL players who go from barely making a 53-man roster to making a big play or stepping into a significant role. Determining who those players might be has become harder in 2020 with no preseason games.
“I don’t know if anyone has the perfect answer,” Bears coach Matt Nagy said in a Zoom call with members of the media last week.
Coaching staffs must harness their creative juices and create competitive situations in practice. Front offices must scrutinize every rep even more than in the past, and trust their evaluations.
It puts more pressure, too, on players to treat practice like a game. That’s especially true for rookies.
“If there’s one time, one season, to know the playbook inside out, it’s 2020,” Nagy said. “And so [rookies] don’t have preseason games to go out there and make plays and show us a play or two. They don’t have that now. So now they’re going to have to go out and do that in practice.”
With all 32 teams in the same boat, Nagy believes across the league there will be players who are cut during training camp “that probably shouldn’t get cut.”
At Halas Hall, the pressure will be on the Bears coaching staff, front office and general manager Ryan Pace to make the right decisions.
Finding unsigned talent is impossible right now. Teams are not conducting tryouts with free agents. Pace said he expects to have some clarity on the free agent tryout process in the next few weeks.
“The onus really falls on us as scouts, both our pro scouts and our college scouts,” Pace said. “With no preseason games, talking to our college scouts – especially on this rookie class – on where we had them graded, how do we feel about these players, what we’re hearing about those players coming out of their training camps. We’re just really going to have to be on top of that because it’s going to be challenging.”
Pace said he felt the league has been accommodating with roster flexibility with the new reserve/COVID-19 designation and with expanded practice squads.
Last year, Nagy played his starters sparingly in the preseason. He had planned to play them more this preseason, before the preseason slate was wiped clean.
When the Bears do begin having contact practices, Nagy expects his team to be “rocking and rolling.” Practice will be one of the few aspects of this season that might look something like normal. Nagy said the biggest visible difference might be players on the sideline spreading out more around the field, rather than standing together near the bench.
“We’re going to freaking get after this training camp,” Nagy said. “Mindset-wise, when we’re going and we strap it up and go live, we hit, we tackle, there’s going to be a mindset that we’re going to be a tough football team.”
There might be more of a learning curve for rookies this year. But the argument could also be made that there’s no room for error for new players.
“It is what it is and the rookies that are here are just going to have to step up and really know what they’re doing,” Nagy said. “If somebody shows that the game is slow to them mentally, and they can play fast, that will tell us a lot about that rookie.”
Roster moves: The Bears announced Monday that safety Jordan Lucas has opted out of the 2020 season, becoming the second Bears player to do so after defensive tackle Eddie Goldman did last week. Lucas signed with the Bears in March as a free agent.
Additionally, defensive tackle John Jenkins and tight end Eric Saubert were activated off the reserve/COVID-19 list Monday, and offensive lineman Dino Boyd has been released.
The Bears had signed Boyd in December to a futures contract. His release brings the roster down to 80 players. Training camp rosters have been trimmed this year from 90 to 80 players in order for teams to better social distance in their facilities.