Bears camp cliches: The Bourbonnais 2018 Academy Awards
By Robert Zeglinski
An NFL training camp is the first sign that football activity’s on the horizon. It’s the warmup to the warmup for the regular season, and therefore is the foundation towards a successful season. What an NFL training camp also acts as is a hotbed of stereotypes. Of previously underperforming players coming into a misleading three to four-week prism of training in “the best shape of their life” and otherwise.
The Bears just finished their first ever camp under head coach Matt Nagy, and while there was much to glean from an eventful month in Bourbonnais: have no fear that you could easily apply a variety of overused cliches to this team. It’s the same story every time.
In an effort of sorting out what happened at Olivet Nazarene University to set the table for the rest of the Bears’ season, here’s a mix-up of legitimate awards and magical performances we won’t soon forget. The Academy left no stone unturned.
The award for ‘Player in the best shape of his life’ goes to: Kevin White
In a not-so stunning upset, White receives this Bears camp honor for the third straight season. The fourth-year receiver has previously entered Bourbonnais in the “best shape of his life” after two leg injuries, and wouldn’t let a broken clavicle suffered last September stop him from maintaining his vaunted streak.
White, who has a career five starts and total of 21 receptions, came into this Bears camp shredded with muscle like never before. The 26-year-old is again in the highest and best condition possible, something he’s done three years running. And despite not yet proving where it really matters, meaning in games, White had a relatively solid camp, showing no signs of any lost confidence. He made consistent plays and generally made an impact.
“It’s going to be up to him to do it in the preseason games and see where it takes him,” said Nagy of White’s early performance in camp.
For White, relatively solid translates to “major standout” and of course, the “best shape of his life”.
The award for ‘Give him Offensive Rookie of the Year immediately’ goes to: Anthony Miller
If you followed the headlines of this Bears camp, it was difficult to ignore the noise the rookie second rounder in Miller was making. Bears receivers coach Mike Furrey called Miller “a jackrabbit” in how he approaches football, and that consistently showed out for the receiver during practices.
There wasn’t a day in Bourbonnais where Miller didn’t make a highlight grab downfield, didn’t burn or juke a Bears defensive back out of his shoes, and didn’t let them know it every time. The 24-year-old former Memphis star looked like an immediate superstar playmaker from the get-go. If you can ignore the fact that most of these situations were practice and that Miller has not yet flashed in an NFL game, then it’s time to give him Offensive Rookie of the Year. It’s only fair.
The award for ‘He’s ready for a huge jump from Year 1 to Year 2’ goes to: Mitchell Trubisky
Forget the interceptions and rampant experimentation Trubisky showed off in his first Bears camp as the No. 1 quarterback. Forget the learning curve and occasional days where the Chicago defense relentlessly toyed with Trubisky and his offensive teammates. He’s ready to make “The Leap” in his sophomore NFL season, despite showing no evidence of being ready for that undertaking through camp.
“Right now, I don’t care about interceptions. I truly don’t,” Nagy said late in camp of Trubisky’s struggles. “I love the fact that he’s trying to learn this offense and make throws. I’d rather him do that than take the five-yard check-down. I need him to test it right now.”
Trubisky has had a lot of hype surround him this off-season, some of it justified. If he doesn’t sharpen up from an uneven camp where he often averaged double digit picks per practice, regardless of the context of practice, that hype will soon look foolhardy. “The Leap” can still be made.
The award for ‘I’m more focused this time around’ goes to: Prince Amukamara
A respectable veteran at cornerback never known for being a field tilter or ballhawk, this year’s camp showed off a new Amukamara. It showed off an Amukamara that caught interceptions in droves, locked in on unfavorable matchups against the Bears’ respective receivers, and who is prepared to have a career year at 29-years-old.
Amukamara, who hasn’t caught an interception in a game in two years, said near the close of Bears camp that he’s “really looking for a 10-pick season.” That’s quite the lofty height to reach for a man not particularly known for that skill set, and who only needed seven years with three different teams to reach this peak.
“I’ve been learning from Kyle (Fuller) to be more of a student of the game,” said Amukamara to me early on in camp. “That’s in recognizing formations, down and distance, and everything that goes into it.”
So, clearly Amukamara has improved because he’s “more focused” and paying attention to finer details. Whether that bears out once the Bears have to face a live opponent in the fall remains to be seen.
The award for ‘Player is now better than ever following serious injury’ goes to: Leonard Floyd
Prior to tearing two ligaments in his knee last November, Floyd was chugging along towards a good but not great 2017 season for the Bears. The 25-year-old was on pace for roughly 45 tackles and eight sacks before he was robbed of the last six games because of his knee injury.
For the entire off-season, the Bears’ goal with Floyd was getting him up to speed and to be 100 percent for camp, nothing else. As he slowly eased his way into this year’s proceedings in Bourbonnais, Floyd took time to get his legs under him and look like a former No. 9 overall pick in the 2016 Draft. And by the time he did, the 25-year-old centerpiece played “better than ever”.
There seemed to be a noticeable extra burst with Floyd towards the end of Bears camp, along with a refined pass rush repertoire that should make him a terror for offenses. This wasn’t the product of simply adding to his game as an experienced third-year player, but because he’s definitely going to be “better than ever” following his injuries. Correlation equals causation.
The award for ‘Backup receiver shining with backup quarterbacks’ goes to: Javon Wims
This is the most illustrious Bears camp award. No camp designation has as much fervor behind it as the depth receiver that manages to capture the hearts of the Bourbonnais faithful every season. From Mike Haas and Brandon Rideau, to Dane Sanzenbacher and the greatest of all time, Tanner Gentry, whoever receives this award joins hallowed company.
That is why Wims should be beaming with pride at his accomplishment.
The rookie seventh round pick didn’t enter Bourbonnais with the best odds to make the Bears’ final 53-man roster. But then a seven-catch, 89-yard performance against the Ravens in the Hall of Fame Game happened. Factor in the few deep bombs and red zone one-on-one’s throughout camp that Wims will almost never see against a full-fledged defense, and the rest was history.
Now (tentatively) projected as the fifth or sixth receiver on the Bears’ depth chart with roster cuts three weeks away, if Wims doesn’t make the 2018 active squad one can only imagine the unrelenting anger directed towards the Bears clearly not appreciating his camp performance. If Wims doesn’t get past Chicago’s roster cut, the memory of what he accomplished in this camp lives on forever. R.
Robert is an editor, writer, and producer. Hire him. You can follow him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.