Bears looking in the mirror for major improvements in 2017


The focus of every NFL offseason is necessarily and obviously on adding to the talent base and core of a team. That spotlights free agency and then the draft.
The Bears are looking elsewhere. Much closer to home, actually.
Any next-step in what the Bears are going to become under GM Ryan Pace and coach John Fox starts less from who they bring in and more from getting more from what they already have.

In 2016, for example, that took the form of Jordan Howard, albeit a draft choice but in fact starting from the bench the first couple of games, ultimately replacing Matt Forte with a better rushing year (5.2 ypc.) a full yard better than Forte's career average. It took the form of Cam Meredith going from 11 to 66 receptions.
In 2017, that will take the form of those players and others – Leonard Floyd, Eddie Goldman, Cody Whitehair, Kevin White, more – staying not where they were, but ascending.
To that end the Bears have looked internally for upgrades to come in the form of better health in particular, since any improvement starts with their core players — i.e. high draft choices in particular — simply being on the football field for more than just a handful of games.
"We just put everything on the table," Pace said last week at the NFL owners meetings. "I value when people do that. We have made some tweaks and some adjustments, without going into specifics. But it could be some scheduling things, some training camp things, things we're doing in the weight room, things we're doing in the training room, just dialing things to adapt.
"And not just putting our heads in the sand and saying, 'bad luck.' We made some adjustments and tweaks that we're all supportive of and we all had input on. we're excited about the outcome of that."
The Bears will adjust not so much the intensity of a full-pad training camp day, for instance, but with how they add a recovery element that spaces out the max-effort stretches and allows players to recharge and go hard at high levels. They will not add the extra travel and disruption of practices against other teams, after going early to Indianapolis and New England the past two preseasons for work against the Colts and Patriots.
"A couple of things we've done dealing with some of our sports science people is kind of two-days-on-and-then-a-soft-day, so actually have time to recover," Fox said. "We're not going to work against anybody this year, just because from a scheduling standpoint you're not in camp near as long as you used to be… .
"So just kind of adjusting the science of that and how to deal with it, how to best utilize it."
The Bears will end training camp before the second preseason game rather than the third. They also have had an ongoing investigation into their own injuries, apart from work the NFL is doing in the area of injury management. 
After 2015 they upgraded the condition of their practice fields, looking at ways to cut down on soft-tissue injuries. Ironically, the injury rate increased, although arguably in no small part to injuries decidedly NOT minor soft-tissue: broken arm (Brian Hoyer), broken leg (Connor Cook), catastrophic ankle (Kyle Long), torn labrum (Jay Cutler), and others.
"Obviously the injuries are something that we've looked at very hard," Fox said. "To be quite honest with you, we had some injury issues even that first year. They were a little more soft tissue, a little more practice-oriented. We did a lot to improve the fields. We did a lot to improve how we practice. we actually did a lot more adjustments.
"This year it actually got worse. So we kinda go back to the drawing board. Our league does the research, we do it. We've done quite a few things that we've looked at; it's been a collaboration, whether it's strength coaches, assistant coaches, practice techniques, which we actually dropped our injuries in practice this year. but we got more catastrophic injuries in games this year — broke leg, broke arm, broken bones. But you still evaluate it and do everything in your power to try to correct it."

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