There’s a strange energy this week at Halas Hall. It’s almost like there are two entirely different teams sharing one (newly renovated, they’ll have you know) practice facility. One team has both eyes set on the Packers, and you can hear the excitement in their voices.
“We’ve been out of it for a while, but we’re anxious,” Eddie Jackson said. “We are real anxious right now, you know we want to play so bad. Sitting out for preseason is just getting us – you know you got that feeling in your stomach and want to get back to it. So we are definitely all in."
For the other team, it’s Cut Week. This Saturday, the Bears will have to decide on their final 53 - meaning they'll have to basically halve the current roster. While some of the players that the Bears cut loose this weekend will find opportunities on teams and practice squads elsewhere around the league, many will not. In a year full of long weekends, this might be Matt Nagy’s longest.
“We have a lot of perks in my position and Ryan [Pace’s] position. A lot of perks, and a lot of good things that happen,” Nagy said. “For both of us, these [cuts] are not the perks. These are harder.
“One thing I hang my hat on, and I did it when I got here as a head coach with the hiring and firing of coaches, is just be real, be honest with them. Tell them how they can improve, and then tell them how you’ll help them. If you truly feel like they can still play for another team, then help them. Give them a chance. You never burn bridges. I always tell them you never know when we’ll cross paths again.”
It’s a tricky line to walk, as Nagy tries to be as helpful and respectful to the process as possible while needing all the time he can get to prepare for Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers. Experience doesn’t make it any easier, either.
“Actually, as a matter of fact, it probably gets harder,” Nagy added. “When you start getting to some guys where, for me, last year as a first-year guy, there’s not many relationships built. The longer I’m at this thing, you build relationships and you’re there with them longer.
“So when you do have to have conversations, those are the ones that rip your heart out.”
What’s a hard week for NFL coaches pales in comparison to what players are going through; at least the coaches will all have their jobs on Sunday. For many roster bubble-caliber players, like Bears running back Ryan Nall, the tension is impossible to ignore.
“Everyone kind of knows it’s the elephant in the room,” Nall said. “At the end of the week, unfortunately they have to make cuts. We try not to let it affect us - we’re just going to come out here and do our job and continue to play hard.”
Nall spent 2018 on the Bears’ practice squad, and is familiar with the stressful routine of Cut Day. He’s talked with a couple rookies already about how to approach the final couple days, and stressed the importance of not falling out of routine.
“Try not to worry about it,” Nall said. “Try and take care of what you can control. Go out there and ball out on the last preseason game.”