Bears practice on outdoor turf at NU

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- In advance of Monday's game against the Vikings at the University of Minnesota's TCF Bank Stadium, the Chicago Bears opted to move Saturday's practice to Northwestern University to allow players to better familiarize themselves with the footing on outdoor artificial turf.

The decision to move practice to Evanston came after head equipment manager Tony Medlin and assistant athletic trainer Bobby Slater traveled to Minneapolis earlier in the week to inspect the playing surface at TCF Bank Stadium.

"It was good to go [to Northwestern] today and let the guys try a couple different pairs of shoes," Bears head coach Lovie Smith said. "We haven't played outside, on artificial surface in a while, I think Baltimore last year [where the Bears lost 31-7] was probably similar. [But] it will be a lot colder for this game. [It was important] for the players to just see and be able to work through some of the issues you have outside this time of the year.

"This is the last part of our preparation for Minnesota."

Monday's game had to be moved from the Metrodome after the facility's roof collapsed a week ago.

NFL players are creatures of habit, so while it's unusual to move practice venues in the week leading up to a game, several players felt the time spent at Northwestern could end up helping the Bears on Monday night.

"Just going out there practicing on turf, it helps, because seeing how open everything is and getting used to everything could really help," Bears safety Danieal Manning said. "I know what shoes to wear. We need to know what to wear because that place may freeze over and your cleats may not dig in. But for the most part, I think the field will be ready and in good condition.

"This didn't hurt today, because it was cold and the field at Northwestern was pretty icy and hard, so if that's what it's going to be up there, we should have a decent feel for it," Bears linebacker and Northwestern alumnus Nick Roach said. "The only thing that will really affect our footing would be if it snowed on the turf. I'm not sure how that surface would handle the snow, getting slippery with all that slush. That's really the only concern I can come up with."

Veterans like Chris Harris, Lance Briggs and Charles Tillman all voiced public concerns about player safety when it came to the potentially frozen surface at TCF Bank Stadium.

"If the field is frozen, who the hell wants to play on that," Bears cornerback Charles Tillman said on Thursday. "I would much rather play in Minnesota, I'd much rather play in the Metrodome, but it was an unfortunate accident that happened, and I don't think anybody could have prepared for what exactly happened at that dome, [and now] everybody is scrambling to get that game in Minnesota. Icy field, players, safety, this is the year when we are cracking down on player safety and concussions and stuff like that. You want to fine guys $75,000, but are we going to play on this frozen field? I don't know, it really doesn't make much sense to me."

But on Saturday, Smith reiterated that focus will not be an issue for the Bears heading into the matchup with the Vikings.

"You guys are talking a lot more about that than our guys are," Smith said. "When you ask them questions, they're going to, like 99 out of 100 people would answer your question about that. That's not an issue with us. We're going up there, we possibly have a chance to win our division. That's what we are talking to them about. Again, we play outside, so it's not an issue for us at all."

Jeff Dickerson covers the Bears for ESPNChicago.com and ESPN 1000.