BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- Head coach John Fox believes the Chicago Bears have a deeper roster in 2017, but for his team to have any shot in the NFC North, it must drastically reduce injuries.
Injuries are a part of life in football, but the amount of players on injured reserve in Fox's two seasons in Chicago (a 9-23 record overall) directly contributed to the organization's downfall. There's been a seemingly endless stream of injuries since Fox took over -- Jay Cutler, Alshon Jeffery, Kyle Long, Zach Miller, Antrel Rolle, Danny Trevathan, Eddie Goldman, Pernell McPhee, Lamarr Houston, Willie Young, Kevin White. Many went down in non-contact practices.
"The injury bug hopefully will be better to us this year than it was a year ago," Fox said on Wednesday.
To their credit, Fox and general manager Ryan Pace promised to thoroughly review their methodology for preserving their players' health. While no noticeable changes were made in the offseason to Chicago's sports science department or training staff, the Bears’ new training camp schedule is a little lighter, featuring more recovery days and walk-through practices. And unlike the past two seasons, the Bears will not conduct joint practice sessions with an opponent prior to a preseason game, as they did with Indianapolis and New England the last two years.
The Bears also invested heavily in player tracking technology to assist the support staff.
"Every player has a tracking device, a GPS device, in their shoulder pads that can track total distance traveled, speed, acceleration, but the main thing is basically their training load," Pace said. "The goal over time is to figure out everybody's optimal training load. Every player's different. And you know when you're crossing a threshold, when you might need to back off a player or push off a player a little bit. It's just getting specific into what a player's ideal training load is."
For Fox, it's about straddling the line between preparing for a violent game and preventing injury.
"The fine line has always been in professional football, or even football in general, it’s a fine line of getting your team ready for contact," Fox said. "And you've got to understand they don't do it year round. It's unlike a lot of sports that way, in that the game is way different than maybe the offseason and maybe the practices. In other sports, it's the same. There's not a huge difference, like the equipment. So to get that ready and callused enough for a long, very long, physical season, and having some guys to get there with, it's a fine line. It always has been.
"The game has changed a lot -- how people approach the game. I can remember coming into the league, it was we had three-a-days in pads. That basically stayed true for the first two weeks. It was 14 straight days. We've come a long ways from then. We've made tweaks to adjust that in their recovery with our sports science people, and we'll see how that works out."
The Bears open camp with two mandatory non-padded practices. The pads come on for the first time on Saturday, but Fox scheduled a non-padded practice for Monday heading into Tuesday's off day.