By Laurence Holmes-
(CBS) It’s always exciting when we get to this time of year. Bears training camp is upon us and for me, the summer is over. This year will be my 10th camp that I’m covering and I’ve learned some things along the way. So I thought I’d share some tips with you on surviving camp and offer up suggestions to increase your enjoyment of the experience.
It’s Okay To Be Late: Fans are excited to catch a glimpse of their team. I get that, but I want you to keep a couple of things in mind. For the most part, wherever you watch practice from, you’ll have a good view. The lines that form outside the gates can be long and this summer, more than any other, you could end up baking in the Kankakee County heat.
Lovie Smith’s practices are going to be 2.5 hours long. Usually the first 30 minutes is the players stretching with almost no activity. Most of the people who cover the team, use the time to check with the roster and see who’s practicing and who’s not. In other words, it’s boring. The fun stuff: 7-on-7, 11-on-11 and 2-minute drills usually don’t come until the end. So don’t waste your time. If the practice is scheduled for Noon or 3 p.m., come in 45 minutes later. Trust me, you won’t miss a thing.
The only exception is the night practice in the ONU stadium. That’s a practice you want to get to early so that you can get a good seat in the grandstand.
Watch Positional Breakdowns: Most fans want to see the team as a whole and that makes sense, but don’t sleep on the positional stuff. There are two in particular that I like: Blitz protection – LB vs RB and single routes – WR vs CB. These matchups get competitive and fun. Plenty of trash talk goes on and if you’re paying attention, you can pick up little nuggets of technique.
Keep An Eye On The Coaches: Lovie Smith is pretty easy to find on the field and he floats from station to station making sure that things are going OK. Occasionally, he’ll fire off a joke, but for the most part he’s the Lovie that you see in press conferences. His demeanor rarely changes. Watch the position coaches. There are two in particular that you should keep an eye on: Darryl Drake (WR) and Jon Hoke (DB). Both of these guys are passionate and vocal. Drake doesn’t hold back in his criticism of his group. He is very precise and counts off steps, yards and where cuts should be made. He will correct guys and walk through routes until it’s done correctly. It’ll be interesting to watch how he works with Brandon Marshall and how he pushes Alshon Jeffrey. Drake’s voice carries. He can be heard clearly from 20 yards away. Hoke is similar on the defensive side. He believes in drilling technique. He has a great Lieutenant in Charles Tillman who helps the younger guys, but Hoke will even get after Tillman if things aren’t done perfectly.
Where’s Robbie?: I always feel bad for the specialists. A great majority of practice has nothing to do with them. Usually, the Bears bring in another punter and another kicker to make sure Gould & Adam Podlesh don’t wear out their legs, but those guys still have to look busy. So they create all sorts of challenges for themselves. When Brad Maynard was still a Bear, he would practice catching and setting snaps with one hand. He was pretty good at it too. I’ve seen Patrick Mannelly long snap into a garbage can. Gould likes to line up out of bounds, on the side of the goal post and test his accuracy by hitting it dead on.
Hope this helps when you travel down there. Feel free to say hey when you see Zach Zaidman and I walk to practice. We usually have stuff to do, but it’s always nice to talk to fans and see what they think about the team.
Later this week, I’ll have a player’s perspective on training camp.
For more coverage during training camp, follow Laurence on Twitter at @LaurenceWHolmes.