By Tim Baffoe-
(CBS) The start of most NFL training camps is a jolt into fan football mode. Whistles wake us up from lazy summer days, and the crack of pads and helmets shift us into the more tactical assault mentality that baseball season lacks.
We’re so used to the start of Chicago Bears training camp having the feeling of “OK, here is what has to happen for them to make the playoffs.” Then we map out strategy, go over the schedule game by game to figure out how to get to 10 wins or better and comb through the roster to figure out a depth chart and what a season of zero significant injuries can get this team.
Not in 2017, though. Did you even know that Wednesday was the day the Bears were reporting to Bourbonnais? Probably only if you’re one of those special people who enjoy driving down there to sweat through watching large men stretch and go through the motions of pseudo-football.
It’s not so much ennui with the new Bears season commencing as an “Oh … yeah.” Such is the case with a rebuild. Cubs fans remember walking into seasons just a few years ago knowing the product wasn’t going to be good but with a carrot at the end of the stick. White Sox fans are in the first year of that phase. Bulls fans … deep breaths.
We care about the Bears, of course. They will always be the straw that stirs this city’s drink (until mothers and litigation over brain injuries dissolve the game). But we are aware this time around that the team in its current state isn’t a winner. Hopefully it will be soon, but not this year.
In years past it was the annual question surrounding quarterback Jay Cutler. Now he’s retired and will be calling Bears games for national TV. In his stead is Mike Glennon, an unproven 27-year-old signee whom the Bears kinda lied to but are also paying lots of money to be a placeholder for 2017 second overall draft pick Mitch Trubisky to eventually be the franchise quarterback.
Maybe Glennon surprises everyone, but nobody is holding their breath. His existence in Chicago is assumed very temporary no matter how much his bosses lie to us that they’re really waiting to see what he can do. Entering a season with a lame-duck quarterback whom you just signed would normally be really weird in the NFL, but such is a rebuild of “Oh… yeah.”
Does it beat the “What if” of the Cutler era? I mean, at least we’re not hanging on immediate outcome or dumb arguments about “leadership” and “game face.” (Note: don’t look at Glennon’s face.)
The quarterback who matters probably shouldn’t play meaningful minutes this season if all goes well — meaning perfectly bad. Trading up to pick Trubisky is both a gamble and a statement for general manager Ryan Pace that will define his tenure in Chicago. Trubisky definitely isn’t ready to take game snaps now, and what he can learn with practice reps and with a clipboard on Sundays is to be determined. And when Glennon puts out his best effort in a third straight Bears loss during the season, we’ll remember he doesn’t matter and think, “Oh … yeah.”
This is a Bears team that doesn’t even have a face of the franchise, if you stop to consider it. It should be Trubisky at some point, but otherwise who has the highest Q-rating on this team? Kyle Long? The most nationally recognizable personality on this team is an offensive lineman. That’s no slight to Long, who’s an interesting guy with a fun social media presence (cough, he follows me on Twitter, cough). But when people around the country go down the Bears roster, it’s a lot of “Oh… yeah.”
Jordan Howard blossomed last year as a force running the ball, and the poor kid will probably be heavily needed with a receiving corps that’s as sexy as a sixth year of Victor Cruz salsa dancing. Kevin White enters his third year of trying to convince us he can stay on the field and play. Rookie tight end Adam Shaheen might become the ball-catching folk hero du jour a la Daniel Braverman and Dane Sanzenbacher.
Vic Fangio’s defense continues to jell and be respectable, but it’s most interesting aspect is whether Leonard Floyd can live up to being another player Pace traded up to draft. More than half of the projected starting defense wasn’t drafted by the Bears, which isn’t an indictment of Pace (of Phil Emery, yes), but it’s an issue for his rebuild.
Maybe coach John Fox loses his job during or after this season. That’s a cruel piece of meat we have to chew on, I guess.
Otherwise, Wednesday is the start of a thing currently built for six-ish wins that we’re going to sorta wince at through the end of the calendar year and kinda hope tanks for another high draft pick.
That Pace seems to have picked a direction is cool and at least give us the impression that this organization isn’t just floating along as it seemed before Pace was here. Turnover in the NFL happens more quickly than other sports, so this rebuild isn’t a five-year project — either the Bears will be very good much sooner or Pace won’t be here.
But for right now, this is what we get. The Bears. Oh … yeah.
Tim Baffoe is a columnist for CBSChicago.com. Follow Tim on Twitter @TimBaffoe. The views expressed on this page are those of the author, not CBS Local Chicago or our affiliated television and radio stations.