By Chris Emma—
LAKE FOREST, Ill. (CBS) – In opposite ends of the cramped Halas Hall locker room came separate-yet-similar views for the Bears’ status quo. And while Martellus Bennett and Jeremiah Ratliff boast two very different personalities, their veteran perspective reflects the commitment needed to foster a better football future.
The Bears are moving ahead to uncertainty – very much a team building for the years to come, with plenty of parts to spare. The players are attempting to keep focus on their task at hand, the 2015 season, while observing the realities of the business.
“Talking is not going to do it,” 11-year veteran Ratliff said in a serious tone. “We go out and just work. Period. Work harder than you work before. Make it noticeable. Make your whole team see it. Make them follow it. Make them believe it. That’s what we got to do. Period.”
Ratliff says he’s at peace with whatever happens with the rest of his football career – whether that means playing in Chicago or elsewhere. But he’s aware that he could be packing up to a new city, as can any one of his teammates.
Directly across the cramped locker room at Halas Hall, Bennett was offering his unique perspective on where the organization is going.
“It’s no different from construction being on the road,” Bennett said. “Sometimes, it takes you longer to get home, but when they finish the construction, smooth sailing all the way. But you hate the construction at the time, but then you’re like, ‘Man, I’m glad they fixed that road.’ That’s kind of like what it is right now.”
Inside Halas Hall, there’s recognition of where the franchise stands. Sunday’s 26-0 loss in Seattle – low-lighted by 10 punts on 10 possessions – serves as a humbling reminder of how far the Bears have fallen. Coach John Fox had to actively make the offense dry to minimize the embarrassment.
Moving forward with what could be a long season, the Bears need to ensure their fight. Team captain Pernell McPhee has referred to it as unleashing the dogs.
What rookie general manager Ryan Pace is doing in his second-floor office to ensure the franchise future doesn’t mean there should be a letup in the work outside his window on the practice field. Jared Allen may have been able to make an impact – he hadn’t done so to this point – but his value is better served for the future, in what came with a sixth-round pick. The same goes for Jon Bostic, now a New England Patriot, and the sixth-round pick sent in return.
The Bears still collecting handsome paychecks must keep fighting.
“Everybody in there understands we’re in a performance-based business,” Fox said. “Any move we make – contrary to what might be out there – is what we think betters our football team. I’ll leave it at that – they understand that and I know I sure do.”
What’s positive to see is that those Bears on record do believe in what Pace is building for the future. It seems as if this group is willing to battle for better.
The Bears are lacking in the talent to hang with the Seahawks, as evidenced on Sunday, but they’re willing to work for improvement. Fox was brought in to manage the team for the years ahead more than this 2015 group, but he must get the most of what’s available. Pace is the man constructing for the future.
But it’s not like these Bears can just simulate the rest of their season and move to 2016, where there will be new Pace draft picks and free-agent signings. With that must come a culture, and players must have a part instilling that.
“The winning is going to come,” Bennett said. “It’s just getting the right guys in the locker room and the right mentality. I think a lot of it is changing the mentality of the culture of this team, which takes time.”
Temporary hope comes to Soldier Field on Sunday in the form of the Oakland Raiders (2-1). If the Bears can’t hang with this foe, they may not win a game all season.
But back at practice on Wednesday, with Seattle behind them – “We’re not going to talk about anything in the past,” Ratliff said. “We’re going to move forward.” – Fox had an upbeat group. Quarterback Jay Cutler and receiver Alshon Jeffery were working with the team as they come back from hamstring injuries, and there was optimism for a rebound.
When adversity strikes, true desire to win is shown with effort. Who wants to get better?
“You see who’s willing to work and you find out who has character,” linebacker Lamarr Houston said.
Character is a good trait to have for the Bears as they build for the future. In time, the talent will eventually arrive to make this a competitive team, but the creation of a winning culture begins now – even if that comes with losing.
In the NFL, it can be difficult to keep grinding through tough times. But there are many Bears who believe in the better times potentially ahead. Construction is only temporary.
“I’m excited about the future of the Chicago Bears,” Bennett said. “And I think everyone should be.”
Follow Chris on Twitter @CEmma670.