By Chris Emma–
BOURBONNAIS, Ill. (CBS) — Whistles sounded as Bears running back Jeremy Langford completed a first down, and the fans at Soldier Field cheered.
Then, suddenly, more whistles sounded behind the play. Bears offensive lineman Ted Larsen grabbed linebacker Lamin Barrow and threw him down. Dozens of players in navy or white jerseys jumped into the scrums. Kyle Long even sprinted from the opposite side of the field to dive into the pile.
Saturday’s Bears Family Fest turned into a melee, much to the chagrin of quarterback Jay Cutler.
“Now we’re getting to the point where we’re just kind of being a dumb team,” Cutler said Monday. “So we’ve got to find that fine line of when we’re being tough and when we’re being dumb. I think we’re right there on that edge, so now we kind have to start dialing it back and getting ready for games.”
Bears coach John Fox has maintained that fights are simply a part of training camp while also referencing how they’re wasted energy in the grueling conditions of the summer.
Finally, Fox was done with it Saturday. Part of it was the embarrassment of Family Fest fisticuffs, but fights between teammates risk injury. Fox made it clear that his Bears can’t be reckless.
Long expressed his regret Monday.
“We can’t let that happen,” Long said. “I hold myself accountable for some of the stuff. That’s on me. It’s a bad representation of the Bears, and bad representation of myself as an athlete and a role model for younger kids.”
Added Cutler of Long: “He’s got to be smarter than that. We’ve talked to him. He’s better than that. He’s smarter than that. He has come a long way in his years here. I know he’s protecting his teammates and doing everything possible, but some things we just can’t do.”
A newcomer to the Bears signed as a free agent this past offseason, Larsen has instigated four fights during training camp.
While the Bears love that Larsen brings a fiery presence to the field, it’s preferred to be utilized during the plays as opposed to after the whistle.
“It’s hot out and guys’ tempers flare,” Larsen said. “I’m not a guy who’s going to take crap from anybody or stand down, so that’s probably the crux of it.”
Is there anything to gain from training camp fights?
Sure, it’s good to see a ticked off team develop a spirit early into the preseason, but punching a helmet does more harm that good. The Bears’ fights can be considered a byproduct of their competition all throughout the roster, but there are more constructive ways to win a job.
More so for this Bears team, Fox has worked to instill a positive culture around his players. Part of that comes from discipline, which fighting doesn’t help. To Larsen’s credit, he acknowledged holding back from picking up stupid penalties in games, a claim he’s backed with just two personal fouls in his career and none since 2012.
The Bears have a recent history of training camp fights escalating. In 2014, Martellus Bennett — who’s now with the Patriots — threw down then-rookie cornerback Kyle Fuller, forcing a suspension from the team. Last August, defensive lineman Jeremiah Ratliff couldn’t be restrained from offensive lineman Will Montgomery in a scene that lasted for 40 minutes and forced an early end to practice. Ratliff’s flareup would serve as a red flag in hindsight.
Should Fox get his way, the Bears’ chippy play will reveal itself up until the whistle. Then he wants to see the cheap shots come to an end.
Of course, fights in training camp are just a part of the game. So who knows if the Bears have more in store.