By Chris Emma–
MOBILE, Ala. (CBS) — With the sound of a horn, Bears coach John Fox took stride to his new players and opportunity.
Admittedly, coaching the Senior Bowl’s North team wasn’t what he hoped to be doing this time of year. It’s a chance afforded to teams whose records warrant a high pick, and Fox’s Bears were 3-13 in 2016. But he’s here for a quality evaluation opportunity with some of the NFL Draft’s top prospects.
On Tuesday, Fox worked his way through the lines of players and engaged with each one. It’s a familiar sight at Halas Hall, where Fox’s approach with players is constantly lauded. He gets through to his teams. That seemed to be the case Tuesday in Mobile too.
But before Fox could begin building relationships, his message had to resonate. It was firm.
“They’re getting evaluated,” Fox said after his first practice of the week. “They understand it. But you get an inside look at it. It’s not just night time interviews when they’re worn out and tired. You get to see how they conduct themselves in meetings, how they take notes, how they come out and practice. And you don’t get any closer than this.”
Before the horn sounded to start their first practice, Fox gathered with Bears general manager Ryan Pace, offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains and defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, then they broke huddle. Pace returned to his perch with the Bears’ scouting staff, while Loggains went to his quarterbacks and Fangio joined his defensive players.
The Bears had their own video people on site gathering film as if it were their own practice. Their medical staff was readily available, though Fox gladly pointed out that the injury report was clean.
Even longtime equipment manager Tony Medlin was roaming the sidelines as he does each day in Lake Forest. The Bears brought everybody of importance from Halas Hall to make the North team their own.
“You live with them,” Fox said. “It’s like the first week of camp if you drafted them.
“The biggest thing is typically if you’re not coaching them in these games, you’re getting a 15-minute interview and you don’t get as good a feel as you would with a whole week with them like you would in a first week in camp.”
Players have embraced their chance with Fox and the Bears just as they’ve been welcomed. After all, each prospect is auditioning for the hundreds of NFL coaches, general managers, executives and scouts seated at Ladd-Peebles Stadium watching Fox and his staff do their work.
While this is ultimately a showcase for 32 teams, the structure created by the Bears makes it essentially a tryout. Loggains is running features of his offense, as is Fangio with his defense.
For Pittsburgh quarterback Nate Peterman, working with the Bears could be an opportunity to prove himself as the starter they’re seeking. He can look no further than how Dak Prescott made the most of his chance playing for the Cowboys-coached South team in 2016 by earning their faith in the draft. Prescott led Dallas to a 13-3 season as a rookie after getting drafted in the fourth round.
“I’m just trying to make myself the most attractive to every team out there,” Peterman said. “It certainly would be a great opportunity to go up to Chicago and play for a great, storied program.”
Peterman was handed his assignments by Loggains late Monday night after his first meeting with the Bears. He returned to his hotel and turned a late night into an early morning by studying up the concepts. Everything has to be crisp on this stage.
The Bears have drafted six players from the Senior Bowl in the first two seasons with Fox and Pace. They’ve also identified free-agent signings through their process of watching prospects in this game. That evaluation didn’t include getting to create their own environment around the prospects.
Fox wants to be coaching again in the Super Bowl, not the Senior Bowl, but he’s embracing this key opportunity to better his Bears.