While expectations are high for coach Marc Trestman's 2.0 version of the Bears, there are many questions to be answered regarding all phases of the game.
And that's especially true with special teams, where the Bears will experience a massive turnover of personnel.
Bears at Bourbonnais: If you goHere are some fast facts for Bears fans visiting training camp. Hours and schedules can change daily, so visit chicagobears.com for the latest schedule before traveling to Bourbonnais.
Directions from the suburbs: Tri-State Tollway (294) south to I-80 west. Take I-80 west 3.6 miles to I-57 South, then 29.3 miles to Bradley/Bourbonnais Exit 315. Follow the exit ramp as it curves to the right onto Rout 50 south. Turn right onto Armour Road. At the second traffic light (the stop-and-go light for Packers fans), turn left onto Convent Street, which is also Rout 45/52. There is a Speedway gas station on corner. Follow the curves past the side entrance to Olivet Nazarene University campus on the left and continue to the main entrance that is lined with 10 flags.
Cost: Admission and parking are free.
Hours: The gates to training camp open at 9 a.m. for morning practices. For 3 p.m. practices (Aug. 4 and 10), gates open at about 2:30 p.m.
Parking: Lots will open one hour before the gates open.
Practice segments: The "team" portions of morning practices (when the offense runs plays against the defense) will begin at about 10 a.m. Players will be stretching and running "individual/positional" drills from 9-10 a.m.
Activities: Camp grounds will stay open about one hour after practice. Activities include family-friendly events such as a kids interactive area, radio remotes with local and national sports radio stations, a pro shop, and promotional areas with games and prizes from Bears partners. There are autograph opportunities with Bears players and coaches.
Concessions: Food and drink are available at stands located between the fan entrance and the practice fields.
Bears training-camp scheduleFriday, July 25: 9 a.m. practice (NO PADS)
Saturday, July 26: 9 a.m. practice (NO PADS)
Sunday, July 27: 9 a.m. practice
Monday, July 28: 9 a.m. practice
Tuesday, July 29: OFF
Wednesday, July 30: 9 a.m. practice (Ladies Day)
Thursday, July 31: 9 a.m. practice
Friday, Aug. 1: 9 a.m. practice (Blue & Orange Day)
Saturday, Aug. 2: 6:45 p.m. practice at Soldier Field (Family Fest)
Sunday, Aug. 3: OFF
Monday, Aug. 4: 3 p.m. practice (Armed Forces Day)
Tuesday, Aug. 5: 9 a.m. practice
Wednesday, Aug 6: 9 a.m. practice (Youth Football Day)
Thursday, Aug. 7: OFF
Friday, Aug. 8: Bears vs. Eagles, preseason game at Soldier Field
Saturday, Aug. 9: OFF
Sunday, Aug. 10: 3 p.m. practice (Run with Staley)
Monday, Aug. 11: 9 a.m. practice
Tuesday, Aug. 12: 9 a.m. practice (final training camp practice)
Thursday, Aug. 14: Bears vs. Jaguars, preseason at Soldier Field
After 16 years of near-flawless long-snapping, Patrick Mannelly has retired; Devin Hester, the NFL's all-time leader in kick-return touchdowns, signed with the Atlanta Falcons; and punter Adam Podlesh was released after last season.
Let's get right to the questions in this third installment as the Bears prepare for their first training-camp practice Friday at Bourbonnais.
Q. How will the Bears replace Hester?
A. Possibly by committee. There are several players currently on the 90-man roster who have had success returning punts and/or kickoffs.
The most intriguing contender could be 5-foot-8, 175-pound Chris Williams, a superstar in the Canadian Football League with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. In 2012, he returned 5 punts for touchdowns. He also caught 83 passes for 1,298 yards and 11 touchdowns as a slot receiver.
Eight-year veteran Eric Weems went to the Pro Bowl in 2010 as an Atlanta Falcon, averaging 12.8 yards on punt returns and 27.5 yards on kickoff returns, but his major contributions in two years with the Bears have come as an exceptional coverage man on punts and kickoffs.
Veteran vagabond Micheal Spurlock has played for seven NFL teams and has 5 kick-return touchdowns in seven seasons. At 31, he's the oldest member of the group but also the biggest veteran at 5-11 and 214 pounds.
Fifth-year veteran Armanti Edwards, a third-round pick of the Carolina Panthers in 2010, appears to be a longshot.
And don't forget about jack-of-all-trades rookie Jordan Lynch. The former NIU quarterback doesn't have the speed or quickness of the others, but he's a solid 220 pounds and could provide a different dimension.
Q. What are Lynch's chances of making this 53-man roster?
A. Being undrafted, the odds are against Lynch, who finished third in last year's Heisman Trophy voting. But his toughness and smarts make him a coach's dream, and he has the versatility to play running back, slot receiver, Wildcat quarterback and return specialist. And he could make his biggest impression covering kicks.
If Lynch proves he can be a difference maker on special teams, his odds improve.
Q. Is sixth-round draft pick Patrick O'Donnell a lock to succeed Podlesh?
A. Pretty much. Teams don't use a draft pick on a punter unless they're certain he's their man, and the 6-4, 220-pound O'Donnell comes with all the physical tools required of an NFL punter, plus a couple of others that make him unique.
O'Donnell did 23 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press at the NFL Scouting Combine, more than 21 defensive linemen and all 37 wide receivers in Indianapolis. O'Donnell also should fill the role of holder for field goals, a job that previously belonged to Podlesh.
Strong-legged Tress Way will be in camp to provide competition, much as he did last year.
Q. Who will take Mannelly's place?
A. It's doubtful anyone can replace the consistency, longevity and professionalism that Mannelly displayed while playing in more games than anyone in franchise history. But the job will go to Canadian import Chad Rempel or first-year player Brandon Hartson, unless a proven NFL veteran becomes available later in the preseason.
Q. How will Robbie Gould, the third-most-accurate field goal kicker in NFL history, be affected by working with a new long-snapper and a new holder?
A. It will be an adjustment for Gould. But after dealing with diverse and often adverse conditions at Soldier Field for nine years, Gould has more than enough mental toughness to handle it.
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