DECATUR — Bears prize free-agent S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is expected to begin his first training camp in Bourbonnais on the PUP (physically unable to perform) list after sustaining a slight knee sprain at the end of the offseason program, GM Ryan Pace said at the team’s news conference Sunday, four days ahead of veterans reporting to camp.Unlike players placed on the regular-season PUP list, Clinton-Dix can be removed at any point during camp and begin practicing immediately. However, if he spends the duration of camp on the list, he’d miss at least the first six regular-season games.
Along with Clinton-Dix, OTs T.J. Clemmings (knee) and Jonathan Harris (hamstring) could start camp on PUP, where their stays are expected to be short term, according to Pace.
Offseason observers Anthony Miller, who had shoulder surgery in January, and TE Trey Burton and undrafted WR Anthony Miller —both coming off sports hernia surgeries — are expected to be on the field for the first camp practice Friday.
“We’ll be smart with those guys and how we ramp them in like we always are,” Pace said, stressing that the players still must undergo physicals and these are the team’s current plans barring any surprises. “But we expect to go into this training camp in a pretty healthy state.”
Indeed, it’s encouraging news, even in light of the Clinton-Dix surprise.
The unofficial Bears-Packers safety swap — Clinton-Dix, Green Bay’s former first-rounder who was traded to Washington last fall, signing a one-year deal worth up to $3 million and Adrian Amos receiving a four-year, $36 million contract with Green Bay — was among the bigger offseason developments in Chicago, stoking the flames of the NFL’s oldest rivals, set to kick off Chicago’s and the NFL’s centennial season on “Thursday Night Football” on Sept. 5 at Soldier Field.
The 26-year-old Clinton-Dix has appeared in 87 consecutive games to begin his NFL career, recording 17 interceptions and earning a Pro Bowl nod in 2016. But it’s been tougher sledding since then, with Clinton-Dix missing the playoffs for the first time two years ago before being dealt to Washington last fall.
Now Clinton-Dix’s fresh start in Chicago could be delayed, but rest assured the back-and-forth barbs between Bears and Packers fans regarding who has the better vet newcomer at safety won’t be taking any time off.
More kicking fun? Before team chairman George McCaskey said that every offseason conversation he’s shared with a fan has ended with a comment about the Bears’ kicking situation, Pace and Matt Nagy opened their press conference by fielding nine (!) consecutive questions about the impending battle to replace Cody Parkey.
Pace expressed his excitement for incumbent challengers, “strong-legged” Eddy Pineiro and Elliott Fry, who’s “got a pretty consistent stroke.” The general manager also said the competition is “close” entering camp, and although, “ideal for our franchise, we hit on a young kicker long term,” the Bears are closely monitoring all 32 PK situations in the NFL. That means the possibility a veteran could join the current competition that includes no regular-season NFL experience shouldn’t be discounted.
The Bears have already introduced this offseason “Augusta silence,” among other unorthodox methods to test their kickers’ mettle, and though Nagy said he won’t be trying any kicks on third down this preseason, “there may be some questionable play calls” to help ensure the Bears have opportunities for as many field-goal attempts as they need to finally solve the franchise’s most vexing issue.
And McCaskey is here for it.
“Whatever Matt wants to do. He knows what he’s doing,” McCaskey said. “He’s an accomplished NFL head coach, so if that’s the way he chooses to approach it, that’s fine with me.”
Culture Club: As the reigning Coach of the Year, one of Nagy’s strongest attributes clearly is his ability to connect with and earn the trust of his players. That’s why, when Pace was asked what gives him confidence his Bears can defy the long odds of worst-to-first teams avoiding regression — something the 2018 Jacksonville Jaguars, as just one recent example couldn’t — he almost immediately cited the club’s culture.
“Our culture that we have established,” Pace said. “You start with Coach Nagy and what he’s doing and the type of players that we have in our locker room and our entire staff. I think culture is what sustains success.”
The Jaguars were a mess in their locker room last season, but Pace wasn’t taking a shot at Doug Marrone much as emphasizing one of Nagy’s unique qualities. And a key part of that is understanding his players and keeping things fresh and upbeat. He explained what that could mean this season, when many of his players are more used to his messages and forms of delivery.
“Where I think the good coaches separate from average coaches, is you need to be able to have a good pulse on your players, have a good feel for what they’re really taking in,” he said. “So don’t be monotonous in what you do. Change things up. Let them have more say. Understand that everything we did last year means nothing. What it did is it helped our culture, but it means zero for the 2019 season.
So we talked about it — don’t get complacent, remember the hurt. And that’s my job to make sure that the coaches are doing it, Ryan’s doing it, I’m doing it. And then the players, ultimately, we talked about leaders create leaders. The more leaders we can get within our players this year — they hear it coming from their own peers than me — the better off we’ll be.