It was in the first hour of Lovie Smith's first training camp practice in 2004 that middle linebacker Brian Urlacher went down with a badly pulled hamstring, an injury that would make it the most challenging of his nine seasons to date. It was also a sign of things to come as the Bears had an epidemic of hamstring pulls throughout the season with nearly 30 percent of the roster being affected at some point.
Here's hoping the first hour of the first minicamp practice on Tuesday is less eventful. But there has to be some concern about muscle pulls with the Bears diving head first into their offseason program by holding a minicamp at the soonest possible time allowed by the collective bargaining agreement. There's been no warmup at Halas Hall for three days of practices and if players have not been working out on their own, the danger is there for them to suffer injuries by going from full offseason mode to full football mode (or as close as you can get in shorts and a helmet) with nothing in between.
How significant would a hamstring pull be in mid-March? Not very troubling. But as retired Dr. Lovie Smith can tell you, you just never know with hamstring pulls. They can bring down the greatest athlete and linger for weeks, even months. Sending a handful of players straight to the training room isn't what the Bears have in mind. Obviously, Smith sees far more benefit than risk in starting this way. After consecutive seasons of failing to reach the postseason, he wants to shake things up. There's no better way to get the attention of players than to send them right out onto the field and let them start competing for jobs instantly. The weather is going to be ideal. Why not? The Bears say they want to get the players accustomed to new position coaches Rod Marinelli and Jon Hoke, but the far greater aim here is to set the tone not just for the offseason but for the entire season.
It's worth remembering current strength and conditioning coordinator Rusty Jones was not with the Bears in 2004, arriving from Buffalo the next season. We checked in with Kim Wood, the well known strength and conditioning coach for the Cincinnati Bengals for 28 seasons. Wood retired in 2002 and was the first full-time strength coach in the NFL. (Also, take a look at the pictures inside Wood's home).
"I don't think they'll have any problem at all,'' Wood said Monday morning. "I think the offseason programs have become an entity in themselves that they are necessary. First of all, the guys should be working out. The draft picks, the kids at the combine, they're running all the time. It's for big bucks and it's for their future and whatever. The veterans should be working out. I don't know the coaching philosophy in this decision, it may be that it's a wakeup call for a lot of people.
"Now, the offseason programs are built up a little bigger than what they really are. For some of them, it's for money. For some of them, it's to get the players in one spot as opposed to going home. In the old day, it used to be on the player. `You're a professional, it's on you, this is your job to get ready.' That might be something they're trying to do, put the responsibility back on the players.
"It's refreshing to me if a coach is putting it back on the players because the system itself makes people very soft. When you're being paid to work out, that's the payoff? No, the payoff is you make the team, the team wins, you win. It gets to be a funny thing. It gets to be like college where you control the players. I like to see coaches put it on the players to prepare, be men, be ready.''