Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert
In a recent mailbag, Jeff of Indiana asked why Chicago coach Lovie Smith had scheduled his mandatory minicamp to open March 16 -- at least two months earlier than most NFL teams usually do. I speculated the move was partially motivational and also a sign the Bears don't plan to make many significant personnel additions this offseason.
Smith addressed the issue himself Saturday at the NFL's annual scouting combine. Here is his verbatim answer:
"You're always trying to not necessarily send messages, but get certain points across, and the point we're trying to get across is that it wasn't good enough last year. This is the first time we can do something about it, and we want to take advantage of that. We do have new coaches on our staff. They get a chance to see the players earlier, and with the draft coming up, we get another good look at the players before we get to it. But as much as anything, it's the first time we can do something as a group, and that's what we're going to use it for."
Indeed, the Bears couldn't have minicamp any earlier if they wanted to. According to the league's collective bargaining agreement, March 16 is the first day teams can start their offseason strength and conditioning programs. I like Smith's symbolic point and think it will be helpful for the Bears' new defensive staff, but the plan does come with a few costs. Among them:
This minicamp is the only mandatory involvement for veterans under contract for the entire offseason. That means it's possible the Bears could go four months without seeing some of their players or monitoring their conditioning.
With the draft scheduled a month later, the Bears will miss an opportunity to see their rookies practice in an NFL-tempo practice with a full team of veterans.
Given the time of year, it'll be a challenge to have significant portions of their practice outside, a staple of most minicamps.
But Smith deserves the benefit of the doubt on this one. We're all for innovation here on the Black and Blue blog, and this offseason schedule surely qualifies.