Bears Should Play it Safe Rather than Sorry................................
Bears must play safe rather than risk sorry
Key players should sit until Soldier Field conditions improve
http://www.chicagotribune.com/media/...8/63858163.jpg Bears running back Matt Forte has made it clear this offseason he wants a new contract. (Scott Strazzante/ Tribune / August 1, 2011)
David Haugh's In the Wake of the News 10:01 p.m. CDT, August 9, 2011
Under ordinary circumstances I would urge Bears running back Matt Forte to shut up and play football if he publicly floated the idea of sitting out Saturday night's exhibition opener while seeking a new contract.
These are anything but ordinary circumstances.
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They are groundbreaking, and not in a good way.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel finally weighed in Tuesday by subtly but publicly putting the onus for this embarrassment where it belongs — on Park District officials whose negligence forced the Bears to cancel last Friday's open practice at Soldier Field.
"I want the players and the teams that come, and the fans that want to go to Soldier Field to find a facility that is reliable," Emanuel said. "That's what I expect them to do, and I expect the people at the Park District to make the tough choices and the choices that are responsible."
Until the Bears can feel more confident in their landlord, the responsible choice for them avoids unnecessary risk. That means sitting Forte and perhaps other important offensive skilled-position veterans familiar with the offense such as Jay Cutler and Devin Hester. The game won't mean a thing unless somebody gets injured — and those chances increased exponentially last week when the Park District forgot to turn on the sprinklers.
Perhaps by the Bears' last home exhibition Sept. 1 everything, including the sod, will be more settled. Many teams begin new seasons trying to change the culture. The Bears are forced to worry about changing the horticulture.
Recommending Forte sit out has nothing to do with his poorly timed contract demands. Yes, his desire for a new deal and the Soldier Field snafus nicely tied the story under one headline and we thank him for that. But as much as the issues relate to the same subject, they represent separate arguments.
Contractually speaking, Forte ranks among the league's most underpaid players. But the loud and insistent manner in which he has gone about seeking a new deal seems uncharacteristic of a guy known for his character and grace. Talking about the fear of getting injured only left the impression that Forte will run tentatively with that in the back of his mind.
It's obvious from looking that Forte reported in the best shape physically of his career but mentally the holdout threat raised questions where there were none.
Back to field conditions, even if Forte had reported to training camp flush with a multi-year contract worth all the guaranteed millions he seeks, I still would delay his 2011 debut until Aug. 22. That's when the Bears play the Giants on the road on the more predictable FieldTurf surface of New Meadowlands Stadium.
Recommending Forte, et al rest to avoid injury goes against my belief that teams benefit from involving every player on the roster in exhibition games, even if just for a series or two. Playing everybody from stars to subs typically improves morale, camaraderie and timing.
But those assumptions have been based on the Bears playing on a professional field their cleats can trust and, sorry, nobody can feel comfortable assuming anything about their home-field disadvantage. Not so soon after the Bears canceled a practice because of shoddy sod.
Eight days later, under the strains of game intensity, the seams suddenly will be cohesive and the footing firm? On and off the record officials insist the field will be playable but am I the only one who will wonder until kickoff?
A running back can get hurt carrying his luggage but the Bears would be wise not to tempt football fate. Understand that coach Lovie Smith — not Forte — makes the final decision who plays in exhibition games. But Smith must realize that the risk in this unique case heavily outweighs any possible reward of playing his most productive offensive player.
Forte put together his best all-around season in 2010 after just 12 exhibition carries so it's not like he needs much work to regain his stride. It's unlike the offensive line situation. The group Mike Tice anointed the starting five before its first live third-and-long can use all the snaps they can get together working as one.
As for the starting defense, the Bears could play a regular-season game Sunday and likely fly around with familiar abandon. So given the conditions, who could blame Smith if he sat linebackers Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs, defensive end Julius Peppers, safety Chris Harris or cornerback Charles Tillman?
The Bears should make Saturday the public practice they never had more than their first exhibition game. And hope this time everybody leaves happy — but most of all healthy.
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