BOURBONNAIS, Illinois — For all the moves the Chicago Bears made after last season, hiring general manager Ryan Pace and coach John Fox, one change that stands out to Pro Bowl guard Kyle Long is the open feeling.
"You can definitely tell that a lot of the walls that had been built for whatever reason in the locker room have been knocked down," Long said. "It's kind of an open-air environment for a lot of guys. And between upstairs and downstairs, there's great relationships between players, coaches, staff, personnel. Everybody's really cool. It's nice to have that one goal in mind. Just trying to get better every day."
The Bears settled in for training camp Wednesday with a long to-do list. They are coming off a five-win season that cost former general manager Phil Emery and coach Marc Trestman their jobs, and they are hoping the turnaround is not too long or painful.
They will, however, be without one key piece when they hold their first practice on Thursday — rookie receiver Kevin White.
The No. 7 pick in the draft, Pace said he will open camp on the physically unable to perform list because of a shin injury he suffered during organized team activities last month.
The Bears told him to stay off the leg the past month. Pace said they "want to have a ramp-up phase in regards to his cardio" so they are holding him out for now in order to build up his endurance.
The first preseason game is against Miami on Aug. 13, and Chicago opens against Green Bay on Sept. 13.
"There is a long time before we play and we have to be smart about building his cardiovascular endurance as we go forward," Pace said.
While White's injury is something to keep an eye on, it is hardly the only story line. They're hoping Fox can help orchestrate a big turnaround, something he did while leading Carolina and Denver to Super Bowls.
"I've never put wins or losses on it," he said. "But I know if you get better every day, when you look up things are usually pretty good. It'll be more the process and not really the results. If you can focus on the process every day, the results take care of themselves."
The Bears are going back to their roots, overhauling a defense that gave up the two highest point totals in franchise history the past two years. They will be working out of a 3-4 alignment instead of a 4-3 with Fox and new coordinator Vic Fangio overseeing the change. A long list of newcomers such as veteran safety Antrel Rolle and linebacker Pernell McPhee will be trying to mesh with holdovers such as Jared Allen, who has a new position (outside linebacker) and something to prove after managing a career-low 5 1/2 sacks.
The plotlines don't end there.
Quarterback Jay Cutler's future with the Bears seems murky at best considering Pace and Fox waited until March to declare him the starter. Then again, his performance last season did not inspire much confidence. Sure, he finished with his highest completion percentage (66 percent) and second-highest passing total (3,812 yards). But he led the league with 24 turnovers, including 18 interceptions.
He has clashed in the past with offensive coordinators and he will be working with another one in Adam Gase. One difference is Cutler no longer seems to be the focus, as he was in the past.
"I think every quarterback across the league wants some balance throughout the season," Cutler said.
The Bears certainly lacked balance — and harmony — last season.
There was no shortage of drama, whether it was Lance Briggs missing practice the week of the opener to open a restaurant in California or former offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer leaking a critical story of Cutler.
Between the sideshows and the losses, the Bears were basically in pieces by the time the season ended.
"We found ways to lose games," Allen said. "It just wasn't what you thought it was going to be and that's unfortunate. Everybody's got to take their blame for that, players and coaches, it all works hand in hand. I think the cool part about this year is that's gone. It's out of our memory. It's a totally new start. When you bring the type of people they brought in from a staff standpoint, it's almost like going to a Pro Bowl practice."
NOTES: LBs Lamarr Houston (torn anterior cruciate ligament), Willie Young (torn Achilles tendon) and linebacker Jon Bostic (back) are expected to practice on a limited basis on Thursday. ... QB David Fales (illness) will open camp on the physically unable to perform list.