If the countdown clock to Bears-Packers on Sept. 5 feels like it's adding seconds, keep your Khalil Mack jersey on. You're not alone.
We have reached that point in August when the days and practices run together to form an unsatisfying slog. And the season is still too far away to enjoy the adrenaline that will power the buildup to the Thursday night kickoff at Soldier Field.
Meanwhile, Bears coach Matt Nagy isn't making the wait any easier by keeping his starters from experiencing any significant preseason game action.
What, then, should we make of Nagy's decision to punt the preseason? How might it affect the team for better or worse? What value remains in preseason football? And, most importantly, is it Sept. 5 yet?
Tribune writers Rich Campbell and Dan Wiederer tackle those questions and play all four quarters in this edition of Real Talk.
Rich Campbell: Dan, the Bears' list of inactives before the Giants game Friday read to me like the death certificate of preseason football as we know it.
Nagy has become the latest coach to realize the risk of injuries far exceeds the value of vanilla game reps with nothing at stake. Good for him. Talented players are too rare and too expensive to risk in exhibitions that mean absolutely nothing. The only surprise is that it took NFL decision-makers this long to figure that out.
I applaud Nagy for establishing some certainty about the team's collective health, which is an unpredictable and hugely important factor for every team every season.
No one could say for sure whether Mitch Trubisky throwing 10 passes in a practice game would help the offense during the season. But Nagy can, with very little doubt, say that Trubisky - and Khalil Mack, Akiem Hicks, Allen Robinson, etc. - are going to be on the field Sept. 5. This approach is a smart one.
Dan Wiederer: It's a calculated decision to be certain. And I've always appreciated Nagy's candor in explaining his risk aversion on this front. His predecessor as Bears coach would have scoffed at any fan or reporter who simply wanted to learn more about his thought process, dismissing the questions with a condescending air.
Nagy, at least, has openly acknowledged his approach to the preseason isn't the only one or even the right one. It's simply the one that makes him most comfortable.
"I'm trying to do what's best for the Chicago Bears," he said Friday night after whatever that was at MetLife Stadium. "Every team is different and that's OK. Each coach has their own plan with their own team as far as where they're at depth-wise. We love where we're at right now in regard to our starters."
Much of this, of course, traces back to last year at this time when in the first half of a preseason game in Denver, the Bears saw Leonard Floyd break his right hand and Adam Shaheen significantly injure his right foot and ankle. Floyd wasn't fully functional again until November. Shaheen's second season never got back on track.
Campbell: This is one benefit of the Bears' continuity with personnel. Trubisky has a season in the scheme. Most of the defensive starters know each other's tendencies and style well. For them, full-speed and controlled practice reps are adequate preparation for Sept. 5.
I'm not saying they'll play a perfect game against the Packers, but my point is that preseason game action wouldn't guarantee a razor-sharp performance, either. Nagy might as well control the health variable while he can.
To your point about Floyd and Shaheen, the Bears were one of the healthiest teams in the NFL last year. But they still felt Floyd's and Shaheen's injuries for at least half the season.
Wiederer: Yep. This is all a juice-squeeze discussion. And it's clear Nagy prioritizes having a healthy team for Week 1, even if it may mean the Bears are not at maximum sharpness.
With that approach comes an additional challenge for the coaching staff to keep this group in the proper frame of mind. Training camp opened four weeks ago. Players have immersed themselves in an intense and mentally taxing grind. And they haven't had the usual release that preseason game action can bring.
Even if it's only for a series or three, players enjoy the opportunity to compete in a game-like setting, to hit someone new, to let out some of that pent-up energy that's been building up. Without that, there's an extra challenge for each player to remain locked in, to channel their energy in the proper direction, to keep the focus on being ready for Sept. 5. I'd be willing to bet the collection of skirmishes and fights that bubbled up last week for the Bears had something to do with players getting accustomed to this new way of handling August.
What's pretty clear to even the most casual of football followers is that something major needs to change. The way late July and early August are currently structured in the NFL just doesn't work anymore. This isn't 1982, when players needed to use the first month-plus of training camp to get back in shape. So to have six-plus weeks of orientation plus four preseason games is no longer the correct model. Not for players or coaches. Especially not for fans who actually have to pay good money to watch these exhibition games. It's a bad product.
There will be a lot of proposals on how to amend things before the next CBA is solidified. But it will be hard to find any objections to shortening the preseason. But with that comes the task for Nagy and other coaches around the league to figure out how to best manage their teams as they jump on the on-ramp to the season.
Campbell: You said it: It's a bad product. Now you're speaking the NFL's language. What form of preseason football can they sell? Because they can't sell the current version anymore. Coaches have wised up, and consumers have also.
I don't have a problem with preseason games if everyone adjusts our expectations for them. I feel like Chicago is in that adjustment window as Nagy shifts how the Bears handle the games. If we know entering August that the games are going to be backups versus backups, we can change our mindset accordingly. Of course, what matters most to the NFL is selling the TV rights to those games, and that's where this meets a dead end.
I'm not sure what the solution is. Of course the owners would like to increase the number of meaningful games because those can be sold. But it's hypocritical for the NFL to say it's top priority is player safety and then put a price on two more games' worth of exposure to concussive hits and other injuries. This already is proving to be a sticky issue as owners and the union dig in for CBA talks.
As for the Bears, there are ways to simulate game action, one of which Nagy initiated at the simulated game on Aug. 14. My guess is that will become the new standard, along with joint practices.
Wiederer: Man, is this patience testing or what? Even though the previous version of Bears preseason football wasn't much, it was still an appetizer. Something to tide us over. But now we're all just standing in the bar waiting for the hostess to tell us our table's ready. It's just that the wait is now a lot longer than we're accustomed to.
Is it Sept. 5 yet? Nope. It's not. And we still have to push through two more Bears preseason games against the Colts and Titans before the hype of Packers week arrives. But it will all be here soon enough and it'll be another 10½ months before this preseason drag is back on the radar.
Now it's up to Nagy and his team to show that this new method produces the right results.