Saturday night, the Chicago Bears practiced under the lights – and under the pads – for the first time in this year's young training camp.
The workout lasted just over two hours on Day 2 at Olivet Nazarene University, nearly seven months to the day since their last time in pads. That was January 3, when Chicago defeated Detroit 37-23.
Since then, the Bears have been practicing in only shorts and helmets throughout mini camps and OTAs.
"It's great to finally get back out there and be able to hit," said offensive tackle Kevin Shaffer. "It's just a whole other atmosphere, a whole other deal when you put those pads on, and it's something you have to get used to."
Practicing in pads also signifies the beginning of practicing for real in the trenches, allowing offensive and defensive linemen to run full-contact drills.
"For an offensive line, you want to be physical and go hard every play," Shaffer said. "In OTAs, you can't quite do that because there's no pads. You can't run the ball as well as you want to because you can't hit as much."
But running drills in pads and being able to lay the lumber a bit wasn't the only thing Shaffer liked about Saturday in Bourbonnais.
"It was great practicing under the lights at night, and it was pretty cool outside," he said. "Plus, there's a lot of fans out here, which you definitely feed off their energy and it makes you want to practice harder."
This is Shaffer's ninth training camp in the NFL, but just his second with the Bears.
However, for some players, including rookie safety Major Wright, it was the first time they experienced a professional practice in full pads.
"It felt good," said the third-round pick. "I came out here and learned a lot. I learned how to practice like a pro."
Wright comes into camp with an opportunity to earn one of the two starting safety jobs but finds tough competition in the form of incumbents Danieal Manning and Al Afalava, veteran Chris Harris and third-year pro Craig Steltz.
Running back Matt Forte enters his third training camp eager to sharpen a skill that is only improvable through drills with full pads.
"Breaking tackles," Forte said. "[Full-pad practices are] better for running backs because we get used to breaking tackles easier."
Forte rushed for just 929 yards last season, 309 yards less than his rookie campaign in 2008.
According to coach Lovie Smith, the Bears will practice in full pads for the remainder of training camp, which runs through August 19.
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Marco Scola is a student at Columbia College Chicago majoring in Journalism. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Who made plays on a day focused on the running game? Which DB is unimpressed with himself so far? JC…