Bears' Ryan Pace expects high offseason attendance despite NFLPA boycott

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Adam Hoge
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Pace expects high offseason attendance despite NFLPA boycott originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

Despite a statement released by the NFLPA this month that said a majority of Chicago Bears players would not participate in in-person offseason workouts this spring, Bears general manager Ryan Pace is optimistic attendance will be good, even indicating he hopes it will be close to normal.

The first phase of the offseason program began last week and includes virtual meetings and access to the weight room and training facilities at Halas Hall.

“We’re in the virtual portion now and it’s been good. It’s been good. We’ve had really good attendance with that,” Pace said Tuesday. “I think it’s a credit to our players and their passion and our staff as we work through that. Right now it’s voluntary and we’ve got a good amount of guys coming up here and lifting right now and I think taking advantage of the facilities that we have.”

Phase Two is scheduled to begin May 17 and will include on-field drills. More traditional practices begin May 24 in Phase Three. Those are the phases called into the question by the players, citing COVID-19 concerns. The NFLPA released a statement April 15 on behalf of Bears players claiming “the majority of our locker room are choosing to exercise our right and no participate in in-person voluntary workouts in order to stay as safe as possible.”

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"I don’t think there has been a decision yet," Bears wide receiver Darnell Mooney said Tuesday. "But I feel like the Bears organization is doing a great job of where we are now and then giving us more information when we get to that date."

Some players rehabbing from injury were already using Halas Hall during the offseason before the NFLPA statement was released and, based on what Pace said, others have joined this week.

“It’s safe up here with a lot of the COVID restrictions, so that part has been good,” Pace said. “As we approach that May 17 date, I expect it to be good. I think with just the feeling I have with our guys and the excitement of this offseason and the upcoming season, I feel it. I feel it from our leadership. I feel it throughout our team. I can already tell from the guys who are coming in now and just kind of the energy and the momentum that I feel from that group -- I expect it to carry right into May 17 when they can be here at Halas.”

When asked if he expects typical 90-100 percent attendance, Pace said: “That’s what our hope is. We’ll see. It’s such a unique time. But we’re optimistic that a lot of the guys … We have a really close group and a really close locker room. I think they enjoy being together. I think they enjoy the competition.”

Pace also mentioned the importance of offseason work on the defensive side of the football, where Sean Desai is beginning his first season as coordinator.

“I think it’s important for us to all be together and continue to grow as a team, especially with our new additions,” he said.

While COVID-19 remains a very real concern in NFL locker rooms, the league and players’ association has long been at odds over the offseason program. All but the veteran minicamp in June is voluntary, but in most cases, there’s too much at stake when it comes to job security for players not to show up.

"Last year, I wasn’t able to get a feel for OTAs, so I don’t know how OTAs work. I don’t even know what we’re supposed to be doing right now. So I wouldn’t have an understanding of why people would want to go and why people would not," Mooney, entering his second NFL season, said. "I’m down with whatever the team goes with."

The NFL is continuing to require daily COVID-19 testing at team facilities and is offering vaccines as well. Last week, the league and the NFLPA agreed to modified protocols that only require fully vaccinated individuals to be tested weekly instead of daily.

Mooney said he hasn't been vaccinated yet, "but I’m looking forward to." Veteran wide receiver Allen Robinson said Tuesday he hasn't been vaccinated either and was still doing research before making a decision.

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