LAKE FOREST, Ill. (670 The Score) -- Toward the end of practice Friday morning, Bears tight end Cole Kmet was down on one knee along the far sideline of Halas Hall.
"I’m not kidding," Kmet said. "That was probably the hardest practice I’ve ever been a part of. That’s not a joke. It was a tough practice. It was a tough one. It’s good for us."
It’s part of how new Bears coach Matt Eberflus is working to instill a greater toughness and conditioning level in training camp. Practice is conducted at a high tempo, and players move quickly between each drill and snap.
The belief for Eberflus and the Bears is this work will pay dividends late in games during the regular season. This style of practicing has been clear throughout training camp. Other aspects are far less certain.
Here are five thoughts from Bears training camp.
1. When will Roquan return?
With the Steelers signing receiver Diontae Johnson to a contract extension Thursday, another training camp hold-in has been resolved in the NFL. But linebacker Roquan Smith and the Bears still remain separated on a potential long-term deal.
Just as camp opened, the Bears placed Smith on the physically-unable-to-perform list with an undisclosed injury, which was more than likely a way to minimize the distraction of his absence. As for striking a long-term deal, it’s unclear whether the two sides are close to a resolution.
Smith is still representing himself in negotiations given that he hasn’t hired an agent. Bears general manager Ryan Poles admitted that makes contract discussions more complicated. The 25-year-old Smith is within his right to hope for a contract that rivals linebackers Darius Leonard (Colts) or Fred Warner (49ers), who each landed nearly $100 million in extensions in 2021. But do Poles and the Bears’ new regime view him as worthy of that investment?
Poles has declined to discuss contract negotiations publicly, while the Bears haven't yet made Smith available to the media in training camp. It’s unclear whether the two sides are talking. For his part, Smith has been working on conditioning with team trainers away from the practice field and has been present in meetings.
But the Bears need Smith on the field with their starting defense. At some point, there needs to be an end for this hold-in. Each passing day brings increased concern.
2. What about Teven?
The Bears’ handling of offensive tackle Teven Jenkins and his absence has been unnecessarily weird and built drama the team didn’t need in training camp.
Jenkins practiced with the Bears on their first day of camp on July 27 and hasn’t been on the field since. In fact, he hasn’t been seen anywhere near practice. Eberflus hasn’t disclosed Jenkins' injury, only saying he’s working with the training staff – which would presumably be visible from practice. Jenkins has been active in meetings, Bears offensive coordinator Luke Getsy said.
What has been clear with Jenkins is this Bears regime simply doesn’t value him much. During the offseason program, rookie Braxton Jones was moved to the first-team unit and Jenkins was demoted to the second unit. If he does return to practice in training camp, Jenkins likely won’t factor in with the starting group.
It seems more likely that Jenkins won’t practice again until the Bears find a trade partner for him, as NFL Media reported earlier this week that Chicago was fielding calls on his availability. Jenkins was a fairly highly regarded top-50 prospect in the 2021 NFL Draft, and some team will be curious about his potential.
It’s odd how the Bears seem to have soured on Jenkins so quickly – and even more strange is the way this team isn’t offering clarity on his status.
3. Forming a starting 5
Are the Bears close to solidifying a starting offensive line?
“No,” Getsy said, pointing to the ongoing evaluations taking place.
I don’t know if I believe that claim. On Friday, the Bears rotated their first-team offensive line much less. Jones saw the majority of work at left tackle, Cody Whitehair was in his familiar place at left guard, Sam Mustipher saw the most snaps at center and Michael Schofield seems set at right guard. The only clear rotation came at right tackle, where Riley Reiff and Larry Borom platooned their work.
Signed by the Bears last week, Reiff looked like a quality option at left tackle. But the rookie Jones has continued to make a strong impression and projects as the team’s starter at that position. There’s enough confident in Jones to slide Reiff over to right tackle, where he hasn’t worked since 2016 with the Lions.
The most pressing question for the Bears’ offensive line is when center Lucas Patrick will return from his right hand injury. Without Patrick, Mustipher’s experience seems to give him an edge over rookie Doug Kramer. But this coaching staff isn’t afraid to play rookies, and Kramer will keep seeing snaps in practice.
The Bears have prioritized evaluations for their offensive line. Soon, they must covet continuity.
4. Backfield by committee
After neglecting the running game over the last four years, the Bears should be better committed to the ground attack. In fact, they could share the wealth at running back.
The Bears clearly believe that second-year running back Khalil Herbert can serve as the complement alongside lead back David Montgomery. Those two could be featured and split the workload. Meanwhile, rookie Trestan Ebner has looked impressive throughout training camp and could factor into the backfield mix as well.
5. Cornering answers?
Bears rookie cornerback Kyler Gordon is plenty comfortable at the nickel position, and he ultimately could be the primary player at that spot. But there’s a delicate balance to strike for a thin secondary.
If the Bears move forward with Gordon at the nickel, then the outside position opposite of Jaylon Johnson becomes a question mark. Despite his struggles last season, Kindle Vildor seems to have inspired some belief in the coaching staff and has seen first-team reps at cornerback. Vildor may be a better fit in Eberflus’ scheme than he was in the man defense that former coordinator Sean Desai operated in 2021.
The Bears have a strong alternative at the nickel in Tavon Young. But the priority is Gordon, and the team believes he’s best-suited as the nickel.
The Bears practiced Friday without Jenkins, Gordon, Vildor and edge rusher Robert Quinn. Eberflus wasn't made available to reporters to offer updates on their statuses.
The Bears will practice Saturday and Sunday before breaking for an off day Monday.
Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for 670TheScore.com. Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670.