In their first three padded practices of training camp, the Bears have limited the reps that outside linebackers Khalil Mack and Robert Quinn have taken.
Easing the two star pass rushers into full-contact drills is part of a ramp-up plan in preparation for the team's Sept. 13 season opener in Detroit.
"We just feel like with these vets, we want to do that," coach Matt Nagy said Thursday after practice. "It's where we're at."
Shaving some wear-and-tear off Mack in camp is giving the Bears more opportunities to evaluate backup outside linebackers Barkevious Mingo, Isaiah Irving, James Vaughters and Trevis Gipson, a rookie fifth-round draft pick.
"We are managing Khalil's reps simply because we can," said outside linebackers coach Ted Monachino. "We've got four players that we really need to get a good feel for. And when I say we're managing his reps, is him taking four less than those four players much management at all? Not really. We can pick and choose with Khalil, the reps that he needs, and that's the phase we're in with him right now."
Asked about Quinn, Nagy said: "We'll slowly ease him into things. You'll start seeing him more and more. We're just not there right now. We're excited for what he's going to bring to this defense."
Turning heads: Mingo is making the most of his extra reps, excelling against both the run and the pass in team drills.
The 6-5, 235-pounder has appeared in 110 games with 38 starts in seven NFL seasons with the Browns (2013-15), Patriots (2016), Colts (2017), Seahawks (2018) and Texans (2019). Mingo started a career-high 14 games with Seattle in 2018. But he played predominantly on special teams with Houston last season.
"Barkevious has confirmed what we knew about him coming in," said Monachino, who served as Colts defensive coordinator in 2017 when Mingo played for Indianapolis. "There are certain things that he does really well, and the things that are not his strengths, he is ahead of the curve on even some of those things. He's been physical in the run game. He's excellent in coverage. As a pursuit player, he's one of the best guys we have on our roster because he can really run.
"We're bringing 'Kiki' along in a way that fits what he does, and we're going to ask him to do what he does best as often as we can. And there are a lot of things we can do with a player like Barkevious Mingo. That's a fact. He's a really good football player. He hasn't had a lot of opportunity to play a ton of defense in this league. But when he's had to, he's played good, well enough to win. So we're excited about where he is and carving out a role for him when we get to game week."
Heavyweight battle: Nagy knows that training camp practices can become tedious. So near the end of Thursday's workout, the Bears coach pitted 6-4, 352-pound defensive tackle Akiem Hicks against 6-5, 325-pound guard Germain Ifedi in a punt-catching contest.
"We used about three minutes of our practice time to just keep it fun and lighthearted as we go," Nagy said. "To break up the monotony of the practice, we went ahead and shot a couple punts from the JUGS machine up in the air."
Hicks won the battle by catching the second punt launched his way. He celebrated by punting the ball before being mobbed by teammates.
"We did that for a couple minutes and then we got right back to special teams," Nagy said. "But those are the type of things that we're doing at certain times. There's no rhyme or reason as to when we do it, but it just keeps the guys loose. It keeps us having fun, and it's just something that we're going to continue to do."