Bears coach Matt Nagy had a big smile on his face during Wednesday's OTA practice at Halas Hall—and for the first time in more than a year, you could actually see it.
Beginning Monday, fully vaccinated staff members assigned to Tiers 1 and 2—which includes coaches—have been permitted to work without wearing a mask or practicing social distancing. The decision was made following the guidance of the State of Illinois, City of Chicago and NFL medical experts.
"Now with the rules that we all have I'm able to go around and I don't have to wear that mask anymore," Nagy said Wednesday. "I woke up this morning and I was pretty fired up to not have to put that thing on. I left it in my car.
"It's just different when you see peoples' expressions. You talk to them when you're out on the field, in meetings, etc. So, it's definitely nice to be able to not wear the mask."
Nagy told reporters that he anticipates that all of his assistant coaches will be fully vaccinated by the start of training camp July 27.
While vaccinated staff members in Tiers 1 and 2 are no longer required to wear masks, other COVID protocols remain in place, including day passes and onsite temperature scans.
"If you're not vaccinated, then you need to wear your mask," Nagy said. "For us, we would love for everybody to get their vaccinations and we encourage that and educate them on it.
"I think the best thing that [head trainer] Andre [Tucker] and the rest of our staff has done here is we've just really encouraged people to ask questions that they're not sure about. And not that we have exact answers, but we're going to be there to listen, and that's probably the best thing to do."
After being forced to conduct the entire offseason program on a virtual basis last year due to COVID, Nagy is ecstatic to be back on the practice field with his players.
"It's so much different," Nagy said. "It gets old doing it through a video, it really does. Now we're out here and we're teaching and they're seeing it and they're feeling it. I can't explain the benefits of being here in person and what that means.
"And it really makes sure that you don't take it for granted the other times that you've had opportunities to be with these guys. I'm doing everything I can to eliminate Zoom meetings, and we're just trying to teach as much as we can outside and doing class on the grass."
No one appreciates the chance to practice during the offseason more than players who missed out on the opportunity last year as rookies.
"What I've noticed, not having them last year and having them this year, is being able to get timing and kind of cohesion with Andy [Dalton] and the quarterbacks," said tight end Cole Kmet, a 2020 second-round pick from Notre Dame. "Things as simple as cadence and how they articulate in the huddle and what they're seeing and the timing of the throws and routes are huge. Those are all things that I think have been really beneficial."
The offseason practices also help units that must develop cohesiveness to excel, such as the offensive line.
"Communication is the big key," said center Sam Mustipher, "just being in person with the guys and learning how each other works. We don't have pads on, so there is stuff you have to tempo down. It's not a live look that you're getting.
"But communication and being on the same page—timing, certain concepts—getting that down, I definitely believe we're at an advantage this year being able to do that versus last year just being on Zoom."
From signing memorabilia to hitting the weight room, take a look at the work Bears players put in off the field during Organized Team Activities.