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Soldier Field will host its second Bears game in five days Thursday.

Bears change preparation for Thursday night game

by Mitch Goldich
Oct 10, 2013

On the first play of the fourth quarter last Sunday, Chicago Bears wide receiver Brandon Marshall caught a pass and ran toward the sideline. As one New Orleans Saint wrapped him up from behind, another flew in and took a shot at his upper body. Marshall stood up and jogged back to the huddle.

The hit was not unusual among the 119 offensive snaps Sunday, or any of the other 15 games the Bears will play this regular season. The only difference is that this week, the Bears re-take the field Thursday against the New York Giants.

“To turn around and then play in five days is a challenge,” said Dr. Adam Bennett, a primary care sports medicine physician with NorthShore University HealthSystem and Bears team physician. “But it’s mostly about setting up an optimal time to recover.”

NFL players and coaches love routine. The precise routes, perfect audibles and bulging biceps are all byproducts of unceasing repetition on practice fields, in film rooms and in gyms.

But the Bears veered significantly from the norm to prepare for Thursday’s game. Instead of hitting and running, the team had light workouts and walkthroughs.

“The medical staff is in support of that and the coaches are on board,” Bennett said. “It’s not really a discussion, it’s pretty self-evident.”

And although it can be more difficult for injuries to mend, Bennett says players do have adequate time to recover from the general aches and pains associated with life in pro football.

“If you’re going to have muscle soreness, or the muscles have been overused, it’s usually two days’ rest until you’re a healthy person and it’s fine to re-engage in exertion activities,” Bennet said. “As long as we don’t make mistakes and have those players running around pushing themselves to the point they aren’t recovered from the previous game, overuse [isn’t] really going to be an issue.”

Bennett is not alone in that opinion.

“Athletes at that level are highly-trained and have a pretty good routine,” said Mike Sullivan, a manager of sports medicine and licensed athletic trainer with Accelerated Rehabilitation Centers in Chicago. “Their bodies are trained specifically for high-intensity training, so they shouldn’t have any trouble making that turnaround.”

Sullivan sits on the board of the Illinois Athletic Trainers Association and has worked with state champion high-school football programs in three states. He said professional athletes are like racecars and everyday people are regular cars. The pro athletes can rev the engine when they need to.

Player health and safety has been the most controversial topic surrounding the NFL the past few seasons. The league is routinely accused of putting business interests ahead of safety concerns.

The Thursday game schedule has received its share of scorn from players, coaches and fans frustrated by preparation time, recovery time or both.

But the NFL is always searching for profits, and the league expanded the Thursday Night Football schedule in 2012. The NFL generates tremendous revenue from its television contracts. Thursday night games are valuable because they air on the NFL’s own network, which drives consumer demand for the channel.

Since 2012, all 32 teams are given one Thursday game between weeks two and 15. The format means equal exposure to the national television audience, and equal exposure to the short-week schedule.

But not all Thursday games are created equal.

In many respects, the Bears are fortunate. They played at home last week, and stay home for their mid-week tilt. Only seven teams are so lucky in 2013. The other 25 must travel for their Thursday game, for the previous Sunday, or both.

The week leading up to the Thursday game may be grueling, but the payoff isn’t far away. The Bears won’t play again until Sunday, Oct. 20.

“You may have a short week, but then you have a long one,” Bennett said. “I think that the downside you might lose in having a short week, you gain on the other side.”

But after nine days off, it’ll be time to rev the engine again.