There was an air about Halas Hall on Labor Day morning. The feeling was thick on the walk from the parking lot to the media room, on the practice fields and in the locker room.
It screamed, "Now it’s all for real."
Bears coach Marc Trestman greeted the media after practice, starting by saying, “I guess it’s still morning. Good morning,” and then going on to explain, “We started today by welcoming the team back, the 53 plus the practice squad, 29 new players from last year on the 53, so that was eye opening to the guys.”
Was the head coach unsure of the day part because he’d spent the weekend without sleep trying to cut down to 53 and then add back his 10-man practice squad?
I have to confess while I’d already studied the roster Saturday night and Sunday after the final cuts, it hadn’t even occurred to me that 55 percent of this team was new since Aaron Rodgers found Randall Cobb all alone in the end zone in December.
If it’s possible, Trestman seemed both exhausted and invigorated, but probably a bit more in need of sleep than sleeping pills.
While the starting offense returns intact from 2013, receiver Marquess Wilson and tight end Dante Rosario are the only returning backups.
This offense features two new quarterbacks, three new running backs, three new wide receivers, one new tight end and three new offensive linemen.
The defense is very different. Stephen Paea, Lance Briggs, D.J. Williams, Shea McClellin (in a new position), Tim Jennings and Charles Tillman are the only returning starters.
Chris Conte and Jonathan Bostic are back but at the moment are not starting.
Jared Allen, Jeremiah Ratliff and Lamarr Houston are all new starters on the defensive line, and backups Willie Young, Trevor Scott, Ego Ferguson and Will Sutton are new too.
Christian Jones is the only new linebacker on the roster,but in the secondary Kyle Fuller, Ryan Mundy, Danny McCray and Brock Vereen are first-time Bears.
Punter Patrick O’Donnell and long snapper Jeremy Cain are also new Bears this season.
What is troubling about this edition of the Bears is that six days before the first game, there are still so many unanswered questions.
Asked who his starting safeties are, Trestman replied, “You know I think we’re going to still wait and see. We’ve been rotating the guys around, and we’ll talk more about that on Wednesday. We’ve got four guys we’ve been rotating around, and Chris (Conte) got work today, so I’d like to get another day of practice.”
Trestman talked about the improvement he and his coaches believe they have seen in McClellin and Bostic in practice while acknowledging there is still work to do.
When asked about the “trepidation” surrounding his defense, Trestman was quick to point out he didn’t share that feeling, drew a laugh when he said “with any word that’s more than three syllables, I’m out of luck,” and went on to admit they have yet to jell as a unit on the field but that he believes the talent level is there and they just have to work harder every day to get better.
Trestman went through the preseason and training camp last year with an air of confidence about his offense that many struggled to understand based on the apparent holes in it, particularly on the offensive line.
It seems he knew something we didn’t, as that all turned out pretty well.
Does he know something about this year’s defense no one else does? Or is he just doing the best he can with the cards he’s been dealt?
Trestman loves deflecting questions from the media by calling them hypothetical and explaining he won’t deal in hypotheticals.
There are no more hypotheticals now. This Sunday against Buffalo it’s all for real, and the feeling I got in the Bears' locker room Monday is they’re as anxious to find out what’s going to happen as we are.
• Chicago Football editor Hub Arkush can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter @Hub_Arkush.