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Excused absence for Lance Briggs is a head-scratcher

Updated: September 2, 2014 12:48PM



I’ve heard of an excused ­absence for a pulled hamstring. But for pulled pork? No.

That’s what Bears coach Marc Trestman gave linebacker Lance Briggs, who missed practice Monday to be at the opening of his new barbecue restaurant.

Maybe I expect too much from the Bears. Maybe I put too high a price on things, such as the importance of NFL practice, especially the first practice of the week of the first regular-season game, particularly for a defense that looked ghastly at times in the preseason.

Trifling things like that.

Maybe Trestman was absolutely right to allow Briggs to skip practice for the opening of Double Nickel Smokehouse in Elk Grove, Calif. The horror of the good people of Briggs’ hometown being deprived of their hero’s presence obviously trumps the needs of a professional football team playing the Buffalo Bills on Sunday and coming off one of the worst defensive seasons in its history.

Sarcasm? Oozing like the sauce at Briggs’ restaurant.

Unless there’s something more to his absence than another ­athlete opening another eatery, this is just bizarre.

Three weeks ago, Showtime announced that Bears wide receiver Brandon Marshall would be a regular on “Inside the NFL,’’ its weekly show. He will have to fly to New York on Tuesdays during the season for the program. Trestman said he didn’t have a problem with it, noting it was usually the team’s day off and that he trusted Marshall. Three weeks later, it still sounds like a distraction the team doesn’t need.

Now Briggs has taken advantage of an excused absence from practice to fly to California for a restaurant opening. Together, the two situations raise a simple question: What could Trestman possibly be thinking?

We’re headed into new territory here. We’re seeing where Trestman’s noble philosophy of treating players with respect and humility clashes with the reality of pro football, with all its demands and rules. There’s a reason football gets compared to the military: It’s incredibly structured, with practice drills scheduled right down to the minute. In the same way you’re not likely to see a commanding officer let a soldier out of war-games exercises to attend his niece’s birthday party, you won’t often see an NFL coach allow one of his defensive leaders to skip practice for a restaurant opening.

Trestman said the decision to allow Briggs to miss Monday’s workout wasn’t made without thought.

“I had communication with him three weeks ago about it,” the coach said. “We talked about it. And I excused him for personal reasons.

“So this is not something that happened [Sunday] or the day before. He contacted me a couple weeks ago and I said, ‘Yeah, you can go.’ That was it.”

We’re at the point at which it’s worth asking what would make Trestman question a player’s commitment to the team.

Jay Cutler joining the cast of “Deadliest Catch”?

Charles Tillman, flask in hand, tailgating before games?

Robbie Gould taking up competitive wall-kicking?

Alshon Jeffery declaring, “I have zero commitment to the team’’?

Heading into his 12th season, Briggs might not need practice. If he hasn’t seen it all on an NFL field, he has seen most of it. But this isn’t just about him. It’s about 11 starting defenders learning to play together. There could be six new defensive starters Sunday at Soldier Field. Fellow linebackers Shea McClellin and Jon Bostic are raw and can use Briggs’ help at all times.

If you saw the Bears’ first-team defense give up 31 first-half points against the Seahawks in the preseason, I share your cluster headaches. But from that experience, you know the Bears can use all the cohesion time they can get their hands on.

I don’t care what players do with their free time, as long as it doesn’t affect the team. That’s my beef brisket with Marshall, who says taking two flights on Tuesdays won’t have any effect on him or the team. But it could, potentially. Travel issues, fatigue, stress — all of it could be a part of Marshall’s Tuesdays.

As for Briggs, there wasn’t another day to have a grand opening? Nobody on his restaurant team looked at the Bears’ schedule and saw that maybe there was a better time for it? Like on an off day for the football team?

As I said earlier, maybe it’s me. Maybe I’m too demanding with other people’s time. I always thought practice makes perfect. Now I see it’s the perfect time to start a side business.



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