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For Josh Sitton, chaos turning into comfort with Bears

In an office at Halas Hall on Thursday, Josh Sitton reclined in a leather sofa and propped up his flip flops on a coffee table. Raising a water bottle to his chin, Sitton squirted a stream of tobacco from his lower lip and looked toward the ceiling.

In a rare moment of down time, he had been asked to consider the oddest, most chaotic nine days of his football career, a jolt that took him from an abrupt exit from Green Bay to an unlikely union with the Bears in Lake Forest to a taxing season-opening loss in Houston.

Sitton simply laughed, still dizzy enough that he couldn't quite describe the commotion.

"Hell yeah, it has been wild," the left guard said. "This has definitely been a whirlwind. Obviously, you see this happen in this business all the time. But it had never happened to me. Until now."

Still, it was now Week 2, which also meant it was Sitton's second week assimilating into the Bears' organization. So slowly but surely things were starting to become more routine. He's getting a feel for the schedule, the expectations, the coaching staff. And he has become increasingly familiar with the playbook and the faces in the locker room.

"It feels more normal coming to work now," Sitton said. "Which is nice. I'm not going to lie to you, those first couple of days all I was doing was following people around trying to figure everything out."

As expected, Sitton lived to tell about the offensive line's struggles against the Texans and the demanding preparation leading up to that game.

So there's only one thing for him to do now. Look forward. To Monday's game against the Eagles. To the next 15 weeks in Chicago. To what he envisions will be a fruitful stay with the Bears as long as they will have him around.

"I came here because I think we can get to a point that we can win a championship," Sitton said.

Still, how did life change so significantly? And so quickly?

Business lunch

The sales pitch came on the patio at the Market House in Lake Forest. Bears coach John Fox and general manager Ryan Pace brought Sitton there the Sunday afternoon of Labor Day weekend with no intention of letting him get away.

While the rest of the world went about holiday weekends, the Bears and their newest recruit were in a critical business meeting with an accomplished coach needing to sell a three-time Pro Bowl selection on more than just the quality of the fish tacos.

Sitton was all ears.

"I've seen what John has done with every team he has been at," Sitton said. "He comes in and (turns) the program around. So I wanted to feel that this was a team on the rise."

Forty-eight hours earlier, Sitton was a Packer, a 112-game starter headed for Season 9 in Green Bay. He had been preparing to face the Jaguars in the season opener with a Packers offense so accomplished and so cohesive that it rarely misses a beat.

But with a contract that would expire in March and tensions lingering over the Packers' delay in entertaining extension talks, a strained relationship turned into a rushed and unusual divorce.

Done. Cut. Thanks for your services.

Sitton received that news Sept. 3, on a rare college football Saturday in Green Bay. Which meant his trek to the Packers' facilities to turn in his playbook and gather a few things from his locker took him through a red sea of tailgaters around Lambeau Field as Wisconsin battled LSU.

"Surreal. For sure," Sitton said. "Just grabbed a few things and left. I wanted to get in and get out quick."

No quicker did Sitton's release become league-wide news than Pace contacted Sitton's agent, pushing to arrange the lineman's first-ever free agency visit. Fortuitously, the Bears' proximity — 175 miles from Lambeau to Halas — made the meeting a no-brainer.

So the following morning, Sitton got in the car with his wife and mom and headed south toward Bears country.

"I wanted to make a deal happen and not leave the building until a deal was done," he said. "I really wanted to get right to work."

All the while, Bears guard Kyle Long peppered his phone with peer pressure.

"He wasn't going to let up," Sitton said. "He was like 'Get your ass here and don't leave.'"

At lunch, Pace and Fox knew their approach. Sitton wasn't the kind of player who needed some over-the-top pitch filled with adulation. With as fast as his head was spinning, he simply needed real talk. Honesty. And Pace and Fox grasped their urgency every time Sitton's phone illuminated on the table.

Another text, from another GM, another coach, another NFL team.

"Probably 15 or 16 teams called," Sitton said. "Of the ones that were truly serious, there were probably four or five."

So Fox turned on his charm, assuring Sitton that a surge of success was ahead for the team. Pace filled in all the blanks he could. Overall, the Bears described for Sitton their offensive vision, the big-picture plans for success and how he could excel with Long.

In the end, of course, the contract numbers — three years, $21 million with $10 million guaranteed — helped. Sitton was ready to get to work.

Quick study

By last Sunday night, when Sitton returned to his Vernon Hills hotel room, using the tail end of the Patriots-Cardinals game to decompress, he wondered how many cleat marks he and Cody Whitehair had left on each other's ankles.

Sitton hadn't only made his Bears debut just six days after his first practice with the team, he was in the trenches flanked by a rookie who also had been moved from guard to center.

Grouped with Long, it's an interior trio the Bears are convinced will catalyze their offensive growth rapidly. But against the Texans, in their first game playing together?

"Cody and I probably stepped on each other four or five times," Sitton said. "And truthfully, that's just a matter of us getting more reps with each other. We're definitely very patient with this. Everyone here understands the situation."

For eight seasons, Sitton had been in a system with the Packers that had vastly different terminology. In Week 1 with the Bears, he found himself staying at Halas after dark for meetings and repeated cram sessions, learning a new offense and its terminology.

Simultaneously, he was preparing for an active Texans defense that utilizes a dizzying array of twists and line games. All around the building, Sitton opened eyes with his aptitude and investment.

"Josh is really good at taking everything in but not looking at it all at once," Long said.

Added coordinator Dowell Loggains: "The volume that Josh was able to soak in and understand was truly amazing to me. Really. … I'm still shocked he was able to interpret as much of our game plan as he did."

Sitton's play against the Texans, in such a demanding week against a menacing front, was in Fox's words "pretty remarkable."

Offensively, the Bears sputtered to just 258 total yards and 14 points. But in live game action, then again during film review, Loggains found himself in awe of Sitton's power in the running game and patience in pass protection.

"He played well enough for us to win," Loggains said. "He never gets in a rush. There are times when you're thinking, 'Wow. Is he even playing hard?' Because he's just so smooth."

Loggains also felt the leadership and credibility Sitton brought.

"I walked in our dinner room the night before the game and there's (Jay) Cutler and Sitton going through the game plan one last time," Loggains said. "Then, Kyle sees them and, vroom. Kyle's sitting next to those guys too.

"So for me, it's OK, that's where we're going. We have to get to that point as fast as we can."

Turning the page

For a while anyway, Sitton's 2016 narrative will be shadowed in the curious subtext over his surprising exit from the Packers.

In some circles, the situation has been framed as a rare bungle for the Packers, a miscalculation on how to value Sitton's future, resulting in the loss of one of the team's five or six best players with nothing gained in return.

Another report, in the Green Bay Press-Gazette, cited an anonymous source who cast Sitton as "brash" and too frequently "argumentative," a potentially negative influence on younger teammates if his contract dissatisfaction festered.

Maybe one day Sitton will detail the departure. But for now, he simply offers this.

"I have to focus on what I'm doing here now," Sitton said. "I'm back to work. I have a new job here and I'm moving forward."

As for the run of sustained success in Green Bay — 77 victories, seven playoff appearances and a Lombardi Trophy during Sitton's seven seasons as a full-time starter?

"Honestly, it was a team that always knew how to move forward and get better all the time," Sitton said. "It was a chemistry thing. We all knew each other very well. That helps. There's no timeline for that kind of thing. It just comes and it has to happen naturally."

That's the challenge now for the 30-year-old lineman, rediscovering that comfort zone. In all parts of his life.

After a wild two weeks, Sitton's wife already has found them a new home in Lake Forest. So hotel life will come to an end soon. And his two dogs — a lab named Leonard and a "little (expletive) dachshund-yorkie mix" named, yep, Bear — will become Illinois residents soon.

Sitton's arrival at Halas Hall also has been greeted with open arms.

Said Long: "I think it shows we want to win. … We were missing a good beard in here for awhile. And that's a great head of hair he has, too."

Eventually, Sitton will find his place in the locker room. As he gains more comfort in the offense, as his play improves, as he finds the opportunities to express his opinions as a leader, his presence will be established.

"That'll take time I think," Sitton said. "Everyone needs to get to know me. And I need to get to know everybody."

The faster the better, of course.

dwiederer@chicagotribune

Twitter @danwiederer

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