We're just a few hours away from the first Chicago Bears training camp of 2011. For today's practice, players will not be in pads, just helmets. Expect a lot of fundamental work as the coaches try to re-acclimate the athletes with the basics. The lockout robbed the team of its normal offseason activities, so as of right now, everyone is starting from scratch.
Personnel-wise, it will be a light practice, as the team still is without its full roster. The 11 free agents the team signed, both restricted and unrestricted, can't begin practice until Aug. 4, per the rules of the new collective bargaining agreement.
Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith spoke with the media yesterday evening on the campus of Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Ill. He said the coaches are excited about the developing roster, including new wide receiver Roy Williams.
Williams was a major disappointment in Dallas after the Cowboys gave up three draft picks to acquire him from the Lions. Yet is best season as a pro came with coordinator Mike Martz calling the plays in Detroit. Darryl Drake, Chicago's receivers coach, also coached Williams at the University of Texas, adding even more familiarity to the situation.
WR Roy Williams
Brett Davis/US Presswire
"We like bringing in players like this that we know," Smith said. "Of course Mike Martz has a relationship with him as far as him playing in the system. He played for Rod Marinelli. Darryl Drake recruited him in high school and of course is his position coach. We feel like this would be a good spot for him but as much as anything, we feel like he can come in and help us win games."
Williams immediately becomes the biggest receiver on the team (6-2, 215), although Smith said that didn't weigh heavily in the decision to sign him.
"[His size] didn't really matter to us an awful lot," he said. "We were looking for receivers that we thought could play. Roy brings quite a bit to us. He is big, he can block but we think he can win the one-on-one battles.
"He's a great talent that it hasn't quite worked for him yet, but hopefully it will. I think we've had success with some players where it didn't quite work somewhere else and they come here and finish up strong."
The team traded Greg Olsen this week to the Carolina Panthers. Olsen, one of the most-talented pass-catching tight ends in the NFL, didn't fit Martz's system in which tight ends are asked to block almost exclusively.
"Greg did a great job for us here. We're going in a little bit of a different direction. It's kind of as simple as that," Smith said. "We feel real comfortable with Mike [Martz] leading our offense. He feels real comfortable, along with the rest of our guys, on our plan that we have on how we're going to move the ball offensively this year."
The Olsen trade ostensibly places more responsibility on the wide receivers in the passing game.
"There will be a lot [more responsibility] on the wide receivers. That's why [we] added a guy like Roy Williams and Sam Hurd too," said Smith. "I just feel like tight ends will be a part of our offense but the receivers may have a little bit bigger part."
Nothing will help the offense more than improved play from the offensive line. Smith said he would like to get all five positions ironed out right away, but hinted that might take a while.
"We want to do that as soon as possible. It's always good to get a group of five together and let them start working, but sometimes it doesn't work like that. Eventually we'll get down to those and we'll go with them."
Smith said it's too early to decide an exact position for rookie Gabe Carimi, who signed with the team yesterday and will be in camp for the first practice today.
"[He'll play] one of the tackle spots. We've never been on the field with Gabe. We think he can play both positions. We have a spot in mind for him but we'll let him go out there and tell us."
"Anthony Adams played outstanding ball for us last year," Smith said. "You know what he brings to the table: a lot on the field, a lot off the field. That made all of his teammates happy."
LB Nick Roach
Jerry Lai/US Presswire
Smith alluded to a media report earlier in the week that stated the coaches were asking Roach to re-sign as a backup.
"That's definitely not the case," he said. "Nick Roach is a starting linebacker for us. He's our starting SAM linebacker. He'll back up the MIKE position. He can do an awful lot for us. We're just pumped up that he decided to come back."
The team lost safety Danieal Manning to the Houston Texans in free agency. He was arguably the most consistent player in the secondary last season, yet Smith is confident in the other safeties on the roster.
"We lost a good player but we're excited about the safeties we have. Chris Harris played great football for us last year. He'll start out at the strong safety position for us. Major Wright really came on strong last year. And we're excited about [rookie] Chris Conte."
The continuity in the coaching staff, as well a veteran-laden roster, should help the team make up for time lost due to the work stoppage. Younger players, who were hurt most by the missed offseason activities, may quickly be able to get up to speed.
"When you have a staff like we have, and it's not like we're putting in a new system," Smith said. "We just think we can get up and running pretty quick and we can get a couple of young players into the mix."
In a late move yesterday, the Bears signed former Jets defensive end Vernon Gholston. He was the sixth-overall selection in the 2008 draft but has not earned a single sack during his three seasons in New York. Many feel he's better suited as 4-3 defensive end instead of the 3-4 the Jets run. The Bears are hoping a change of scenery and system can help him become a regular contributor.
"For us, he's a talented athlete," said Smith. "We're going to put him in a position that we think he'll have a little bit more success. He'll have his hand down instead of a standup end position. He'll be in a three-point stance rushing the passer most of the time. So we're going to give him a shot."
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Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.