It's been a long time coming but there was a sound today from the Chicago Bears practice field most have been waiting to hear since January: the crunch of pads. In a nighttime session, the team donned full gear, going full contact for the first time this offseason.
Recent signees Corey Graham, Amobi Okoye, Brian Iwuh and Marion Barber were all on the field, although each in shorts. Those four, along with all the other free agents Chicago has signed the past week, will get their first chance to practice with the team on Thursday.
There was a brief scare about three-quarters of the way through practice. During 11-on-11 drills, LB Lance Briggs raced to the flat to meet Chester Taylor on a swing pass. There was a collision and Briggs was very slow to get up. He limped to the sidelines but was back on the field just a few plays later.
For those fans heading to Bourbonnais this week, the training camp schedule has been adjusted. There will be no Wednesday practice. Instead, that practice will be held on Thursday at 7 p.m.
New and notes from Day 3
-Devin Hester looks as good as any player on the practice field right now. He is quicker, faster and is giving more effort than most of his teammates. In passing drills, he made catch after catch, many of the spectacular variety. Short passes, digs, outs, go patterns … he's running them all with precision. It's been widely speculated the coaches will limit his offensive reps this year so as to keep him rested for his duties as a returner. Yet, if he continues to outplay the rest of the receivers on the team, it's going to be hard to keep him off the field.
-To start off practice, the offensive line swung to the north field to work on fundamentals. Mike Tice lined up his starters and there was Gabe Carimi at right tackle. J'Marcus Webb was at the left tackle spot, with Frank Omiyale relegated to second-team duties – a move long overdue in this writer's opinion. The rest of the line was the same it's been since the first day of practice: LG Chris Williams, C Roberto Garza and RG Lance Louis. Expect Garza to slide back to right guard once newly signed center Chris Spencer is cleared to practice, meaning Louis will most likely shift down to the second team.
-Henry Melton was again working alongside Matt Toeaina at the under tackle spot. He looked slow the first few days of practice but this evening he was on fire. The team did some live work with just the offensive and defensive lines and Melton consistently ate up Chris Williams. He was exploding off the ball low and driving blockers backward. A good sign.
LB Lance Briggs
-Williams also had trouble blocking second-team DT Tank Tyler, who had his best practice yet. On one play, Tyler flat out rocked Williams backward and sent him hurtling to the ground. If Williams continues to have issues inside, Louis, whom Tice has been praising all three days, may get a chance at the left guard spot once Spencer takes over at center and Garza is moved to right guard.
-DE Nick Reed, who has spent time on the second team with second-year player Corey Wootton, has a wicked spin move that no one seems able to block. Omiyale just stood and watched as Reed spun right past him in line drills.
-In 7-on-7s, Briggs picked up RB Matt Forte out of the backfield and ran with him down the sideline stride for stride. He turned at the perfect time and intercepted QB Jay Cutler's underthrown pass. An outstanding athletic play.
-Rookie LB J.T. Thomas was the starting SAM linebacker for the third day in a row. He's had coverage issues the first two days but he looked more comfortable in 7-on-7s this evening. He did, though, drop a pass that was thrown right to him. He'll move to the second team once Nick Roach returns but the time spent with the starters seems to be paying off.
-Speaking of drops, Earl Bennett, he of zero dropped passes last season, let a ball go right off his hands in 7-on-7s. It was most likely an aberration but overall, Bennett has not been that impressive so far. He needs to step up his focus.
-The player who up this point looked to have the best hands of all the receivers, Andy Fantuz, had a rough practice. Up until tonight I had seen him drop just one pass, and it was a difficult catch at that. Yet today, he dropped three balls that I saw. One was a 40-yard fade in 11-on-11s that was beautifully thrown by Cutler.
-In 11-on-11s, Cutler has yet to complete a 40-yard-plus pass the first three days. He overthrew a wide-open Hester late in practice.
-Offensive coordinator Mike Martz has always relied on pre-snap movement, but it seems every single play has a shift in it now. Not only that, but the shifts, which are typically executed by the tight ends, are often followed by a receiver in motion. The mad scientist is at it again.
-Today was the first day the offense has employed a three-receiver set. Only a few plays utilized three receivers, and those three were Bennett, Hester and Johnny Knox. It will be interesting to see which of those three is replaced by Roy Williams come Thursday.
-Undrafted free agent center Alex Linnenkohl fumbled two snaps on the day. He is not the answer in the middle.
-In 11-on-11s, DE Corey Wootton was outstanding. He would have had a sure sack on one play and he blew up a run play in the backfield shortly thereafter. His spin move is quick and under control. Expect him to be the first backup for starters Julius Peppers and Israel Idonije.
-Speaking of Idonije and Peppers, the duo dominated Carimi and Webb in 11-on-11s. Those two look to be in midseason form already. When it comes time for the games that count, Webb and Carimi should benefit from having to go up against two top-tier defensive ends in practice every day.
-Rookie DT Stephen Paea, playing next to Tank Tyler with the second group, doesn't get a whole lot of penetration when rushing the passer. Yet he's nearly immovable inside. This leads me to believe he's better suited at the nose tackle instead of the under tackle.
-Omiyale had three false starts in 11-on-11s. He's having a rough camp so far.
-On a swing pass during 11-on-11s, rookie S Chris Conte flew up to meet the ballcarrier and could barely stop himself from dropping the runner. It's obvious the kid loves to hit. He'll be great in run support.
-The front five had major problems with the blitzes the defense was throwing at them in 11-on-11s. With so many moving parts, this is to be expected. But if they are still lost in blitz pickup come the third week of practice, it could signal a repeat of last year's poor offensive line performance.
Follow me on Twitter: @BearReport
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.