It was a sluggish training camp practice Tuesday afternoon. After a six-month layoff, Chicago Bears players looked worn down toward the end of the team's fourth straight day of practice. There were a lot of guys with hands on knees in between plays. Most were forced to a knee when not participating in one of the drills. The day off between the fourth and fifth practice will hopefully rejuvenate the 90 players on the field.
It was the final session before the free agents can return to the field. These four days have provided the rookies an opportunity to demonstrate to the coaches their worth to the team. From this point on, incoming veterans will force the younger players down the depth chart. For the vast majority, special teams will be their only route to a roster spot.
News and notes from Day 4
-Former Ohio State receiver Dane Sanzenbacher, an undrafted free agent, was serving as the team's fourth receiver in coach Martz's "laser" formation. He replaced Onrea Jones in the four-receiver set, lining up both out wide and in the slot. Sanzenbacher has shown outstanding hands and runs crisp routes. He's not a burner but he does very well working the underneath routes. Some folks have said he looks like a poor man's Danny Woodhead. He'll get pushed down the depth chart once Roy Williams begins taking reps and will have to fight with newcomer Sam Hurd, another former Cowboy, for the fifth and final receiver spot. It's a battle worth watching going forward.
-Sanzebacher's rise up the depth chart has coincided with receiver Andy Fantuz's freefall. Fantuz (6-4) is a big receiver who showed great hands the first two days of camp. He's dropped a bunch of passes the past few days though and his lack of speed doesn't allow him to create separation from defenders. He's looking like practice-squad material at this point.
-Speaking of wideouts, Roy Williams again had to stand on the sidelines throughout the two-and-a-half-hour session. With humidity levels in the triple digits, Williams spent the entire time outdoors in long sleeves. The Texas native shouldn't have any problems with the Chicago heat early on in the season.
-The longer the practice went, the worse things got for Chris Williams. Late in the day, during 11-on-11s, DT Henry Melton got leverage on Williams and drove the former first-round draft pick right onto his back. He just doesn't have the strength to play inside. He has a tackle's body and it seems he may never be able to succeed at guard. If he continues his poor play, a demotion to the second team seems inevitable.
G Chris Williams
-Coordinator Mike Martz spent extra time with the quarterbacks during special teams drills, specifically rookie Nathan Enderle, who has struggled so far in camp. Martz walked this year's fifth-round pick step-by-step through the fundamentals of a play-action fake. Enderle is a project but one Martz is obviously willing to spend a lot of time on.
-I mentioned in the last Diary how impressive Hester has been on offense so far. That continued Tuesday afternoon. In 7-on-7 drills, if the ball was in his vicinity, Hester caught it. His route running can still be sloppy at times but his body control when going after the ball is outstanding.
-D.J. Moore is serving as the starting nickelback, as he did last year. As a blitzer, Moore was great in the nickel role, yet he can be suspect in coverage. Neither Joshua Moore or Zack Bowman have distinguished themselves so far, so D.J. Moore's role is safe for now.
-Enderle has a real nasty habit of staring his receivers down from snap to throw. He also like to force balls into coverage. Inaccuracy has been an issue as well, even when receivers are open. Case in point: Enderle sailed a ball right over his receiver's head in 7-on-7s, resulting in an interception by rookie safety Chris Conte.
-Bears defensive backs coach Jon Hoke has been all over Conte the first four days of practice and seemed very happy with his progress Tuesday. He picked off another Enderle pass in 11-on-11s as well. The challenge for Conte won't be helping in the run game – he's a solid tackler who looks like he's dying to hit someone – but he'll need to learn the intricacies of coverage at the NFL level. The team has been running a lot of shell Cover 2 to start, but the coaches will soon integrate a lot of Cover 1 and Cover 3. If Conte can grasp the deep safety position, he'll have a good shot at playing time this year.
-The defensive and offensive lines conducted stunt drills during 7-on-7s. The defensive linemen were instructed to run cross stunts on the guards and tackles. The left side of the line, guard Chris Williams and tackle J'Marcus Webb, struggled mightily in this drill. They weren't able to work as a team, with one, or both, missing his assignment each repetition. On the other side though, Lance Louis and Gabe Carimi worked well together. They were beat badly on a few stunts but for the most part, they were focused and functioning well as a duo.
-Tank Tyler is doing his utmost to make the 53-man roster. The defensive tackle, formerly with the Chiefs, has been working alongside Stephen Paea with the second team. He's been exploding off the ball and his motor just doesn't seem to quit. During line drills, he hit guard John Asiata so hard, it knocked his helmet clean off. With six quality defensive tackles in camp right now, Tyler is still most likely the odd man out. But if he continues playing at a high level, it's going to be hard for the team to cut him. At the very least, he's a shoe in for the practice squad.
-Kellen Davis' size (6-7, 262) is going to give opposing defenses fits. On simple hitch patterns, where he turns his back to the defense and faces the quarterback, defenders have no way of getting around his huge frame to knock the ball down. Martz has already said that Davis will be integral to the offense this year. With his combination of size and speed, to go along with a set of decent hands, he could have a breakout season.
-Starting free safety Major Wright had very good day. He made a nice pass breakup on a Jay Cutler pass in 11-on-11s. Later on, he intercepted a Cutler pass, an overthrow, and took it to the house, doing a headfirst somersault into the end zone to the delight of the crowd. He said after practice that he expects to get a lot of picks this year.
-T Frank Omiyale's demotion to the second team doesn't seem to have lit a fire under him. He still continues to false start and is getting beat regularly by second-team DE Nick Reed. His grasp on a roster spot is becoming more tenuous by the day.
-In 11-on-11s, the offense ran a sweep that called for right guard Lance Louis to pull left. He did a good job of getting out front and put a clean hit on Lance Briggs, knocking the linebacker out of the play. Louis is making a strong case for one of the starting guard positions.
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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.