Tonight's practice finally felt like a real training camp session. The 15 players Chicago signed this past week were finally able to put the pads on and participate, which seemed to raise the energy level in Bourbonnais.
The new faces on the field were: P Adam Podlesh, WR Roy Williams, QB Caleb Hanie, CB Corey Graham, RB Marion Barber, LB Brian Iwuh, LB Nick Roach, C Chris Spencer, OL Edwin Williams, WR Sam Hurd, TE Desmond Clark, TE Matt Spaeth, DT Amobi Okoye, DE Vernon Gholston and DT Anthony Adams.
Most likely because the full allotment of players participated, the session was a spirited, hard-hitting one. The crowd was also the largest and most vocal up to this point.
New and Notes from Day 5
-RB Marion Barber was easily the most-impressive free agent on the field tonight. In 9-on-7 drills, which is basically just full-contact run drills, he was an absolute beast. Each time he received the ball he hit someone. His play elicited cheer after cheer from the raucous crowd. It's obvious he came ready to play. His powerful running style should make him an ideal short-yardage back. With him lined up in the goal-line sets, punching in the ball shouldn't be the issue it was last season. His performance also showed just how fragile Chester Taylor's hold on a roster spot is right now. The Bears third running back is expected to be a solid special team contributor. If Matt Forte and Barber are the first two runners, the team might opt to cut Taylor and his contract and move forward with a younger, cheaper back like Kahlil Bell or Harvey Unga.
-Speaking of Unga, he was missing in action for the third straight day. Team officials say he's been excused but it's unclear why he hasn't practiced. If this goes on any longer, he'll have no shot at making the roster.
-Roy Williams was not impressive in his first go with the team. He dropped a pass in traffic during 7-on-7s and seemed out of sorts with Cutler and the entire offense all night. Later on, in 11-on-11 drills, there was a jump-ball situation down the sideline between he and Charles Tillman. Williams made not effort at the ball, allowing Tillman the easy deflection. Then, to top it all off, he missed the last half hour of practice being looked at by the trainers for an apparent leg injury. This could be his last real shot at being a No. 1 wide receiver in the NFL. He needs to re-focus immediately and get on page with the rest of the offense.
TE Desmond Clark
-In 7-on-7s, QB Jay Cutler hit TE Desmond Clark down the seam for what would have been a 30-yard gain. It's not realistic to expect him to be a focal point for the offense, but if Clark is given a bigger role, he'll produce. At the very minimum, he'll provide outstanding veteran leadership in the locker room.
-Cutler looked sharp all night, and has for most of training camp. He's not sailing the ball over his receiver's heads, as he's wont to do. He's making good reads and hitting guys in stride.
-Cutler and Caleb Hanie were the only quarterbacks to take snaps during 11-on-11s. Rookie Nathan Enderle stood and watched all practice. Hanie was rusty early, missing his targets and trying to force passes into coverage. But as the night wore on, he heated up. Playing with the second team toward the end of the session, Hanie hit WR Kris Adams down the sideline for a 50-yard touchdown. It was a beautiful pass that hit the receiver in stride. Apparently, his performance in last year's championship game was no fluke. He'll continue to be a solid safety valve if Cutler misses any time due to injury.
-The starting defensive tackles for the night were Henry Melton and Anthony Adams. Stephen Paea and Matt Toeina were the second pairing, while Amobi Okoye and Tank Tyler made up the final duo. None of the six had a truly outstanding night, although on one play during 11-on-11s, Adams drove Roberto Garza five-yards into the backfield.
-Tim Jennings and Charles Tillman are still the starters at cornerback, with Zack Bowman and Joshua Moore running with the second team. D.J. Moore is the starting nickelback. In 11-on-11s, Jennings was beat badly on a deep post by Devin Hester. It was reminiscent of the NFC Championship game.
-In linemen drills, defensive end Vernon Gholston was having his way with left tackle Frank Omiyale, although this says more about how bad Omiyale is playing than it does Golston's abilities. In 11-on-11s, Gholston didn't show me a thing. Against the first-team offense, mainly rushing from the right side, he never put any pressure on the quarterback. He was also a non-factor against the run. After one day, it's easy to see why he was let go by the Jets.
-LB Nick Roach was immediately inserted into the starting lineup, replacing rookie J.T. Thomas, who had served as a placeholder up to this point. Roach didn't look like he'd missed any time. He has "breakout year" written all over him.
-Chris Spencer split time at center with Alex Lennenkohl with the second team. He didn't show a lot of push off the ball but he's athletic and can pick up players at the second level quite easily.
-Edwin Williams played right guard with the second team. In linemen drills, he dominated DT Tank Tyler, who has been impressive up to this point. Solid play out of Williams is a good sign for the team, as he'll be one of the first backups for all three interior line positions.
-Speaking of interior linemen, LG Chris Williams finally came to play. Through the first four days of camp, the only blocker who looked worse than Williams was Omiyale. Yet tonight, Williams was on his game. He was focused, showed great technique and did not get beat once in pass protection during 11-on-11s. It's possible he's turned a corner, which would be huge for the offense. One thing is for sure: he needs to keep playing well if he hopes to keep his starting spot.
-Rookie tackle Gabe Carimi continues to take his lumps. He was put on his back by Julius Peppers or Israel Idonije at least a half-dozen times during practice. Yet the former-Badger gets up each time and goes right back at it. Carimi hasn't looked great so far, but he's slowly progressing. On a number of plays, he was very good, even driving Idonije to the ground once while pass blocking. His time against those two will make him a much better player and should allow him to develop rapidly.
-Sam Hurd was shuffled in with both the first and second units at wide receiver. He's battling Dane Sanzenbacher right now for the fifth and final receiver spot. Hurd has the edge due to his experience as a special teams player but Sanzenbacher is a practice squad player at the very least and could be a contributor on offense if given the opportunity.
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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.