It was a beautiful night in Bourbonnais where the Chicago Bears just finished up one of the more lively practices of the offseason so far. The team limited its time in positional activities, saving about 20 minutes for the first two-minute drills of training camp.
RB Harvey Unga returned to practice after begin excused the past four days. He did not see the field in any of the team drills. LB J.T. Thomas also suited up after missing yesterday's session with "general soreness" in his hip. Johnny Knox again was held out with a sore back. A number of additional players did not suit up: LB Chris Johnson, CB Mike Holmes, S Anthony Walters, LB Tanner Antle and DT Stephen Paea, who had swelling in his knee.
News and notes from Day 8
-The biggest story of the day was the vastly improved play of the starting offensive line. The group has been manhandled for most of training camp so far by the defensive line. Yet it was the front five that was the dominant group today. After the first four practices, it looked as if Chris Williams was on a fast track to the second team. Yet yesterday and today, he's been the most impressive starter. It's been night and day. He looks comfortable, confident and prepared. He didn't miss a block all night, regardless of who lined up across from him. Williams still isn't getting a lot of push in the run game but he's been outstanding in pass protection.
RT Gabe Carimi and RG Lance Louis had their best practices of the offseason. The two looked very much in sync. Louis was light on his feet and has been a force on pulls and traps. When he gets a head of steam, he's very productive. On one cross block between the two, Carimi came down hard on DT Henry Melton and drove the big man to the ground. It was the most impressive play by the rookie so far. Carimi did get beat a few times on outside rushes by DE Julius Peppers but each day he seems to be improving.
-The second team of offensive linemen played almost as well as the first team. In 11-on-11s, the front five was as follows: LT Frank Omiyale, LG Edwin Williams, C Chris Spencer, RG Levi Horn and RT Josh Davis. On one play, Davis drove DE Nick Reed, who has been very impressive in camp so far, straight to the ground. The undrafted rookie out of Georgia looks a little sloppy with his footwork but he does a good job of staying in front of the defender and handles rushers easily once he gets his hand on them. Williams gets a lot of push in the run game. He's a squat player with thick legs who, when he gets leverage, can drive defenders out of the hole. Horn, a natural tackle, seems a little uncomfortable at guard. Although when the coaches slid him to left tackle with the third team, he was beat badly by third-string defensive end Jake Laptad on a bull rush. There was a lot of talk this offseason about Horn contributing this year. So far, I'm not seeing it.
-One backup lineman who has been very impressive so far is third-string center J.C. Brignone. On a screen pass yesterday, the big guy got out in front of the runner and cleaned house. He blocked four straight defenders, one after the other, while moving downfield. In tonight's session, he buried Tank Tyler during a run play in 11-on-11s. With Garza and Spencer in front of him, he's a long shot to make the roster, but he's played better than undrafted rookie Alex Linnekohl, which could earn Brignone a spot on the practice squad.
-The second-team linbacking unit consisted of Patrick Trahan on the weak side, Dom DeCicco in the middle and Brian Iwuh on the strong side. It can be difficult to grade linebackers when there's no tackling allowed, yet DeCicco has been solid. He's in the right place the majority of plays and does well shedding blocks. He also laid a big hit in 9-on-7 drills. If he can impress special teams coordinator Dave Toub, he's got a good shot at making the roster.
-Rookie LB J.T. Thomas, who filled in with the starters while Nick Roach and Brian Iwuh were out, has been relegated to third-team duties. He missed practice yesterday with a hip injury, which apparently was enough to drop him down the depth chart. He's had major difficulties in pass coverage and made another egregious error in 11-on-11s tonight.
DT Amobi Okoye
-The starting defensive tackles tonight were Matt Toeaina and Henry Melton. NT Anthony Adams was nowhere to be found. No word yet on why he wasn't practicing. With both Adams and Paea not playing, DT Marcus Harrison got reps next to Amobi Okoye with the second team. Harrison was able to get penetration on a few plays but overall he wasn't that impressive. Okoye, on the other hand, played very well. He showed great vision on a screen play during the two-minute drill. As the offensive lineman released him, Okoye recognized the pass, shifted his momentum away from the quarterback and took the ball carrier down for a loss.
-The 7-on-7 drills were again conducted in the red zone tonight. The offense flat-out dominated the defense during this session. S Major Wright gave up a couple of touchdowns in the back of the end zone. Third-stringer Antereis Bryan gave up two touchdowns as well. Bryan hasn't seen the field much but he's been outplayed for the most part when given the opportunity. Brian Urlacher did pick off a Jay Cutler pass at the one-yard line, one of the few bright spots for the defense during the drill.
-It looks as if Corey Graham has jumped ahead of Joshua Moore on the depth chart. Moore made a very good play in 11-on-11s, holding his ground on a dig pattern and getting his arm around the receiver to knock the ball down. Overall though, he's played poorly. Graham started opposite Zack Bowman with the second team, and even got time at nickelback with the starters. He had a very nice deflection from the nickel in 11-on-11s. D.J. Moore, last year's nickelback, looked awful for most of the evening, getting beat repeatedly in 7-on-7s. It's obvious the coaching staff is experimenting with the defensive secondary to find the best fits. Expect even more shuffling going forward until someone other than Charles Tillman, who had another great night, steps up.
-I mentioned yesterday that camp sensation Dane Sanzenbacher has had trouble beating press coverage. The rookie wide receiver has obviously been working on his release form the line because he was much better tonight with defenders in his face. On one play during 7-on-7s, Graham punched him right in the chest at the line of scrimmage, yet Sanzenbacher stepped through the chuck, brushing Graham to his side, and got a clean release. He then ran a deep drag and caught a touchdown in the back of the end zone.
-DE Vernon Gholson once again was unimpressive. He's a liability in the run game.
-In a scenario that plays out seemingly every practice, CB Tim Jennings was badly beat on a fly pattern by WR Devin Hester. S Chris Harris was also late on his over-the-top duties. While Hester has been stellar so far, he's still not an elite receiver by NFL standards. If Jennings can't handle Hester, what's he going to do against the likes of Detroit's Calvin Johnson and Green Bay's Greg Jennings?
-Rookie QB Nathan Enderle finally got a few snaps with the backups during 11-on-11s. He hadn't seen the field up to that point since the return of Caleb Hanie, who is the unquestioned backup on this team.
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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.