This Chicago Bears conducted their second practice of offseason training activities (OTA) this afternoon. They will hold 10 practices in total. Sessions are not padded and coaches are not available to the media. Players are free game coming off the field.
It was our first chance to get an up-close look at the updated roster GM Phil Emery put together over the past few months. Practices held in shorts and jerseys don't reveal a whole lot about the offensive and defensive linemen, putting skill position players to the forefront of everyone's attention.
That suits Bears fans just fine, as Emery added a number of dynamic pieces on offense. Here's what we saw during today's session.
-These players were on hand but not participating due to injury: Brian Urlacher, Johnny Knox, Kellen Davis, Gabe Carimi, Kelvin Hayden and Patrick Mannelly. D.J. Moore was excused for personal reasons.
Urlacher is still recovering from a severely sprained left knee suffered in the season finale last year. It doesn't appear he'll be participating in any of the OTAs but he said recently he'll be ready to go come training camp.
Johnny Knox walked gingerly around the field and looked borderline emaciated. He said after practice he lost 30 pounds due to the back brace he wore after spinal surgery. The weight loss is very evident. From the way he looked today, it's highly doubtful he's going to see the field this year.
The biggest injury concern is Carimi, who dislocated his knee in the second game last year. He's had three surgeries since then and still isn't ready to go. Offensive coordinator Mike Tice said a few weeks ago that Carimi is on track to play in 2012. If this injury lingers and he's not able to start the season, it will leave a gaping hole at right tackle.
Hayden is still recovering from ankle surgery, Mannelly is still on the mend from a torn ACL and it was unclear why Davis was held out.
We discussed last week Williams' switch to left tackle, so it was no surprise to see him out there going back and forth with Webb. That will be a pure competition that likely won't be decided until late in training camp.
I asked Spencer, who played his first six years in the NFL at center and played right guard last year, if he'd ever played left guard before. He said, "No. Well, a little bit here and there but not anything consistent." He transitioned well to right guard last year so there's no reason to think he won't be able to do the same at left guard.
Wrotto is filling in for Carimi. Expect the loser of the left tackle competition, Webb or Williams, to slide to right guard if Carimi isn't healthy enough to start the season. Wrotto has experience at guard as well, so it's a good sign that offensive line coach Tim Holt slotted him to start. Expect Wrotto to push hard for a spot on the 53-man roster this season.
-Rookie tight end Evan Rodriguez, this year's fourth-round pick, was lined up on a number of occasions at H back, or F back – which is basically the wing spot just behind and outside of the tight end. This was the position he played primarily in college, where he is a dual threat as both a blocker and pass catcher.
I believe that, if Williams or Webb is struggling at left tackle, Tice will use Rodriguez to give help on the edge. Even if it's just a chip block before he releases into the secondary, he'll help keep rushers from Jay Cutler's blindside.
Rodriguez also did well during 7-on-7s, showing the same good hands he demonstrated during rookie minicamp. He made a very nice catch just outside the left seam in the middle of three defenders. Rodriguez is undersized but he's very athletic and looks like he'll be a multi-faceted weapon in Tice's offense.
-The starting wideouts were Brandon Marshall and Devin Hester, with Earl Bennett working exclusively out of the slot. Rookie Alshon Jeffery worked with the second team. Just as he did during rookie minicamp, Jeffery showed outstanding hands today. In the four practices I've witnessed this year, Jeffery has only dropped two passes that I saw.
-Cutler looked Marshall's way early and often today. The two appear to have picked up right where they left off in Denver. Marshall was open repeatedly in 7-on-7s and Cutler found him every time. Marshall also was very good on deep routes during 1-on-1 drills. He's the real deal.
Cutler today, for the first time in two seasons, called an audible. In Mike Martz's offense, he wasn't allowed to change the play at the line of scrimmage, severely limiting his ability to run the offense on the field.
Yet today, Cutler walked to the line, surveyed the defense, then gave a kill sign, waving his hand in front of his neck – a common pre-snap motion. It was a beautiful thing to witness.
-Another note on Tice's offense: not in walkthroughs, 7-on-7s or 11-on-11s was a four-receiver set used. Everything was three receivers or less, and many plays included two tight ends. Gone are the days of four and five receivers on every play, staples in Martz's scheme.
-With Urlacher out, Dom DeCicco took reps at middle linebacker, as did Patrick Trahan. Geno Hayes, who was signed this offseason to compete with starting SAM Nick Roach, performed with the second team only. On nickel downs, Roach and Lance Briggs stayed on the field.
-OT A.J Greeene took a few reps at RT with the first team during 7-on-7s, rotating with Wrotto. Greene was signed as an undrafted free agent from Auburn this offseason. Obviously, with Carimi out, Tice wants a good look at a few other players working with the starters. If Greene can impress now, it'll go a long way toward him making the team, or at least earning a spot on the practice squad.
-During punt team drills, Hester and seventh-round rookie Greg McCoy rotated as first-team punt returner. Eric Weems and Earl Bennett rotated with the second team.
-FB Tyler Clutts served as the long snapper in place of Mannelly.
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Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of Bear Report magazine and 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.