The Chicago Bears conducted their fifth practice of organized training activities (OTAs) this afternoon at Halas Hall. It was a cool day filled with mostly overcast skies, which facilitated a spirited session.
Here's what we saw from the sidelines during today's practice.
-The following players did not participate due to injury: LB Brian Urlacher (knee), OT Gabe Carimi (knee), LS Patrick Mannelly (knee), CB Kelvin Hayden (ankle), CB Tim Jennings (unknown), WR Johnny Knox (back) and TE Kellen Davis (unknown). RB Matt Forte also was not in attendance due to his contract situation.
I asked around and no one was able to tell me what is wrong with Davis, who has yet to practice this offseason. He missed time last year with a back injury but no one knows for sure if that is what's currently keeping him off the field. The same goes for Jennings, although he did practice last week.
-I spoke with Carimi after practice and asked him about his timetable for a return. He said he practiced yesterday on a limited basis but will begin tomorrow suiting up for full sessions.
"Tomorrow I'll be out (practicing)," he said. "If that goes well, I'll be out all of next week and then minicamp, too. How much more back can you get, you know?
"I feel great. I would have practiced today. We're taking it slow. There's no reason to push it now. It's OTAs."
-In Carimi's place at right tackle, offensive coordinator Mike Tice rotated Mansfield Wrotto, a career guard, and undrafted rookie James Brown. Neither is an ideal option, so Carimi's return will be welcome boost to the front five.
-At left tackle, Chris Williams and J'Marcus Webb were again splitting reps with both the first team and second team. It is believed that whichever player loses out on the starting spot will be inserted as the swing tackle. Rotating these two with both the ones and the twos just proves that will be case.
As of right now, neither player has an apparent lead in the competition, although Webb, the incumbent, is the first player amongst the two to take LT reps in every drill.
-The interior of the offensive line is the same as it was last week: LG Chris Spencer, C Roberto Garza and RG Lance Louis. The second-team interior: LG Chilo Rachal, C Edwin Williams and RG Ricky Henry.
Rachal at left guard is interesting, as he played exclusively at right guard with the 49ers. If he's impressive at all, he'll keep his roster spot as the primary swing guard, and could push Spencer and Louis for their starting jobs.
E. Williams' ability to play center – as well as guard, where he started seven games last season – should solidify his spot on the 53-man roster.
-Like last week, Chicago's offense did not feature a single four- or five-receiver set today. The most receivers on the field at any time were three, with many formations featuring two tight ends.
-Since he was drafted, I've talked about the desire of Chicago's front office and coaches to make rookie WR Alshon Jeffery a starter as quickly as possible. Apparently, it only took a week to elevate his status on the roster.
Last week, Jeffery was running with the second team and got limited reps with the starters. This week, Jeffery did almost no work with the second team and rotated with starters Brandon Marshall, Devin Hester and Earl Bennett.
Jeffery was playing all three positions (X, Y and Z). It appears Tice wants the youngster to be able to rotate to any spot on the field. He looks good in drills – although receivers coach Darryl Drake is constantly giving him grief – showing great hands and fluidity. Route running is still a concern, as are occasional lapses in concentration, but he's already earned a spot in the starting rotation.
-Dane Sanzenbacher, fighting for the final receiver spot on the roster, was very impressive today. He made a few very difficult catches and worked over defenders in one-on-one drills.
-Rookie TE Evan Rodriguez was lined up at every conceivable position today: out wide, on both sides of the line of scrimmage, in the wing and in the slot. He didn't get many looks from QB Jay Cutler but his positioning gives us an idea of the creativity with which Tice plans to employ his new H-back.
-In place of Kellen Davis, the first-team reps at tight end have belonged to Matt Spaeth, who has been surprisingly impressive so far. He's known more for his ability to block – he's never caught more than 17 passes in a single season – yet he's showed good hands and a knack for finding the open areas. Cutler has targeted him numerous times in the two practices I've witnessed, almost always resulting in a completion. It's good to know that Spaeth can fill in for Davis if the latter's mystery injury continues to keep him out.
-RB Harvey Unga, battling for the third and final running back spot on the roster, has shown outstanding hands the past two weeks. During positional drills, he made a highlight-reel one-handed grab that elicited "oohs" and "aahs" from his teammates. Unga will need to be ultra-impressive to beat out Kahlil Bell, but being adept out of the backfield as a pass catcher is a good start.
-Although Urlacher sat out practice he did serve in his middle linebacker role during walkthroughs. He was able to drop into coverage and change direction, a good sign his knee is healing.
The second-team defensive line features a defensive end rotation of Shea McClellin, Corey Wootton and Chauncey Davis. McClellin has been getting occasional reps with the starters in place of Idonije. Defensive tackles Stephen Paea and John McCargo are working with the twos.
-With Tim Jennings out, Jonathan Wilhite got the start at cornerback. D.J. Moore was in the slot with both the ones and twos, meaning the team has no intention of sliding him outside. His value comes as the nickel corner.
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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.