This afternoon the Chicago Bears conducted the ninth of 10 practices that encompass 2012 organized team activities (OTAs). Bear Report was front and center for all the festivities. Here are our observations:
-We'll start with the good news: Gabe Carimi was on the field practicing with his fellow offensive linemen. He was working with the starters at right tackle, where he played as a rookie in 2011. This was a great sign for Chicago's offense, as the club had been rotating Mansfield Wrotto and undrafted rookie James Brown on the right edge in Carimi's absence.
Also on the practice field today was tight end Kellen Davis, who had not participated in the two previous sessions open to the media. Davis was inserted with the starters and did not appear to be ailed by any physical malady.
In addition, both Kelvin Hayden and Tim Jennings practiced fully. Hayden, recovering from an ankle injury, had not practiced the previous two weeks. Jennings sat out last Wednesday's session. Both appeared healthy, particularly Jennings, who had a very strong practice.
-Now the bad news. Brian Urlacher, Charles Tillman and Devin Hester were nowhere to be found today. Urlacher, recovering from a knee injury, has not practiced all offseason, so his absence wasn't surprising. Tillman and Hester are, as far as we know, both healthy and were presumably excused for personal reasons.
-During positional drills to start the practice, CB D.J. Moore, as he did last week, broke off on his own to work individually with Gil Byrd, assistant defensive backs coach. From afar, it appeared to be positioning drills, as well as read-and-react stuff. Byrd had on the arm pads, teaching Moore to use his hands to fight through blocks.
Moore has been one of the most-productive blitzing cornerbacks in the league the past three seasons. Seeing him get individual work on hand usage and angles of pursuit leads one to believe he'll be spending a lot of time in opposing backfields this year.
-Draylen Ross, a tight end by trade, is being worked as a fullback. The second-year player spent last season on the team's practice squad. The club likes Ross' athleticism but there is a logjam of talented tight ends in front of him.
As such, Chicago is using Ross (6-4, 271) at fullback. He showed good hands today in team drills but we'll have to wait until the pads come on to see if he can block like incumbent fullback Tyler Clutts. Yet Clutts doesn't offer the same type of pass-catching ability as Ross. We'll be keeping a close eye on this competition.
-DE Thaddeus Gibson, signed off the practice squad in Week 16 last season, looked very quick in bag drills today. Faster than Corey Wootton, Chauncey Davis and Cheta Ozougwu, the three players Gibson must leapfrog if he's going to make the roster this year as the team's fourth defensive end. One thing is for sure: he has the necessary burst and agility.
-Dane Sanzenbacher has been impressive throughout OTAs. He is running very tight routes and has shown improved hands. He has the look of a seasoned player and has been a nightmare for defensive backs during 1-on-1 drills.
Chicago went out and acquired four new receivers this offseason, which essentially makes Sanzenbacher the odd man out. Yet the second-year wideout, who made the team as an undrafted rookie last season, isn't ready to hand over his roster spot. Devin Thomas will need to show more than he has if he's to supplant Sanzenbacher as the club's sixth receiver.
-During 7-on-7 drills, the defensive line worked with coordinator Rod Marinelli, except for Peppers, Israel Idonije and first rounder Shea McClellin. Those three spend time on the side with defensive line coach Mike Phair, working on formational read and react.
-During team walkthroughs, McClellin was working exclusively with the second team at both left and right defensive end. He has not yet cracked the starting rotation but it's really only a matter of time.
-Also during walkthroughs, the defensive line worked on a package of sets where Peppers lined up at left defensive tackle, sliding Melton outside. The team used that formation on occasion last year. I expect they'll do so even more in 2012.
-During offensive walkthroughs, coordinator Mike Tice worked on the run game, and in particular, the zone blocking schemes. A lot of the up-front work was zone, with running backs using a one-cut strategy. This is very similar to the system that quarterbacks coach Jeremy Bates ran in Denver.
-Dom DeCicco took reps at MLB with the starters today in walkthroughs and 7-on-7s, in place of Brian Urlacher. The former collegiate strong safety, who made the club as an undrafted rookie last year, has continue to improve in his development into a middle linebacker. It's not a stretch to think that, in a few seasons, he might be able to take over for Urlacher full time in the middle.
DeCicco, who finished second on the team in special teams tackles last year, has also shown a lot of leadership on special teams working with the younger players. When you throw in his added bulk, the Bears suddenly have a young, diverse, athletic and smart player with plenty of room for improvement. DeCicco could be an asset to this team as early as this season.
-Offensive coordinator Mike Tice installed some new 3rd-down packages today. There was some four-receiver stuff and a number of different trips and bunch formations.
Up to this point, the offense had been pretty vanilla, which caused a bit of consternation amongst Bears fans. But from what he showed today, Tice and Bates are inserting a lot of creativity into their scheme.
-Josh McCown was signed to be the team's number three quarterback. Of the two developmental signal callers (Nathan Enderle and Matt Blanchard) challenging him for the final QB job, Blanchard is the one McCown should be worried about.
Like we saw from him last year, Enderle just does not have the arm strength or accuracy to be a legitimate NFL backup. Yet Blanchard shows all the traits, including some very solid decision making on the fly. At the very least, Blanchard is practice squad material and could give McCown a run for his money this year in training camp.
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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.