Bears veteran minicamp review (Day 1)

What we saw from the sidelines at Halas Hall during the first of three practice sessions that encompass the mandatory veteran minicamp for the Chicago Bears.

The Chicago Bears this afternoon conducted their first practice session of veteran minicamp. There will be three practices this week, all mandatory affairs to those players under contract, which do not include pads. Alongside the veterans, rookies were also on hand for today's session.

-The following players did not participate: LB Brian Urlacher, TE Matt Spaeth, WR Alshon Jeffery, WR Johnny Knox, CB Jonathan Wilhite and LB Patrick Trahan.

Coach Lovie Smith said after practice that Urlacher is not yet fully healthy but that he expects him to be ready to go come training camp. Smith said Jeffery has a lower leg injury but should be back at some point this week.

Practicing for the first time since Week 10 of last season, Patrick Mannelly (torn ACL) was back manning the middle of the offensive line during special teams as the club's long snapper.

DT Matt Toeaina, who broke his hand last week during OTAs, was on the field and participating. His right hand was in a cast. He did not appear to be slowed by the injury.


CB Charles Tillman
Mike DiNovo/US Presswire

-During 1-on-1 drills between the receivers and secondary, CB Charles Tillman worked over Brandon Marshall. On three of the four drills where the two squared off, Tillman was physical and aggressive and got a hand on the pass. Tillman is still playing at a high level, despite his age (31), which is a good sign for the defense this season.

-WR Eric Weems, signed as a free agent this offseason mainly due to his abilities on special teams, has shown very well as a slot receiver. He gets in and out of his breaks very quickly, using his short frame to explode into open space. His hands are above average as well. Seeing him up close, it's no wonder he leapfrogged Dane Sanzenbacher on the depth chart.

-WR Earl Bennett was a beast this afternoon. In 1-on-1s, he made S Major Wright look foolish on a couple of occasions. During 7-on-7s, QB Jay Cutler looked Bennett's way early and often, and Bennett hauled in each and every pass. He looks very fast and is obviously comfortable working out of the slot in Tice's offense.

-During 7-on-7s, quarterbacks coach Jeremy Bates was relaying the plays into Cutler using the microphone in his helmet. There appeared to be no problems.

Bates is completely in charge of this passing attack. He calls all the plays during 7-on-7s and the offensive players consistently talk about the offense that Tice and Bates are installing.

Yet when the team walked through running plays today, Tice took over. It is obvious that this is a dual effort between Tice and Bates, with the former focusing on the run game and the latter on the aerial attack.

-After getting reps with the second team during OTAs, first-round DE Shea McClellin was working exclusively with the third team today. The club apparently isn't willing to just hand over playing time to the rookie and will make McClellin earn his reps.

Yet the pads aren't on right now, so it's hard to get a good gauge at the offensive and defensive linemen. I fully believe that, when the pads go on during training camp, McClellin will outplay both Corey Wootton and Chauncey Davis, the two defensive ends currently getting reps with the second team.

-Cutler's ability to audible should pay dividends this season. During the two-minute drill, the offense lined up on the ball. Nickelback D.J. Moore showed blitz on a hard count. Cutler then stepped up and audibled the play. At the snap, Moore blitzed, which left S Chris Conte one-on-one with Bennett out of the slot. Bennett blew past the safety and was wide open for the touchdown.


Jeremy Bates & Jay Cutler
David Banks/US Presswire

With Cutler's experience and obvious comfort in Tice's new offense, his ability to change plays at the line of scrimmage should be a boon to this offense going forward.

-Speaking of D.J. Moore, during one play of the two-minute drill, he manned up on Bennett in the slot. Bennett ran an eight-yard hitch, yet Moore jumped the play. Cutler threw to Bennett underneath and Moore was there to make the interception. It was a quality play by arguably the best player in Chicago's secondary.

-The starting cornerbacks are Tillman and Tim Jennings. The backups are Kelvin Hayden and Jonathan Wilhite. Yet with Wilhite on the sidelines today, the club chose to insert seventh rounder Greg McCoy with the twos. This is interesting, as sixth round corner Isaiah Frey was playing with the third team.

Neither rookie has shown much so far this offseason. Each is struggling with the speed of the game, as well as learning a new defense. Yet it appears the coaching staff feels McCoy is developing quicker than Frey. McCoy also has value as a kick returner, so he's making a strong push right now for a roster spot.

-Backup quarterback Jason Campbell continues to check the ball down with alarming frequency during 11-on-11 and 7-on-7 drills. He just does not appear comfortable moving the ball downfield. We're now entering the fourth straight week of practices. Tice said after practice that the entire offense is installed, so there's no good reason why Campbell should be dumping the ball off on nearly every pass play. He needs to start opening it up if he's going to earn his $3.5 million contract this year.

-With Wilhite out, undrafted rookie Trevor Coston was working as nickelback with the second team. He made the most of his opportunity, picking up an interception during 11-on-11s. We'll keep an eye on him going forward.

Day 2 minicamp review

Day 3 minicamp review

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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.


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