Chicago Bears head coach Lovie Smith said Devin Thomas informed him last night of his intention to retire. Thomas – a fourth-year receiver signed this offseason to a one-year deal – did not have the desire to play the game any longer. Smith said he did not see it coming.
"When I found out about it, it was a surprise to me," Smith said after practice. "But, you don't want a guy out here, if he's not totally into football and he doesn't have a passion to play it. So, it's not like I try to talk guys out of it, when they've made up their mind."
Thomas' retirement opens the door for Dane Sanzenbacher to make the roster.
LB Brian Urlacher (knee) was held out for the fourth straight practice. Smith said the situation is concerning.
"It's always concern when you have an injury at the end of the year, and you miss some time in the offseason. But he should be OK," said Smith. "It's not like he really hurt it anymore. You assume he'd have some soreness, and he'd miss a few of these training camp practices."
He said there's a good chance Urlacher will miss Thursday's preseason opener.
"I think I have a pretty good idea what Brian can do," Smith said. "So, if we don't feel he should go, then we'll hold him out some more. But we haven't made that decision yet."
WR Eric Weems (ankle) missed his third straight practice.
LB Jabara Williams also did not participate.
During the session, RB Matt Forte left the field for a stretch with a thumb injury, but he was able to return. Also, WR Earl Bennett missed the team portions with a calf injury, although he said after practice he's fine.
News and Notes from Day 8
-Dane Sanzenbacher looked very good today. He has obviously been rejuvenated with the news of Thomas retiring. Sanzenbacher's routes were sharp and his hands were sticky.
His best play came late in the session during team drills. Sanzenbacher ran a 10-yard in route. He was quick out of his break and immediately created room between him and the defender. The pass came just as he cleared the linebacker. Sanzenbacher reached out, without breaking stride, and pulled in the fingertip grab.
He got plenty of reps with the first team today, working both from the slot and out wide. He did have a few drops, something that plagued him last season, but all around, he's definitely good enough to serve as the team's sixth wideout.
-The only receiver that has a realistic shot at challenging Sanzenbacher is Brittan Golden, who again made a nice catch during live drills. Terriun Crump and Chris Summers struggled today, after both looked very good on Friday night. They each dropped at least two passes that I saw. In addition, Summers did not impress me with his rounded cuts.
-During positional drills, quarterbacks coach Jeremy Bates was running two-man pick drills. One wide receiver would line up out wide with another in the slot. The slot receiver would run off the cornerback across from him, while the wide receiver would run a slant right into the defender. It's an illegal play in the NFL if you get caught, which is obviously why Bates wants to practice it, so his players don't get caught.
-Undrafted rookie A.J. Greene, working with the third team at left guard, looked horrible today in pass rush drills. His feet are slow and he lacks a strong punch. He just doesn't have what it takes to stay in front of defenders. This is disappointing, as Greene has shown very well as a run blocker.
-It doesn't appear as if DT Brian Price is getting any quicker off the ball. He is extremely strong and can drive blockers backward when he gets leverage, but he lumbers off the ball and has no pass rush moves beside a bull rush. Today, he was getting reps at nose tackle, the spot where he appears to be the best fit. Unfortunately, the team already has two solid nose guards.
-Formation notes from 11-on-11s: On passing downs, coordinator Mike Tice loves putting his quarterbacks in shotgun. During the season, on 2nd and long or 3rd and long, expect to see Cutler in shotgun on nearly every snap. Tice also has a full arsenal of run plays out of the shotgun as well, to keep defenses honest.
-I was impressed today with OT Tyler Hendrickson, the third-team right tackle. He's a massive kid (6-8, 313) with good power, who plays with a wide base. No defensive end got anywhere near the quarterback during 1-on-1 drills when Hendrickson was the blocker.
-The defense did a lot of blitzing during team drills. Many of those blitzes came from D.J. Moore, but the club also ran stunts up the middle with the linebackers, blitzed safeties and even ran a couple of zone blitzes. Most of these packages finished, or at least put heavy pressure on the quarterback.
Unfortunately, the offensive line really struggled to pick up the blitz. On more than a few occasions, it turned into a jailbreak, with nearly every defender getting into the backfield.
Pay close attention during the preseason games to how well the offensive line picks up the blitz, as it's an area they definitely need to work on.
-The fact that J'Marcus Webb won the left tackle competition so quickly is bothersome. He hasn't show consistency on the edge and still has trouble with speed rushers. His footwork is slow at times and he too often relies on bending at the waist.
During team drills today, Webb was beaten badly by DE Corey Wootton on one occasion, then again by DE Shea McClellin later on in the practice. Both defenders shot out of a cannon, dipped their shoulders and flew past Webb. Each play would have resulted in a sack.
-Speaking of Wootton, the coaches dropped him into coverage on a zone blitz. They have done this a few times with McClellin so far in camp but this was the first time I've seen them use Wootton in that fashion.
-DT Henry Melton was getting good penetration today. Coordinator Rod Marinelli has been all over Melton throughout camp. Apparently, that hard work is paying off, as Melton was destroying gaps and was constantly in the backfield. It's a good sign going forward.
-I wrote yesterday about how good Tim Jennings has been so far. Yet it seems for every good day he has, he follows it up with a bad one. Today, he stunk. He was beat repeatedly by Devin Hester, Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery. He must develop some consistency or he'll risk a benching at some point in the campaign, similar to what happened to him last year.
-No receiver on this roster adjusts to the ball better than Alshon Jeffery. He tracks the deep pass well and always high points the ball. He knows how to use his big frame and long arms to get in the correction position to make the catch.
During 1-on-1 drills, he ran a fly pattern against Jennings. The ball was slightly underthrown. Jeffery slowed up, turned back to the ball, jumped and at the same time reached over Jennings to make the catch with one hand. It was a beautiful play, one that gives us a glimpse as to Jeffery's potential.
-DT Nate Collins is getting reps at both 3-tech and nose. His explosiveness off the ball and his pure power has caught the attention of Chicago's coaches. At the end of practice, Collins got into a pushing match with G Ricky Henry.
-Two defensive linemen that have shown me nothing so far in camp are DT John McCargo and DE Cheta Ozougwa. Today, I paid close attention to these two and they might as well have been invisible on the field. McCargo is still running with the second team, although why I'm not sure, but that may not last for much longer.
-While Webb struggled with McClellin, James Brown again had no trouble with the first rounder. Playing at left tackle with the second team, Brown uses great arm extension to keep separation. He back pedals out of his stance quickly and sinks his hips to keep good balance. Fundamentally, he's a very impressive player.
-Like Tice did Friday night, today he isolated Brandon Marshall away from the bunch formation. On the few occasions when this formation was used, Marshall easily beat the one-on-one coverage on the backside. This will likely be a staple of Chicago's offense this year.
-Late in the session, the offense ran an off-tackle play to the left side on the 5-yard line. FB Tyler Clutts led the way and literally wiped out three guys with one block. RB Kahlil Bell waltzed into the end zone. Clutts has looked better this past week, which is a great sign, as he could be a crucial cog in the offense.
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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.