The Chicago Bears just wrapped up their 13th training camp practice of the offseason. It was one of the cooler days we've had in Bourbonnais yet the temperature on the field was scorching. Players vying for roster spots went hard at it today, resulting in a few shoving matches.
DT Stephen Paea hurt his ankle in yesterday's practice and was in a walking boot today. He said it's a mild sprain of his left ankle that will keep him out a week or two.
DT Brian Price suffered a stinger early in practice and did not return. Coach Lovie Smith said he should be good to go tomorrow.
LB Geno Hayes was held out due to illness.
LB Jabara Williams, who has been out for more than a week, was back on the field today, which is good, as Bears linebackers are dropping like flies.
News and Notes from Day 13
-S Craig Steltz really stood out today. In the first portion of practice, the running backs and safeties squared off in pass rush drills. For the most part, the entire safety group dominated. Yet Steltz consistently worked over the player across from him.
Twice, RB Michael Bush stepped up to block Steltz and was not able to even get a hand on ham. Steltz used quick spin moves to blow past Bush, making the newcomer look silly.
During 7-on-7s, Steltz intercepted QB Jason Campbell, and did the same in 11-on-11s. Two pick in one practice is going to grab the attention of your coaches and teammates.
"A lot of value [Steltz] brings to our team," Smith said after practice. "Great special teams player. When you're the backup safety, you need to be a core four-phase special teams player. He does that. But we would feel comfortable playing him at the free or the strong position. He's a coach on the field, all of those things. A valuable part of our team."
So far, starting SS Major Wright has not been all that impressive. In fact, he's been fairly invisible during most of camp. Right now, Steltz looks like the better player. He'll give Wright a run for his money before it's all said and done.
-During those safety/running back pass rush drills, both RB Armando Allen and FB Harvey Unga looked awful. Both are fighting for a roster spot yet it will be hard for them to leapfrog another player if they aren't able to contribute on passing downs.
-The left tackle competition was again in full swing. J'Marcus Webb and Chris Williams shared reps, with Webb getting the first batch. Williams also worked on the left edge with the backups.
Unfortunately, it looks as if neither player is interested in winning the job. They both looked awful during 1-on-1 drills, each getting repeatedly beaten, particularly by DE Shea McClellin, who is getting better by the day. At this point, it doesn't appear as if it matters who wins the LT job, as either way the position will be the weak spot on the offensive line.
-DL Derek Walker, signed last week, is listed as a defensive end. Yet the past two practices, Walker has been working as a defensive tackle. He's a thick player who looks more like an interior defensive lineman, as he also lacks adequate quickness off the ball to be an end.
-OT Cory Brandon is the backup right tackle right now. To give Gabe Carimi rest, Brandon has been getting occasional reps with the first team the past few days. He's a huge human being but his awareness is lacking. He struggles more with the mental side of the game than the physical side. He has a wicked first punch and good feet. He showed well during 1-on-1 drills but struggled in team drills. Still, the Bears are going to continue to give him opportunities to prove he deserves a roster spot.
-G Ricky Henry got worked over by DT Nate Collins during 1-on-1 drills. After one snap, Collins turned his back on Henry when he felt the play was over. Henry then pushed Collins in the back, which instigated a brief face off between the two players.
Henry definitely has a mean streak in him. He's a nasty player that has a do-whatever-it-takes mentality. He's been working at left guard with the backups and at right guard with the third team. His versatility is attractive but he just isn't strong enough at the point of attack. Henry has been consistently overpowered by the defensive tackles. He has the right mindset just not the requisite physical tools.
-Speaking of Collins, this kid can play. With Price out, Collins got extra reps during 1-on-1s, of which he took full advantage. He really comes off the ball hard and has the strength to drive back blockers. On more than one snap, he mauled G Lance Louis. Right now, he looks to be a strong candidate for the team's fourth DT position.
-Israel Idonie took reps at defensive tackle for the second day in a row. Like yesterday, on passing downs, Idonije slid inside in place of Matt Toeaina, with McClellin coming in at end. It's the team's nickel rush package. Now that we've seen it for two straight days, it's obvious this is not some one-day experiment. Expect to see the Bears use this alignment on third downs this year.
-With Urlacher, DeCicco and Hayes out, the starting SAM linebacker today was second-year player J.T. Thomas. The team's 2011 sixth-round pick had a strong outing in the preseason opener. The coaches obviously took notice and threw him in today with the ones. And surprisingly, he didn't look all that bad. He made a few mistakes but linebackers coach Bob Babich was praising his play for most of the afternoon. With injuries piling up in front of him, all of the sudden Thomas has a decent shot at making the final 53-man roster.
-I'm starting to get a bit worried about G Chris Spencer. He was horrible against the Denver Broncos and hasn't looked much better the past few days. He lacks aggressiveness and is playing like a guy who isn't afraid to lose his job. Spencer needs to get his head on straight and start playing like a starter, otherwise it wouldn't surprise me if Edwin Williams, who looked real good today, starts siphoning reps.
-LB Blake Costanzo is a quality special teams player but believe me folks, you do not want him in at linebacker. He has a very hard time diagnosing plays and is often out of position. In coverage, he's borderline worthless.
-LB Patrick Trahan worked with the second team today and, like Thomas, was praised by Babich for most of the afternoon. Trahan has struggled so far in camp but he had a strong practice. On one play, he was able to catch up with Clutts from behind and break up a pass attempt.
All of these linebackers down on the depth chart have a shot at making the team due to the injury to DeCicco, which Smith said will keep him "on the shelf for a while." It's good to see a few of them taking this opportunity seriously. If only the same could be said at left tackle.
-During 11-on-11s, nickelback D.J. Moore got tripped up and fell awkwardly. He limped off the field and missed a few reps. In his place, the team used Kelvin Hayden at nickel. It appears that if Moore misses time, Hayden is the primary backup, and not Jonathan Wilhite, who played nickel with both New England and Denver. In fact, Wilhite has not looked very good in camp and could be on the verge of getting passed up by rookie Isaiah Frey.
-The Bears signed DE Aston Whiteside a few days ago. He's not an explosive player but he did show well on one particular play today. It was an off-tackle run right at him. Whiteside chucked the tight end in front of him, fought through a double team by the tackle and powered into the pulling guard. He then was able to disengage and make the tackle. It was an outstanding effort, beating three guys to stuff the ball carrier.
-TE Matt Spaeth had a rough day as a blocker. He was repeatedly pushed around and resorted to holding on a couple of plays. During one snap, DE Corey Wotton drove Spaeth so far in the backfield that Edwin Williams, who was trying to pull and lead block around the edge, ran into Spaeth and could never get out in front. Spaeth's main role on this team is as a blocker, so it was disappointing to see him struggle so much in that area today.
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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.