The Chicago Bears moved practice up an hour today, conducting a lighter session that the two days previous. It was the final day for dozens of rookies to make a final bid for an invite to OTAs and training camp.
One injury of note: WR Marcus Rucker, an undrafted free agent out of Memphis, went down on the field during walkthroughs. The training staff stretched his leg briefly before wrapping his right thigh in ice. He sat out the remainder of practice.
Notes from Day 3
-The session today lasted less than an hour, with roughly one-third of the time spent on special teams. Kickoff return was special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis' emphasis today.
WR Josh Lenz (Iowa State) and RB Michael Ford (LSU) were the two primary return men. Of the two, Ford looked much more natural as a kick returner. It was only walkthroughs, and it wasn't a live drill, but Ford showed great burst and cutback ability. Ford returned 20 kicks as a junior last season for 549 yards. His 27.5-yard kick-return average was second best in the SEC.
-Speaking of Lenz, I have discussed the past two days his struggles at the wide receiver position. Today, Marc Trestman stood in the secondary during 1-on-1 drills between wide receivers and cornerbacks. He took particular interest in Lenz, barking repeatedly at the rookie to raise his level of play. Lenz responded well and made a couple of nice catches during 11-on-11s. I still doubt he'll be retained but it was good to see the rookie improve with coaching.
-Keeping with special teams, the two offensive linemen draft picks, first rounder Kyle Long and fifth rounder Jordan Mills, were the two wedge blockers on first-team kick return. It's unlikely Long will stick in that role but don't be surprised if Mills – a 6-5, 316-pound blocker who can really move – is in on the wedge once the regular season begins. With a head of steam, Mills could clear wide lanes for Devin Hester.
Overall, Greene did not show much as a linebacker. He still has work to do before he can challenge for a starting spot on defense. He looks much thicker than he did in college and the weight gain appears to have affected his quickness and change-of-direction ability. Yet on special teams, he should excel, with or without the added weight.
The same goes for Bostic, although his performance on defense the past three days was much more impressive. It's very early in the process but I think Bostic is going to make an early push in training camp for the starting MIKE position. If D.J. Williams ends up winning that battle, Bostic's natural athleticism and hitting ability should make a valued contributor on special teams.
DeCamillis spoke about the potential of both players.
On Bostic: "He's smart, he's tough and he's good in the open spaces, which should translate well to what we do."
On Greene: "He's the same type of guy. He played safety earlier on so he's probably a bit better in space but both of them are great players."
-During 1-on-1s, CB C.J. Wilson, a UDFA from North Carolina State, was outstanding. The 5-11, 187-pound corner has good, quick feet and great ball skills. In 1-on-1 drills, the defensive backs are at a major disadvantage given the lack of a pass rush. Yet Wilson got his hand on a number of balls the past two days. Wilson has decent size and top-tier speed (4.34 40-yard dash), which could allow him to challenge for one of the final corner spots on the roster, possibly as the backup at nickelback.
-Yesterday, offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer spent much of his time working with fifth-round right tackle Jordan Mills on his stunt blocking. I asked Mills after practice about that teaching session and what Kromer was trying to instill in the rookie.
"Just the stunt blocking," Mills said. "When the defense is slanting inside, he was trying to teach me, on a quick three-step drop back, just to stay there and stay heavy, and let the man come to you. And then just get off on the D end. When it's a longer drop, stay there and sink a little bit and when you know there's nothing coming on the inside of you, go to the D end. So he was trying to work me and get my footwork right."
At one point during that teaching session, Kromer moved Long to right tackle to demonstrate the desired technique. Today, Kromer flip-flopped the two throughout practice, in positional drills as well as the team sessions. Long hasn't played tackle since 2011 and Mills hasn't played guard since 2009, yet the coaches were getting long looks at each guy at multiple spots.
"It was a little different being out there at tackle because I've been focusing on guards since USC, November 3," said Long. "I've been doing guard, and then the transition to right guard this week. It's exciting. It's cool to be able to be called upon to say, ‘Hey, you're moving out to tackle this rep.' We were just short on guys today a little bit so they needed some versatility. Jordan Mills went inside. That's another guy that can move around a little bit. We've got a lot of those."
Mills said positional versatility, particularly for an offensive lineman, is the key to making the final 53-man roster.
"You've got to be versatile," Mills said. "The way you help your team the most is to be versatile. Whenever your team calls, it might not be your position, you might not have ever played it before, but when they call your name you have to know what to do and go in there and help."
Kromer also stressed the importance of flexibility up front.
"I think it's important," said Kromer. "On game day you're only going to dress seven linemen. So when you only dress seven linemen, they have to be multiple-position players and that's what I'm doing."
-Heading into minicamp, we specifically wanted to see if the club's fourth defensive tackle was amongst the group of rookies. Without pads on, it is very tough to evaluate both offensive and defensive linemen. But from what I could tell, that player was not in attendance this weekend.
Neither of the two UDFA interior defenders, Montana State's Zach Minter and Georgia Southern's Brent Russell, showed very much at all. Both Minter and Russell lack ideal explosiveness, which makes one question whether they can compete for the backup 3-technique position. If Minter, Russell or both get training camp invites, they will have to show some improvement. If they don't, and if Nate Collins also fails to impress, the Bears will likely be anxious to get Israel Idonije's agent back on the phone.
One player who did demonstrate some quickness is second-year DT Christian Tupou. The 6-2, 290 pounder was fast through the bags and had decent power during team drills.
-TCU TE Corey Fuller can play. He's a towering player (6-6, 255) and has good hands. As a whole, the rookie tight ends were fairly disappointing, yet Fuller stood out today. During 11-on-11s, the offense repeatedly ran a tight-end seam route that the defense could not stop. With Fuller's height, he was able to snag a couple of those passes, high-pointing the ball on each occasion. Without pads, it's impossible to tell if he has any skill as a blocker but just his size alone could earn him an invite to Bourbonnais.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Follow Bear Report on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Bear Report Web site or magazine, click here.