The Chicago Bears continued organized team activities (OTAs) today at Halas Hall. The hour-and-fifteen-minute session was open to the media and Bear Report was on the sidelines for all the action. Here's what we saw on the field.
-WR Brandon Marshall (hip) again stood on the sidelines watching his teammates. This could be a precautionary measure, with the Bears erring on the side of caution with their All-Pro wideout but at some point Marshall needs to get on the field and start finding his way in Marc Trestman's new offense.
-K Robbie Gould (calf) was not in attendance, which has been a recurring theme the entire offseason. In addition, RB Matt Forte and CB Tim Jennings were not on hand, as they are in Germany to support the troops with ex-Bear Johnny Knox in conjunction with USO of Illinois.
News and Notes
-On the first team defense, the Bears replaced Jennings with Zack Bowman. This is interesting on a few levels. The first is that Kelvin Hayden, who was the club's No. 1 backup at both starting corner spots last year, remained in the slot. He did not slide outside, which leads me to believe the new coaching staff sees Hayden as a pure nickel corner.
The second is the use of Bowman, who obviously is the frontrunner for the club's No. 4 cornerback position. Remember, Bowman started 12 games for the Bears back in 2009 and led the team in interceptions (6) that year. Yet he struggled mightily in three starts the following year and was eventually replaced by Jennings. In 2011, he made one start after Jennings faded down the stretch, and Bowman was lit up for three touchdowns against the Green Bay Packers.
There's no denying Bowman has talent. He has good size (6-1, 196), speed and playmaking ability but he doesn't play very physical and is a poor tackler. If he has improved in those areas, he could be in line for playing time on defense, in addition to his duties on special teams.
-Staying in the secondary, Brandon Hardin is still rotating with Anthony Walters and Craig Steltz with the second-team safeties. All three players are getting a third of the reps. None have stood out so far, although Steltz is almost guaranteed a roster spot due to his value on special teams. Walters also is strong on special teams and was third on the team in coverage tackles last year. Hardin is also a member of every special teams unit, so this could be a situation where all three end up on the final 53-man roster.
-At nickelback, Isaiah Frey is still working with the second team. He again showed well during today's practice. On one play, Frey was beaten initially down the seam, yet he showed good closing speed and made up enough ground on the receiver to bat the ball away at the last second. It was a solid play, a play he would not have made last year and one that surely got him even more notice from the coaching staff.
So if the regular season started today, the five corners on the roster would be Charles Tillman, Jennings, Bowman, Hayden and Frey. Don't sleep on C.J. Wilson though, a player I know the Bears are very high on right now.
-The Bears have almost no depth at defensive tackle. Behind Stephen Paea and Henry Melton is a group of journeymen and rookies. To assume any of them are going to morph into players who can pressure the quarterback is extremely presumptuous. Things have gotten to the point where the coaching staff is looking at 255-pound Aston Whiteside as the backup at 3-technique.
Because of that, it appears new defensive coordinator Mel Tucker is taking a page from Rod Marinelli's book. The Bears had the same DT problems last year, so Marinelli slid Israel Idonije inside on passing downs. Today, Tucker did the same thing with Corey Wootton, moving him next to Melton in nickel sets and using Julius Peppers and Shea McClellin off the edges.
Wootton said after practice the team has had much discussion about making this move on passing downs, as it places the club's four best pass rushers on the field at the same time.
-Whiteside is still working with the second team yet he was replaced during one of the 11-on-11 sessions by third-year defensive tackle Corvey Irvin, a tryout player the Bears signed following rookie minicamp. Whiteside did move back up with the second team later in practice but it's a situation worth watching, as the coaching staff obviously sees some potential in Irvin.
-The first- and second-team offensive lines did not change from last week.
-Without the pads on, it's tough to get a good read on the linemen, yet a few things were obvious today. The first is that neither Brandon nor Scott appear to have the requisite quickness to be effective as "move" blockers in Chicago's new zone-run system. Brandon in particular struggled today. During 11-on-11s, he tried to stretch right from the backside but tripped over his own feet and fell flat on his face.
Additionally, fifth rounder Jordan Mills, working at right tackle with the third team, had a rough start to the practice. During the first set of 11-on-11s, he was twice beaten off the edge by a speed rush from Kyle Moore. It was a bad pair of plays for Mills yet, as he did during rookie minicamp, he showed improvement later in the practice. By the final 11-on-11 session, Mills was getting back much faster and shutting down Moore's speed rush. The kid takes to coaching.
-Helping on the edge today was TE Martellus Bennett. On at least two snaps, Bennett was asked to block Wootton 1-on-1 with no help. There are no pads on, so it wasn't a full live drill, but on both snaps, Bennett was very physical and kept his body in front of Wootton. His four years spent as Jason Witten's backup in Dallas did Bennett good.
-With Forte out, Michael Bush took the majority of the snaps with the first team, yet Armando Allen also saw plenty of field time with the starters. Allen, who showed very well as a pass catcher during training camp last year, was featured in that role again today. He made numerous catches with both the first and second team, working out of the backfield, in the slot and out wide. As expected, he showed he's a weapon as a receiver and surely left a strong impression on Trestman.
Allen is battling with Michael Ford, who worked mainly with the second and third teams today. Ford got a few snaps with the first team and has showed surprisingly good ability at catching the football. During special teams drills, Ford was working with Hester and a positional coach on kick return technique when catching the kickoff. Those were the only two players participating in that coaching session.
-I was really excited to see TE Fendi Onobun, a player who has been very impressive this offseason and had been working sporadically with the first team. Yet during positional drills, Onobun ran a crossing pattern and came up limp after extending for a pass out of his reach. He grabbed his left hamstring and did not return to practice. I later saw him with ice wrapped around his left thigh and hamstring.
In his place, the Bears used Steve Maneri on a number of snaps but for the most part, they just had Bennett play with both the first and second teams. To me, this means Chicago's coaching staff doesn't see any pass catchers at the tight end position beyond Onobun and Bennett.
-The wide receiver depth chart has not changed since last week.
-Out of this group, Anderson stood out today, making two very difficult catches away from his body. He shows improvement every time I see him and has value on special teams as well. Right now, he's the early leader for the fifth receiver position.
-Wilson again showed concentration issues during positional drills. He continues to drop easy A-to-B passes with no defense on the field. Then he'll turn around and make a great catch in traffic. He's been enigmatic as a wideout so far and has to start showing better consistency if he's going to make the team.
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.