Controlled chaos. That is the best way to describe a Chicago Bears practice under Marc Trestman. Throughout the offseason, the first-time NFL head coach has been the ringleader of field sessions that often resemble a full-fledged fire drill.
Today, during the first practice of mandatory veteran minicamp, Trestman took it up a notch.
The session began like most, with stretching, warm-ups and positional drills. Then, about 10 minutes into positionals, Trestman cupped his hands around his mouth – there are no whistles or air horns on the practice field, which were two staples of Lovie Smith practices – and called the players into an impromptu hurry up drill.
The first team offenses and defenses jumped into action, with no huddles in between plays.
"If you're walking, you're absolutely wrong," Trestman barked.
They ran roughly six plays, then the second team cycled in and repeated the process.
And then it was over, and everyone was back doing positional drills. For a second, I wondered if I had imagined the whole thing.
The rest of the day followed suit, with Trestman conducting at a hectic pace, pushing his players to the brink under the hot Chicago summer sun.
"We started the minicamps with more of a training-camp environment, a longer practice," Trestman said. "It's a practice format we'll use during the season, fast periods, moving people in and out. I thought the heat was good for us today. At the end of the day, they get a sense for their conditioning level now. It'll give them an idea of where they have to be when we move out of here and into training camp.
"That's where we're kind of headed these next two days, to continue to create this training camp environment, the speed of practice, and to continue to compete against each other."
With that in mind, let's take you through today's session.
-Wide receiver Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery were both suited up and participated in positionals, yet neither saw much action during team drills. Marshall is still making his slow recovery from off-field hip surgery, while Jeffery is dealing with a minor hamstring injury.
"[Jeffery] ran a ‘go' route the other day and made a great play, just tweaked it a little bit," said Trestman. "We're going to just be as cautious as we can. We're trying to get out of here with every player healthy, keeping our team as safe as we can amidst the competition you see going out there."
-Also out was offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer, who was not on the field due to recent hip surgery. Bears media relations told me Kromer is doing everything with the team except the on-field stuff during his recovery.
Day 1 Notes
-With Jeffery and Bennett limited, Joe Anderson took all of his reps with the first team. In fact, he was being used as the club's pure No. 2, ahead of Eric Weems. I have talked about Anderson all offseason and it appears he has a stranglehold on the No. 5 receiver spot and may be on the precipice of the No. 4 position.
Jay Cutler showed a lot of trust in Anderson, targeting him repeatedly during team drills. This included the first snap of hurry ups. Anderson ran a 15-yard hitch and the pass was outside, yet he was able to haul in the ball with a diving catch. And in 1-on-1 drills, Anderson truly shined. For three snaps he lined up against Tim Jennings, Pro Bowl starter and first-team All Pro corner last season, and burned him each time.
After he thrice schooled Jennings, Anderson got some love from Trestman:
"Way to bring it Joe. You're setting the tone for practice."
-The Bears are cycling their tight ends with both the first and second team. The club is high on all of the top four guys: Martellus Bennett, Fendi Onobun, Kyle Adams and Steve Maneri. Yet I'm told Adams and Onobun are two of the main reasons the team felt comfortable releasing Evan Rodriguez. Onobun is taller, can jump higher and has made a number of plays as a receiver this offseason.
Yet Onobun has a lot of room for improvement. During 1-on-1s, he repeatedly had problems keeping his footing and did not look good. Yet during team drills, Onobun was again a weapon and made some nice catches. He fumbled one ball, which is the second time this offseason I've seen him lose the ball after the catch. But if Onobun can work on his footing, balance and ball security, he'll have a role in Trestman's offense.
-New fullback Tony Fiammetta is another reason the team waived Rodriguez. Fiammetta is considered a pure lead blocker, one who may be able to provide more push and consistency leading into the hole, particularly in short-yardage situations. In the first snap of 11-on-11 drills, there was Fiammetta as the front portion of an I-formation backfield. That will be his role, as he looked pretty bad as a pass catcher during 1-on-1 drills.
-With Anderson working with the first team, the staff inserted Devin Aromashodu with the second team alongside Terrence Toliver and Brittan Golden. Aromashodu spent two unproductive years in Minnesota, after catching four touchdowns from Cutler late in 2009. The current roster's lack of experience at receiver gives him a chance to make the team but he'll need to get up to speed quickly if he's going to take advantage of the opportunity.
"There's a lot of competition in there. He's behind the 8-ball," Cutler said. "He's behind the other guys. So (he's) got a lot of catching up to do receiver wise. We've got some really good skill guys on the offensive side. So he's going to have to catch up to us."
-The Bears continue to rotate their defensive ends at defensive tackle. At different points during today's practice, Julius Peppers, Shea McClellin and Corey Wootton all took reps inside. In fact, the defensive-end rotation was so heavy that starting nose tackle Stephen Paea was playing with the second team just to get in some work.
-Last week, I mentioned that Blake Costanzo had played his way onto the second team with rookie Jon Bostic and Khaseem Greene. Costanzo today was again working at MIKE with the backups, with Bostic at SAM and Greene at WILL.
Costanzo made a very nice interception during 11-on-11s, undercutting a crossing pattern. He then ran the ball back, sticking out to Josh McCown as he ran by. This did not sit well with Trestman, who told defensive coordinator Mel Tucker, "Tell that knucklehead to secure the ball."
-The player Costanzo replaced on the second team, J.T. Thomas, has fallen out of favor with the coaching staff. He's now getting only occasional reps with the third team. Thomas needs to have a heck of a training camp if he's going to make the roster.
-Seventh-round rookie Marquess Wilson is buried on the third team and his inconsistency is maddening. He doesn't get many reps on the field and when he does, he doesn't do much with them. Right now, he has a mountain to climb just to make the practice squad.
I did notice receivers coach Mike Groh working with Wilson during special teams drills. He had Wilson stand roughly 10 yards away and had Marshall and Jeffery, who had nothing better to do, stand in between to either side, using their arms to distract Wilson as the ball was coming.
This confirms what I've said all along: Wilson needs to learn how to concentrate and stop dropping easy passes. Obviously Groh feels the same way.
-Staying with the rookies, sixth-round defensive end Cornelius Washington has been working with the third team all offseason. That was the same today, yet late in practice, he got three reps with the second team. On the first one, he flew up the field and then stuck his foot in the ground and drove Jonathan Scott backward and out of his way. Had it been a live drill, Washington would have picked up the sack. After the play, he got a lot of love from defensive line coach Mike Phair. The kid is improving.
-Finally, during punt return drills, special teams coordinator worked on a double-returner set, with two guys back deep. With the first team, Devin Hester lined up five yards behind Eric Weems. After the punt, Weems set up the blocking while Hester tracked down the ball. This is obviously a formation special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis is planning to use this year.
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.