It was a cool, rainy day for the first Chicago Bears Training Camp practice of 2013. Despite the weather - which hovered in the 60s throughout practice - and wet conditions, a full crowd of Bears fans showed up on a Friday morning to get their first glimpse at Marc Trestman and his 90-man roster.
DT Henry Melton was not present at the beginning of practice yet returned to action roughly midway through the session. He said afterward he just wasn't feeling good.
"I was just warming up," Melton said after practice. "I was trying to get over a little sickness I had, so they were taking care of me."
Other than that, the Bears came out of their first practice unscathed.
Notes from Day 1
-The practice started off with a long, structured stretching session conducted by strength and conditioning coach Mike Clark. It was interesting to see such a disciplined session, as stretching was a joke under Lovie Smith.
-After stretching came positional drills. About 10 minutes into positionals, Trestman – as he did throughout OTAs and minicamps – had everyone sprint to the middle of the field where the first-team offense and defense conducted a brief hurry up drill. When the six or seven plays were concluded, Trestman then sent everyone back to positionals. As he's preached throughout the offseason, he wants his players ready for anything.
"What we're trying to do essentially is slow everything down on Sunday," Trestman said. "The faster we go and the more chaotic we can make it for them the easier things are going to be on Sunday. Things happen so fast on Sunday that if we can create that environment as much as possible here – more game-like – we hope that they'll play better and we believe they will. So that's the reason for it."
-That intensity carries over into every drill. And Trestman is the hardest on his quarterbacks. During the 11-on-11 portions, he was constantly barking at his signal callers to get the play called and snapped as quickly as possible.
What I found interesting was he kept harping about picking the right play. Trestman talked yesterday about giving the passers multiple plays to choose from on most snaps and his directions to the QBs today confirmed that.
"We will give [Cutler] two plays," Trestman said yesterday. "We'll give him two plays with a third answer. We've done all of this already. So what we're trying to do is throw as much at Jay and the offense as we can, see what we can do, and then make mindful decisions on exactly what we can do coming out of the gate."
-Staying with Cutler, his fundamentals were very strong today. During both the individual and team portions of the practice, he was picture perfect on nearly every pass. Trestman and quarterbacks coach Matt Cavanaugh have worked extensively with Cutler on his technique this offseason.
"We reviewed his fundamentals," said Trestman. "We knew that was a starting point in doing things to try and help him grow in that area. What I see is he's working hard and more conscious that where he is at the top of his drop, his base, his finish on his throws — technically speaking to give you some content, I think he's conscious of those things to help his accuracy and help the rhythm of how he's moving around in the pocket."
That work showed today but remember, there was no real pass rush, as is always the case when players practice in shorts and not pads. The true test of Cutler's development in fundamentals will come when the live drills start. He can't be touched by the defense but they can sure get in his face once the pads go on. If he can continue to be technically sound in the face of pressure, instead of reverting to his back-foot tendencies, then we'll know if he's truly improving.
-To start the day, the starting offensive line was the same as it has been all offseason: LT Jermon Bushrod, LG Matt Slauson, C Roberto Garza, RG James Brown and RT J'Marcus Webb. Yet during the second 11-on-11 portion, the coaching staff inserted first-round rookie Kyle Long in at right guard in place of Brown. He worked their during the entire session.
After a special teams interlude, Brown was then put back in at right guard. That rotation continued throughout the remainder of practice.
"They want to see me on film because they didn't have an opportunity to see me in the OTAs or the minicamps, so it makes sense," Long said. "I don't make anything of it. I just want to go out and earn every rep. That's what I'm here to do."
It's a competition that will be ongoing in camp until one of the two distinguishes himself as the starter.
"Today's Day 1, and there's a competition going on, and we've got a good plan for our guards and for James and Kyle to both get work at that position," said Trestman. "It's going to play itself out. We'll just continue to do that throughout camp.
-During the initial hurry up drill, the first play was a pass that was tipped three times before S Chris Conte was able to snag it out of the air. The defense would go on to force two more turnovers during team sessions.
The second was a fumble by WR Joe Anderson. Working with the second team, Anderson caught a hitch pattern and turned upfield. Zack Bowman closed on the receiver and knocked the ball out from behind. The defense recovered.
The third turnover was an interception by CB Kelvin Hayden during a two-minute drill. Working out of the slot, Hayden dropped straight down the hash in zone coverage and hid himself behind the defensive line. Cutler fired the ball to Alshon Jeffery, who was running a slant pattern, yet Hayden undercut the pass and ripped it out of midair. He then trotted 80 yards for the score.
"It was a fast start for the defense. Chris Conte made a heck of a play in the back end and got the defense off to a fast start," Trestman said. "As I told the defense, two turnovers and a stripped ball will win games."
-Outside of the three turnovers, the offense dominated today. Again, there is no pass rush, so it's not at all fair for the defense but it still demonstrates how far the offense has come in just their short time with Trestman this offseason.
"In between [the turnovers], I thought the offense picked it up," said Trestman. "There was a lot of good execution out there. We spread the ball around to our guys. We intended to do that today. We got off to a good start. I thought Jay was extremely sharp throughout the middle portions of practice."
-The other negative for the offense came in the form of two false-start penalties, one by Bushrod and one by fifth-round rookie Jordan Mills, working with the third team.
"As I told this offense, we played very, very well throughout most of the practice, but those turnovers and pre-snap penalties are going to hurt us, and we're not going to be where we want to be," Trestman said. "The execution for an offense that had a lot of plays in today, a lot of different snap counts, a lot of different ways of moving the football around, I thought that the mental errors were down. There were very few on the offensive side of the ball. So it comes down to turnovers, and that's the game, and that's what we saw out there today."
-Cutler looked sharp today but the receivers also played very well. Brandon Marshall was back practicing in full for the first team all offseason. He caught around six or seven passes during team drills, which included an amazing one-handed grab on a crossing pattern in traffic. He showed no signs of any discomfort from his offseason hip scope.
Alshon Jeffery, who missed all of veteran mincamp with a hamstring injury, was back on the field today as well. He worked alongside Marshall and Earl Bennett with the first team. Jeffery played well and was able to snag two passes that would have sailed over the heads of most receivers. His length is one of his biggest strengths.
Jeffery was on the verge of a touchdown during the two-minute drill, getting open on a fade pattern against CB Tim Jennings near the goal line. He came down with the pass and was in bounds yet he lost control of the ball as he hit the ground.
-Those who read my offseason reports or my videos from OTAs know that Marshall and S Major Wright got into a bit of a scuffle. It happened after a routine catch in 7-on-7s when Marshall decided to thrust a stiff arm into Wright's facemask, snapping the safety's head back. The two got in each other's face and continued barking back and forth all the way back to the huddle.
We saw some of that animosity carry over today. During 11-on-11s, Marshall caught a pass in the flat. Wright was the first player there and, after he wrapped up the receiver, the two stopped and again got in each other's face. Jennings came over to stand up for Wright before RB Matt Forte grabbed both defenders in a big bear hug and carried them away from Marshall. We'll continue to monitor this situation as camp progresses.
-WR Joe Anderson ascended up the depth chart during OTAs and was getting first-team reps at wide receiver due to the absence of Marshall and Jeffery. He was back with the second team today but he did get the occasional snap with the ones.
What was interesting is that after Marshall made a long catch and run, the team inserted WR Terrence Toliver, and not Anderson, with the first team. Toliver has more size than Anderson, so the staff obviously feels he's a better option to replace Marshall at flanker, where length is important, while Anderson might be better suited for a slot role.
The second-team wide receivers were Toliver, Anderson and Eric Weems. The third-team wideouts consisted of a rotation between Jerrell Jackson, Marcus Rucker, Marquess Anderson, Devin Aromashodu, Brittan Golden and Josh Lenz.
Jackson was the only wideout that stood out, making a great grab in traffic near the sidelines. It was a play that elicited a large cheer from the crowd.
-Toliver had an opportunity to make a great play on a deep sideline pass during team drills. It was a nice throw by backup QB Josh McCown, yet CB Zack Bowman was in Toliver's hip and at the last second he extended his 6-1 frame and knocked the pass away. Outside of Hayden's interception, it was the best defensive play of the day.
On a separate play, Bowman squared off against Weems in man coverage. Weems tried to muscle Bowman of his spot on a hitch route, yet Bowman stood his ground and drove the receiver into the ground. It wasn't pass interference, as Weems initiated the contact. After the play, Bowman got a large helping of love from defensive coordinator Mel Tucker.
Bowman isn't going to leapfrog Jennings or Charles Tillman into a starting role but his solid play, not only today but throughout the entire offseason, is a good sign in case one of the starters go down.
-With Melton out for a large part of the practice, the club inserted DT Nate Collins into the starting role alongside Stephen Paea. This time last year, Collins was just a camp body in a five-man competition for the club's fourth defensive tackle spot, so he's come a long way in just a year. I asked him after practice about the secret to his success.
"I just try to come out with the same intensity every day," he said. "I love to compete. I love to be out there. I'm just ready to be out here, working on my craft and trying to get better. There's always things you can get better at."
The team also slid DE Corey Wootton inside on a number of snaps late in practice, something the coaching staff experimented with in OTAs and minicamp on passing downs.
-In nickel sets, the Bears had been using linebackers Lance Briggs and James Anderson this offseason. Yet today, D.J. Williams was working alongside Briggs during passing downs. Both Williams and Anderson have proven to be solid in coverage, so it appears the Bears have a number of options at linebacker in nickel formation.
-James "Big Cat" Williams, who played offensive tackle for the Bears from 1991-2002, was in attendance this morning.
-During sled drills, defensive line coach Mike Phair was all over DE Shea McClellin to show more explosion into the pads.
-DE Kyle Moore showed a lot of strength in the sled drills. During the mini-bag drill, when four bags are lined up a yard apart and the players must quickly traverse through the traffic, Moore was outstanding. He even found a way to throw in a spin move, which elicited a round of "ooooohs" from his teammates.
-Throughout all the drills involving skill-position players, the mantra of the coaching staff was "high and tight", in reference to where they want the receivers and backs carrying the football.
-Second-team linebackers were rookies Jon Bostic (MLB) and Khaseem Greene (WLB), and Blake Costanzo (SLB). Yet James Anderson took a lot of reps as a nickel linebacker with the second team. Even though he wasn't working in nickel sets with the ones, he was still getting pass-coverage reps.
-After Joe Anderson's fumble, safety Anthony Walters returned the ball down the far sidelines. Yet Kyle Long, an offensive lineman, chased him down, showing extreme athleticism and hustle.
-RB Armando Allen took one first-team rep that I saw. He lined up in the backfield and motioned out wide to the receiver spot. I expect his snaps will increase with the first team due to his ability as a receiver. It's a situation I'll monitor closely, as he could be a mismatch nightmare out of the backfield.
-The second-team offensive line: LT Cory Brandon, LG Even Britton, C Edwin Williams, RG Kyle Long, RT Jonathan Scott. Jordan Mills worked mainly with the third team yet took a full series of reps with the second team at right tackle. When Long jumped to the first team, the second-team O-line shifted to: LT Scott, LG Brown, C Williams, RG Britton, RT Mills.
-DE Shea McClellin dropped into coverage on one play that I saw. He ran stride for stride with TE Martellus Bennett in man coverage. The ball was thrown elsewhere but this is just another glimpse at McClellin's expanded role this season.
-During special teams drills, defensive line coach Mike Phair spent one-on-one time with newly signed defensive tackle Jamaal Anderson, working on fundamentals and technique.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is in his third season covering the Chicago Bears full time. 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.