It was another cool July morning for the second practice of Chicago Bears 2013 Training Camp. Temperatures again hovered in the 60s for most of the session, with the sun occasionally peeking out through the overcast sky. Today being a Saturday, the crowd at Olivet Nazarene University was substantially larger than yesterday, which built a palpable atmosphere of excitement.
During positional drills, LB D.J. Williams got some work done by a trainer on his lower left leg. He had a noticeable limp as he got up to jog to the next drill but he didn't miss any time and it didn't appear to affect him on the field.
Other than that, the Bears again came away from practice healthy.
Notes from Day 2
-Today's session started off just like yesterday's, with an interception of QB Jay Cutler on the first play of team drills. As coach Marc Trestman does every practice, he interrupted positional drills to run a quick two-minute drill. On the first snap of the live drill, Cutler dropped back to pass and was looking for WR Brandon Marshall down the left sidelines. Yet CB Charles Tillman stepped in front of the receiver and picked off the pass.
"We'll start with play two tomorrow because we've had two picks, two tremendous picks, the first two days of practice," Trestman said after the session. "Charles made a great pick today, so that was really good. I haven't been around him that long, but if that play today at the start of practice was any evidence of anything but a guy who continues to play at a high level, I don't know what [is]."
Tillman forced another turnover later in practice, this time stripping TE Steve Manari after a 10-yard catch. It was a typical Peanut Punch, something he did 10 times last year, which led the league.
When asked if he's ever been around a player that can strip the ball like Tillman, Trestman replied: "No. Like nothing I've ever seen. His ability to create a turnover is unique. You've got every defensive coach in America watching how he does it, trying to figure out how he can get the ball out the way he does on such a consistent level."
-Yesterday, I noticed the quarterbacks using hard counts during a lot of the team drills. Today, that continued. The QBs approached the line, made their calls and then shouted a loud count, meant to draw the defense offside, before stepping away from center and adjusting the call. For the most part, the defense did a good job staying onsides. Twice I heard Trestman bark, "Good job. Way to hold your water."
"It wasn't as much hard counts, just moving snap counts around," Trestman said. "Quick counts as well as longer counts. I thought our defense, particularly our first and second group, did a good job of holding their water, so to speak, and there was really good focus both offensively and defensively and minimizing and really seeing no pre-snap penalties whatsoever."'
-RB Armando Allen took a handful of snaps with the first team today, which is fairly considerable for a third-string ball carrier. And he was lined up all over the field, used both as a running back and a receiver. As a running back, he showed outstanding quickness slipping through some tight gaps. Long-time subscribers know I'm an Allen fan. He's small (5-8, 185) but he's strongly built, and there isn't a quicker player on the team. For more than two years he's shown great ability as a receiver and it appears Trestman has taken notice.
Unfortunately for Allen, safety Anthony Walters stripped him after one catch, which is something that doesn't sit well with Trestman.
"We've got to take care of the football offensively," Trestman said. "It's never going to get any tougher to take care of the football than it is at our practices with our defense. If we can take care of the football there, we're going to feel good about taking care of it each and every play. So that's the No. 1 priority is that when you're watching practice out here that these guys are putting the ball away and we're keeping the ball off the ground."
"Kyle is not as far along as James is," said Trestman. "That's just going to be an ongoing [issue] as we move through training camp."
During Long's second shift with the first team, the club moved Brown over to left guard in place of Matt Slauson. At that point, the offensive line was: LT Jermon Bushrod, LG Brown, C Roberto Garza, RG Long, RT J'Marcus Webb. It was the first time the Bears have used that front-five combination all year.
Yet it didn't stop with the starters. With the second team, the coaching staff inserted Sluason at center and moved Edwin Williams to left guard. The second-team offensive line during that portion of practice was: LT Jonathan Scott, L.G. Williams, C Slauson, RG Derek Dennis, RT Eben Britton. This lineup is all over the place. Williams hasn't played guard since last year; Britton has worked exclusively at guard this offseason; Dennis has worked mainly with the third team all year; Slauson has never started a game at center in his career; and Scott hasn't been used on the left edge since coming to Chicago.
Did Aaron Kromer just morph into Mike Tice?
So what does this game of musical chairs mean? It means the coaching staff is using these first practices of camp to get a feel for players at multiple positions. GM Phil Emery has consistently preached positional flexibility and the offensive coaches took that philosophy to another level today.
To me, this is due diligence. This is taking the time to experiment early in camp, to make sure guys are at positions of best fit. By shuffling players around, the staff leaves no stone unturned.
Now, if this continues, it will be a bad sign. With a new offense and new blocking scheme, getting the front five solidified as early as possible is a major priority. If we see guys jumping around like this in a couple of weeks, it means the staff can't make up their minds, or no one has proven themselves, or both. Covering all the angles on the second day of camp is fine but in order for the offense to move forward, it needs to stop soon.
Pads come on tomorrow, so Kromer and assistant offensive line coach Pat Meyer should soon be able to weed out the pretenders.
-For two straight days, the tight ends have been featured predominantly in Trestman's offense. With all three teams, the tight ends see numerous looks in the passing game.
With the first team, Martellus Bennett has just been outstanding. He was one of Cutler's favorite targets in OTAs and minicamps, and that has carried over to training camp. Bennett has been a weapon on underneath routes, providing Cutler a big target in the middle of the field, as well as down the seams.
Today, he continuously beat the defense as a pass catcher. He was borderline uncoverable.
"I've been working very hard with my routes and on my skill work outside and inside with the receivers and the coaches have been doing a great job with me," Bennett said yesterday. "Coach Trestman has been telling me all the things he expects from me so I can prepare for it. I got with Matt Blanchard a lot this summer because I didn't leave Chicago and he didn't. So I was with him about four or five times a week and I ran routes in every single spot. So it's something I expect and I'm ready for."
Late in the session, Bennett caught a crossing pattern and burst up the field. CB Tim Jennings, obviously tired of the big tight end making the defense look bad, caught Bennett from behind and gently rode him to the ground, with Tillman coming in at the end to help finish him off. As the three players trotted back to the huddle with smiles on their faces, Tillman yelled, "Tim, he really though he was going to outrun us."
Bennett has proved his worth as a pass catcher and when the pads go on tomorrow, we'll find out how good his at blocking as well. By most accounts, he's as good a blocker as he is a receiver.
"If you can have a tight end in the game who can block all three downs for you and still run routes on all three rounds and do it at a consistent and high level, you've got a chance to have the kind of tight end that you want," Trestman said. "After two days you can see the versatility of Martellus."
-During 7-on-7 drills early in practice, seventh-round rookie receiver Marquess Wilson ran a 15-yard sideline comeback. He sunk into his cut and then turned back to the quarterback. Blanchard fired a pass to where he thought his receiver would be, yet Wilson got absolutely no push out of his break. It was like he was stuck in quicksand. He made a diving attempt at the catch but because he didn't burst back to the ball, he had no shot at it.
I thought to myself at the time that it was just one more example of how Wilson is not ready for prime time. Then, as he did during rookie minicamp and OTAs, Wilson came to life and made two really strong plays during 11-on-11s. One was a deep crossing pattern where Wilson created good separation out of his break, caught the ball away from his body and immediately turned up the field. It was picture perfect.
There's no doubt that Wilson is talented. Plays like those just show his potential. But his inconsistency is maddening. Going forward, he needs to make progress every day, baby steps, like he did this morning. He still has a long way to go but seeing him flash his play-making ability is a good sign.
-There was a lot of talk this offseason about the potential camp competition for the starting punter gig. Adam Podlesh has a down season last year and rookie Tress Way was destroying balls in OTAs. Because of that many believed Way, a younger and much cheaper option than Podlesh, might find his way onto the 53-man roster.
After watching Way punt today, I think Podlesh's job is safer than most believe. Don't get me wrong, the Way can flat out boom punts. He dropped a couple of kicks today that were just ridiculous in their combination of height and length. But beyond that, he was pretty mediocre for the second day in a row. At the same time, Podlesh put in his consistent work. So unless Way proves he can sky balls on every kick, it's unlikely he's going to oust the veteran incumbent.
-Yesterday, DT Henry Melton knocked down two Cutler pass attempts. He said after practice that those deflections don't always sit well with the quarterback.
"I always try to make Cutler mad," said Melton. "He always talks to me in the locker room about it. He doesn't like when I do that. Neither does the O-line, they want to throw me down when I do. But [the coaches] said put your hands up, so…"
Today, during the first portion of team drills, Cutler dropped back to pass and Melton again swatted it out of the air. Cutler stood for a good 10 seconds just staring at Melton after the play.
This is a perfect example of how Forte can create sticky situations for opposing defenses. In this scenario, he wound up being covered by Tim Jennings, which isn't a great matchup for Forte. Yet Marshall, one of the best receivers in the game, was matched up with a linebacker. That's a scenario the Bears will take every single day, and twice on Sunday.
-During special teams drills, coordinator Joe DeCamillis pulled out what I like to call The Limbo Bar. It's actually more of a net that stretches parallel to the ground about 10 feet wide, yet only about four feet tall. The special team players were working on their release down the field after a punt is kicked. So one-by-one they squatted under The Limbo Bar until the whistle, at which point they had to swing out from under the bar, while still not touching it, and release up the field. It was a unique drill meant to teach the players how to stay low in their release. If nothing else, DeCamillis is very creative in his teaching techniques.
-Dez Clark, who played tight end for the Bears from 2003-2010, was in attendance today.
-Coach speak: When the Bears perform 7-on-7 drills, the staff refers to it as "skellies."
-As was the case yesterday, linebackers Lance Briggs and D.J. Williams stayed on the field with the first team in nickel formation. Second-team nickel linebackers were Jon Bostic and James Anderson. Rookie Khaseem Greene, a former collegiate safety, took no snaps in nickel sets.
-TE Steve Maneri dropped a pair of easy catches and fumbled a ball. He had better show something as a blocker once the pads go on because he's a potential liability in the passing game.
-During 11-on-11s today, for the first time in camp, Cutler tried to force a pass into double coverage. It was truly an awful decision. Jennings should have had the interception but he dropped the ball. Guess who the pass was intended for?
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.