The Chicago Bears have put the sixth practice of training camp in the books. It was a beautiful Thursday morning, with clear skies and nothing but sunshine hovering over the practice fields at Olivet Nazarene University. Officials estimated roughly 7,500 fans were in attendance.
-LB D.J. Williams (calf), DL Jamaal Anderson (knee), OT Jermon Bushrod (calf) and T Jonathan Scott (knee) all sat out practice. Bushrod, Scott and Anderson are day to day, while Williams is week to week. Both Bushrod and Williams were in walking boots.
-DE Corey Wootton participated for most of the session, then hobbled off the field before the final 11-on-11 period. The trainers checked him and then sent him to the locker room. It was reported later as a hip injury and he'll soon undergo an MRI.
"Corey is day-to-day," coach Marc Trestman said after practice. "He's got a ding in his hip. He's going to get an MRI. We don't think it's serious."
Notes from Day 6
-With Bushrod and Scott both out, Eben Britton was again inserted at left tackle to start practice. Yet during 2-on-2 drills, he struggled mightily. On his first snap, the two defensive linemen ran a stunt. Julius Peppers crashed down on LG Matt Slauson and DT Stephen Paea swung outside. Britton followed Peppers all the way down the line and never saw Paea, who had a free run at the quarterback.
Later on, DE Shea McClellin threw a spin move on Britton for which he had no answer. Both of those snaps surely would have resulted in sacks.
In the 11-on-11 session that immediately followed, Britton was moved to right tackle and J'Marcus Webb was put on the left edge. Webb, who has also struggled in camp, looked much more comfortable at left tackle and consistently held his own against Peppers. Having started the last two years on the left side, it was almost like putting on an old pair of gloves.
Then, surprisingly, Webb was shifted back to right tackle during the next set of team drills, with Britton on the left edge again. This back-and-forth rotation continued throughout practice during every 11-on-11 session.
"To get better you have to be able to play both sides," Webb said after practice. "There's certain techniques on either side so it helps us in the run game and the pass game."
Trestman said the rotation had nothing to do with the performance of either player. It was more about seeing those two play multiple positions.
"We're just trying to find the best five," said Trestman. "[OC] Aaron Kromer and [assistant offensive line coach] Pat [Meyer] are doing a great job of moving people around. The injury situation, we can turn a negative into a positive by working guys at different positions and see where we might be in the season. We've still got eight or nine practices here before we leave and we'll use every day to try to get better."
We talked yesterday about Britton having never started a game before at left tackle and that showed today. He didn't do well in stunt pickup and was flat-footed in pass protection. He did not help his cause today.
-With both Briggs and Williams out, rookie Jon Bostic again served as the starting middle linebacker. At the start of practice, James Anderson was calling the plays for the defense but about midway through, Bostic took over. It's not very often you see a rookie linebacker leading an NFL huddle, and certainly not a huddle that includes four Pro Bowlers.
"I've just got to come out and prove myself every day to them," Bostic said. "They've been in this league for a long time. So I've got to come out here and earn their respect. It's not going to be given."
Whether or not he's earned their respect remains to be seen but the veterans know one thing for sure: they may need Bostic sooner than later.
"He did well. We're going to need him," Peppers said. "We hope Lance doesn't go down but he could. All of us could go down. So whenever somebody goes down, the next player has to be up. So we've got to get him ready because we might need him one of these games."
Standing in front of the huddle is familiar to Bostic, who also made the calls for Florida's fifth-ranked defense last year.
"There's really no difference: make all the calls, make all the checks, so really just learn all the terminology."
When asked about the Cover 2 defense Chicago runs, Bostic wasn't as confident.
"We didn't run too much Cover 2 down in Florida," he said. "We ran mostly Cover 1 and a little bit of Cover 3. I'm just getting used to it. It's not really too bad."
Actually, it is pretty bad. Bostic was horrible in coverage today. I counted at least six different times receivers caught passes either in his zone or in man-to-man. In particular, TE Martellus Bennett worked him over. In general, Bostic appeared overwhelmed and on at least three occasions he showed his frustration on the field after the play.
And QB Jay Cutler wasn't taking it easy on the rookie. In fact, it appeared he was intentionally picking on Bostic, forcing the youngster into a trial-by-fire. Bostic did not respond well, although there's still plenty of time to improve. The last Bears middle linebacker was an all-out beast in coverage, so apparently Bostic has a mountain to climb before he reaches that level.
-Working alongside Bostic and Briggs with the first team was not fourth-round rookie Khaseem Greene. Instead, veteran Blake Costanzo got the call on the strong side. Costanzo came off the field in nickel sets.
With the second team, Costanzo worked alongside Greene in nickel formation. It was the first time in camp that Greene has stayed on the field with the twos on a passing down. Up to this point in camp, he always came off the field in nickel. A former safety in college, Greene looked good in coverage. He still has a lot of work to do but he showed decent awareness and short-area quickness.
-WR Marqeuss Wilson is an enigma, but boy is he talented. During positional drills, the receivers were working on 15-yard in patterns, which require a quick 90-degree cut. When it was Wilson's turn, he slipped in his cut and fell on his face. Receiver's coach Mike Groh told him to sink his hips better and Wilson replied, "I know."
Groh's response: "If you know, then do it!"
We know about Wilson's history, quitting on his collegiate team last year due to his displeasure with Washington State head coach Mike Leach. This may be nothing, but Wilson is the only player I have overheard talking back to a coach.
Later in practice, Wilson took a rep with the second team. It was the first time I have seen him with the twos all of training camp. He lined up in the left slot, ran an out pattern and promptly made a diving grab. Later in practice, he made a beautiful leaping catch and was able to drag both feet in before falling out of bounds. Every day, Wilson does something that makes you cringe, then does something great.
"[Consistency] is the case with any young football player that's come into a new system on a new level," Groh told Bear Report. "He's learning what it takes and what it's all about here in the NFL."
-Brandon Marshall made a leaping catch yesterday in red zone drills and landed hard on his hip. He was slow to get up but hasn't shown any ill effects. During positional drills today, a fan yelled "How's the leg?" to Marshall, who shook his hand as if to say, "It's iffy." He's obviously still dealing with some pain.
Yet that hasn't stopped him from going Beast Mode during every team drill. His best play came during 11-on-11s on a fly route down the left sideline. Cutler put a beautiful pass over the outstretched arm of CB Charles Tillman and Marshall caught the ball in stride before stumbling into the end zone.
"Usually when you change your offense up, or change anything up, it takes time, and it's going to be a work in progress throughout this year, throughout the next few years just to catch up with some of the great offenses that's around the league," Marshall said. "But I'm shocked to see where we're at today. I mean, we're putting in extra work, Jay is really leading us and holding us accountable, and I think that's the reason why we're making big jumps every single day."
-I am always hesitant to criticize safeties during camp. Without a pass rush up front, safeties are forced to cover huge portions of the field for up to 8-10 seconds. Even the best safeties in the league can't do that. Still, Major Wright and Chris Conte are not playing great football. During the six practices of camp so far, roughly 15 passes of 20 yards or longer have been completed by the offense. The blame doesn't fall solely on the safeties but on many of those catches, the receivers were wide open.
On two occasions today, Wright was the deep safety on long passes that went for touchdowns. The first pass was to TE Fendi Onobun, who ran a wheel route down the right sideline. Wright wasn't within 10 yards of him when he caught the ball. The second was a deep right completion to WR Alshon Jeffery, with Wright again nowhere to be found.
Conte has also struggled and, had the ball not been overthrown, would have given up a touchdown of his own to Martellus Bennett. And in 1-on-1 drills, Conte has been the worst safety on the team. He struggles to mirror pass catchers and is not strong enough with his hands to stall receiver progress. On one rep today, Conte blatantly grabbed the jersey of WR Terrence Toliver during his cut. Conte then yanked the receiver backward and made a diving play at the ball. Yet he failed to knock away the pass and Toliver was still able to make the catch. Even when he was holding, Conte still lost the battle.
-WR Devin Aromashodu has looked great the past two practices. During 1-on-1 drills today, Aromashodu made CB Demontre Hurst look silly on a deep post that he caught with ease. During team drills, he had another TD grab, this time down the right seam, with no safety in sight. In his second stint with the Bears, Aromashodu has definitely stood out in camp.
"I think I'm much better," he said. "Experience helps. That was two or three years ago, so experience will always make you a much better player. Experience is the main thing that I've earned the past three years."
Aromashodu is in a battle with Joe Anderson, Terrence Toliver, Marquess Wilson and Marcus Rucker for the final receiver spots on the roster. It's a tough task but Aromashodu has more experience that those four receivers combined, which gives him a leg up.
"Honestly, I'm not focused on that," he said. "Anything that I get, I believe I'll earn. That's how I approach it. I want to earn everything that I get and I'll show what I can do. I think I'm still ascending because I haven't really had the opportunity to play a full season, so to speak. I've got a lot of upside."
If he continues to make plays on the field, the offensive coaching staff won't be able to ignore him much longer. Hurting Aromashodu is the fact he's not very useful on special teams but as a receiver, he has looked very good.
-The cross stunts the defensive line runs are designed as pick plays. By that I mean the task of the first crosser is to clear out two offensive linemen. If that works, the other defender swings around outside and has a free run at the quarterback. It's a kamikaze mission by the first D-lineman so that his teammate can get the glory.
On one snap this morning, Peppers slanted inside, with Melton coming around behind him. Left guard Matt Slauson, who maybe just isn't used to blocking someone of Peppers' caliber, got rocked nearly to his butt. It was one of the hardest hits of the day. Slauson so far has been pretty average as a pass blocker.
-G Kyle Long had the only false start of the day. By my count, that's now three false starts during camp.
"I'm getting a lot more comfortable," Long said. "The first few days, I will admit it, I was really uncomfortable. I didn't understand where I had help from, that kind of thing. Now I'm kind of getting an understanding of that and getting some comfort in my reps. It's starting to slow down a little bit. But the game is extremely fast. We're getting there."
Long was decent in pass-rush drills but he's still not showing great lateral movement. His strength is an asset but he needs to start moving his feet better.
"I've had to expedite my learning before, but not to this scale," said Long. "It's a lot of stuff to learn. And there are expectations that come with being a high draft pick. Just trying to go out there and keep learning every day and try to improve. Little things, because Rome wasn't built in a day. Even offensive linemen don't learn in one day."
To help speed up the process, Long has relied on the help of Kromer.
"He leaves no stone unturned," said Long. "I told him when I got here: assume that I know nothing. It could be true. It could be not true. But that's what I wanted him to assume and that's what he's done and he's really taken the time. I meet with him extra, so I'm trying to get this taken care of while it's still practice. So when the time for the game rolls around, I'll be ready to roll."
-During the positional portion of practice, the running backs traversed through a footwork drill in which they had to tip-toe back and forth down the line. Not surprisingly, Armando Allen showed the quickest feet of the group. Allen did have the only fumble of the day but he's still one of the most dynamic offensive players on this team.
-The Bears experimented with an unbalanced line during positionals, putting T Cory Brandon on the left edge outside of Britton.
-DT Henry Melton, for the third time in camp, knocked down Cutler's first pass attempt of the day. The last time it happened, Cutler stared Melton down. This time, he calmly turned and walked back to the huddle. He's apparently getting used to it.
-WR Josh Lenz has made a couple of strong plays the last few practices. He really has no shot at making the roster but he's putting some good film together for other teams.
-WR Terrence Toliver made two really nice catches today. During 1-on-1 drills, he elevated over CB Kelvin Hayden and made strong sideline grab. His second came on a 30-yard catch down the seam, where there wasn't a safety to be found.
-Cutler update: Overall he looks great but he's still not as accurate as he needs to be on the short throws. I've seen too many receivers extending for passes that only sail five yards through the air.
-During pass-rush drills, Chicago's coaching staff had DE Cornelius Washington take two snaps against tight ends. On the first snap, he straight blew past Brody Eldridge. On the second snap, he knocked Kyle Adams on his behind. Those are just backup tight ends but it's a small demonstration of Washington's power and speed.
-Speaking of Kyle Adams, he dropped two straight passes today. That's not good for a guy battling for the third TE spot.
-TE Martellus Bennett caught two TDs in man coverage today. With his size and speed, he's very difficult to handle for any linebacker or safety.
"We're a team that's got to get the right matchups and [Bennett] is a tough matchup size-wise for any DB or linebacker to cover a man like that," said Trestman.
-DT Zach Minter has been getting occasional reps at defensive and has looked pretty good on the edge. Today, he blew past TE Steve Maneri with a speed rush to the outside. It was pretty impressive for a 6-1, 297-pound interior defensive lineman.
-WR Alshon Jeffery is nearly impossible to cover at times. He still rounds his cuts but it doesn't matter, as he makes up for it with his length and great hands.
-Trestman quote of the day: "We're on a mission here! Let's go!"
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.