Bears Training Camp Diary: Day 7

We break down all the action from a heated Bears practice session in Bourbonnais, which included a mid-field scrum of roughly 40 players, some great play by Alshon Jeffery and much more.

The Chicago Bears postponed practice today from it's usual start time of 9 a.m. all the way to 3 p.m. due to what we were told as "inclement weather." It rained before practice but the rest of the day was nothing but blue skies and sunshine. Because of this decision, you are probably reading this around midnight on Friday. And if you were one of the thousands who were turned away amidst beautiful August weather, then I feel sorry for you.

All right, I'll stop complaining. Let's get to it.

Injuries

-T Jermon Bushrod (calf), T Jonathan Scott (knee), and DL Jamaal Anderson (knee) all sat out practice again today. Bushrod was out of his walking boot, which is a good sign, but the Bears are still going to be cautious with him.

"It's coming along. As you can see, I'm out of the boot, which is a good step, a step forward," Bushrod said. "I'm taking this thing one day at a time. I'm trying to get back as soon as I can, but I don't want to mess it up anymore. I want to be out here for my team, so the more days I can strengthen this thing back up and then get it back feeling 100 [percent], then I'll be ready to go."

-DE Corey Wootton had an MRI on his hip and the results were positive. He's listed as day to day and I'm told it's not very serious.

-CB Charles Tillman, WR Brandon Marshall and DE Julius Peppers all took veteran days off. This is the second rest day for Marshall in just seven practices.

"This has been part of the plan [for Marshall]," coach Marc Trestman said after practice. "We were going to go three days on, and one day off. We did that the first week. We decided to go three days on, today off, so he could work tomorrow night, which will be a shorter practice in itself. It's something that I think he wanted to do as well as to practice tomorrow. Right now, we expect that he will. He's feeling good and we will continue forward with that plan."

Roster Moves

-The Bears waived TE Brody Eldridge. TE Leonard Pope worked out for the club this morning and was watching practice on the sidelines. Pending a physical, he's expected to sign with the team.

Notes from Day 7

-Before we get to the stuff on the field, there was one touching moment at practice today. After coach Marc Trestman had finished his post-practice press conference, a reporter, whom I have never seen before, walked up to Trestman and asked him a question. Trestman smiled right away, as he recognized him as a writer from his days in the CFL. From what I gathered, he was or is a beat guy for the Montreal Alouettes.

The reporter almost immediately broke down in tears and gave Trestman a hug, saying, "I'm so happy for you." Then he turned and left. He apparently came all the way from Montreal to see Trestman in the NFL and was just overcome with emotion. It's something you don't see on a football field every day.

-So you all heard about the fight, right? If not, read about it here. It was a doozy.

There's one thing to add to that story. In my opinion, those defenders were just angry that Bennett has been kicking their behinds all of training camp. In that 1-on-1 blocking drill, he was just manhandling both Wright and Conte. He probably took it too far but the fact remains, Bennett is a powerful blocker. The rest of the tight ends on the team struggled in that drill but not Bennett, who showed great strength and use of leverage. On top of that, the big tight end has been working those guys over as a receiver as well, so the defense might have been a little too touchy today.

At the same time, Bennett can be reckless, almost to a fault. During 11-on-11 run drills, DT Henry Melton spun out of the wash and had his back to Bennett, who wasn't blocking anyone. Bennett then just lowered his head and slammed right into the small of Melton's back. Melton immediately grabbed his back and was physically bothered by it for the next few snaps. In that scenario, Bennett's just trying to make a block but he needs to understand what's at stake if you aren't smart and under control on the field.

Going forward, the fight isn't a big deal. These things happen during the grind of training camp. But one thing is for sure, if you go into a battle, you want Bennett on your side, because he was fighting off five or six guys during that scrum.

-It almost seems like WR Alshon Jeffery has gotten taller since his rookie season. It's highly doubtful he's still growing but Jeffery's height makes him nearly unstoppable in the red zone.

During the early team session, they placed the ball on the five-yard line with the offense heading in. Jeffery lined up wide left across from CB Kelvin Hayden. At the snap, QB Jay Cutler simply took two steps back and threw a jump ball to the front pylon. Jeffery elevated and easily snatched the ball over Hayden's head.

In a later 2-minute drill, the offense moved the ball down inside the five-yard line. Jeffery again lined up across from Hayden wide left. As he did before, Cutler lobbed one to the corner and Jeffery rose up and got it. Amazingly, this is just par for the course for Jeffery, who pulls in these types of catches every day in practice. Expect him to be heavily featured this year when the Bears get near the goal line.

I asked wide receivers coach Mike Groh about Jeffery's potential this season:

"I certainly am seeing a lot of progress by Alshon," Groh said. "He's had a tremendous offseason and it's carried over to camp. You see tremendous things from him every day. He's a really sharp, instinctive player with tremendous ball skills."

-During 11-on-11s, LB Blake Costanzo, working at middle linebacker with the second team, undercut a pass intended for the tight end on an out pattern. Costanzo intercepted the ball and easily took it to the house. He had a similar play during OTAs, which demonstrates his both his awareness and quickness in coverage.

When the third team stepped on the field LB Lawrence Wilson made the same play, sliding underneath the tight end, yet he dropped the pick. What this tells me is the defense is starting to catch on to Trestman's short passing attack. They know the majority of passes or going to be less than 10 yards, so they are poised and ready to break on the underneath stuff.

This is exactly what opposing defenses will think throughout the regular season, and when they do, the ball is going to go over the top. It has happened repeatedly during camp, with the secondary creeping forward to stop the short stuff and they end up getting beat badly down the field. That's Trestman's plan and it's very interesting to watch it develop over time, similar to how it might develop in a game.

-We talked yesterday about WR Marquess Wilson taking a rep with the second team, after spending all of his time with the third team up to that point. Those reps increased today. I didn't count them but I'd say he was on the field for 10 snaps with the second team this afternoon.

"It's coming along," Wilson said. "When you've got the opportunity, you've got to step up. It can happen for anybody on this offense so when you get the opportunity you've got to take full advantage of it."

Wilson did fall again during positional drills, which happens at least once a practice. He's no good to the team on the ground, so I asked him what the coaches believe he needs to work on most.

"Just getting in and out of my breaks quicker and keeping my pad level down," Wilson said.

Is balance an issue?

"No."

Wilson is moving up the depth chart, which is a good sign for the rookie. He has shown a lot of playmaking ability and the coaching staff obviously feels like he has potential as well. He has a few things to work on but he's a lock for the practice squad and he's slowly creeping into Top-53 territory.

-WR Eric Weems is not being used as a punt returner and only rarely as a kick returner. Special teams coach Joe DeCamillis is obviously dedicated to Devin Hester as his primary return man and his given him every snap with the ones. Weems has value as a gunner and coverage player on special teams but beyond that, he doesn't offer much as a receiver and he's obviously not in the team's plan in kick return.

So where does Weems fit?

The receiver competition is heating up. With Marshall out today, Joe Anderson was once again inserted with the first team. At this point, he's almost a lock to the make the roster. So with Marshall, Earl Bennett, Jeffery and Anderson, the top four are set. If the team keeps just five, that would become a three-man battle between Wilson, Devin Aromashodu and Terrence Toliver, two players of similar size and ability.

If the Bears keep six receivers, then maybe Weems sticks, but that's no guarantee either. And remember, the defensive line is far from established, so they may want to keep an extra D-lineman. And with two tackles already on the shelf, and sketchy depth, the coaching staff may want an extra O-lineman as well. So five receivers appears likely at this point. If that comes to fruition, you have to believe Weems would be cut.

Weems makes $1.4 million this year but unfortunately for the Bears, he'd count $1 million toward the cap in dead money if cut. So they'd only save roughly $400,000.

-After missing the last two days for personal reasons, CB Tim Jennings returned to practice today. While he was gone, the team inserted Zack Bowman into the starting lineup, with Kelvin Hayden in the slot. Today, the coaching staff slid Hayden outside and put Isaiah Frey in with the starters.

And there you have it, from the practice squad to the starting lineup in one offseason. Obviously if Tillman had been practicing Frey would have worked with the second team again, but this move pretty much solidifies his spot on the roster. He had another pass deflected today, which is likely twice as many as the cornerback with the second most deflections in camp. If this continues, the heat is going to ratchet up on Hayden. Frey has been that impressive.

Also, Frey was first on the entire roster in the club's conditioning test.

Rapid Fire

-Yesterday, offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer rotated Eben Britton and J'Marcus Webb at the starting tackle spots. That stopped today, with Britton at left tackle and Webb on the right edge the entire session.

-RB Armando Allen can be a weapon in Trestman's offense but he needs quit putting balls on the ground. He's had at least one fumble and a handful of drops. On one play today, he was lined up out wide and had a juicy matchup with the linebacker. He ran a quick slant and left the defender in his dust, yet he dropped the pass.

-With Wootton and Peppers both out today, Shea McClellin and Kyle Moore were the starters. Moore is obviously the frontrunner for the fourth defensive end spot at this point but I didn't see much out of him today. He needs to play better to keep his spot on the depth chart.

-The offense worked on a number of different off-balanced looks during run drills, which included stacking two tight ends outside of the tackle.

-LB Jon Bostic again took snaps at middle linebacker with the first team but with Briggs back on the field, Bostic came off on passing downs.

-DT Corvey Irvin has a tenuous grasp on the fourth defensive tackle spot but for the most part, it's still an open race. Of that group, Christian Tupou was the most impressive in pass blocking drills this afternoon, consistently penetrating gaps and showing good power.

-In 1-on-1 drills, C/G Edwin Williams has been the worst of the offensive linemen. He gets beat two out of every three snaps, and that might be generous.

-G Derek Dennis was solid in 1-on-1 drills again today, showing very good balance and a lot of strength. He's starting to look like a practice squad player.

-Trestman quote of the day, to his receivers: "Drop your pads, get a burst and expect a collision."


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.

Bear Report Top Stories