It was an overcast and humid day in Bourbonnais for the 10th practice of 2013 Chicago Bears Training Camp. It was the first session at Olivet Nazarene to start at its regularly scheduled time since last Thursday, so Bears fans packed the stands today. At one point, the standing-room area was so deep, I couldn't see the back line.
That's not too shabby for a Tuesday morning.
-DT Stephen Paea, who missed half of yesterday's practice with tightness in his hip, was back this morning and participated in full with the first team.
-OT Jermon Bushrod was dressed and worked with the starters in walkthroughs, the first two-minute drill and 11-on-11 run drills. He then sat out the rest of practice, with Eben Britton taking over at left tackle.
-OT Jonathan Scott (knee), CB Kelvin Hayden (hamstring) and LB D.J. Williams (calf) did not participate. Williams is still in the walking boot. WR Earl Bennett was not on the field and is still being evaluated for concussion-like symptoms.
-DE Julius Peppers was excused from practice for personal reasons.
Notes from Day 10
-I was the first ones out to practice today and saw about 10 minutes of installations. Defensively, coordinator Mel Tucker was working on his rover blitz package. In that package, a defensive linemen stands up and roams behind the line of scrimmage, almost like a fourth linebacker. This gives the defense the look of a 3-4 and usually leads to some exotic blitz packages.
This was something Tucker worked on during OTAs, rotating Henry Melton, Shea McClellin and Corey Wootton at the standup rover position. During team drills today, Tucker busted out the rover package for the first time in training camp.
With the first team, Melton was in the standup spot, with McClellin, Paea and Wootton in down positions. Melton stayed on the move until the ball was snapped, at which time he either rushed the quarterback or dropped into coverage. On a couple of snaps, he rushed forward but then crept back into the short zone.
"That's a little wrinkle [Tucker] is bringing to us," Melton said after practice. "We're just testing it out right now. We're going to see how it works for us and we'll see if we're going to run it. Whatever they ask me to do, I'm going to do it. If it's going to help us win, I'm all for it."
With the second team, Kyle Moore played the rover. On one snap, I saw him turn and run stride for stride with the tight end 30 yards down the field. It was pretty impressive from a 6-6, 263-pound defensive end.
"It's just giving our offense a different look," Moore said. "Instead of the outside guy being the drop guy, the inside guy is the drop guy. They don't know what's coming. The offensive linemen, they're counting me down and then they're counting me up, so it kind of messes with the offensive linemen."
Coach Marc Trestman said the different defensive looks help accelerate the preparedness of his offense.
"Defensively, our front has been moving around," said Trestman. "You saw today a lot of different looks which is excellent for the offense because those are the types of things we are going to see throughout the season."
-Melton continues batting balls out of the air. In every single practice during camp, he's slapped away at least one pass attempt, and he added three more today. The first one fell to the ground. The second one popped straight up in the air and Melton was able to pull it in for an interception. The third flew into the secondary to Isaiah Frey, who made the pick.
The defense was celebrating these plays but in reality, it's not conducive to either the offense or defense to be swatting passes around.
"One of our rules is really don't bat a ball in practice," said offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer. "In practice, we're not going to try to, up front, knock the defensive linemen down when they bat a ball."
Earlier in camp, Cutler and Melton engaged in a staring contest after one such batted ball.
"They [know they're not supposed to]. I think we need to remind them again," Cutler said. "The passing lanes are a little unrealistic with those guys sitting right there. Usually they're not there, so a few batted balls it's frustrating offensively because it's probably not going to happen in a game."
-The best play of practice came from Shea McClellin during team drills. McClellin was lined up on the left edge of the offensive line. WR Eric Weems was wide left and ran a zero screen at the snap. The left side of the offensive line cleared to the left flat to block for Weems, who swung in behind them. Cutler fired the pass to his left, yet McClellin snatched the ball out of the air and tucked it away. He then had a clear path to the end zone.
This is McClellin's second pick six of the year. During OTAs, he made a play nearly identical to the one he had today. McClellin has also showed good quickness as a pass rusher and has made more than one offensive lineman look stupid with his spin move. He still struggles against the run but McClellin sure looks the part of a potentially productive situational pass rusher.
-Leonard Pope is the worst pass-catching tight end on the team. He has decent hands but he runs like he's in quick sand. His breaks are snail-like and won't fool even the worst linebacker in the league. He has great size, so he could have value in jump-ball situations but to expect anything out of him in the passing game is asking too much.
But as a blocker, Pope has some skills. During 1-on-1 drills today he again gave up little pressure. Steve Maneri, with whom Pope is battling for the blocking tight end role, also blocked very well today. Both are liabilities as receivers, so whomever can show the most as a blocker should make the 53-man roster. Pope saw reps with both the second and third teams.
-Safety Brandon Hardin is coming along slowly. Honestly, he's not showing a lot of progress working with the second team on the back end. During one rep today, he got lost in the middle of the field, while Terrence Toliver was wide open down the left sideline for a deep touchdown.
It's tough to evaluate safeties without a pass rush and without live contact, so we'll know much more about Hardin after Friday's preseason opener. So far though, he hasn't been that impressive.
But the same can be said for nearly every safety on the team, as each has allowed at least one receiver to get behind him. During 11-on-11s today, Joe Anderson ran a deep seam route. Cutler launched a ball 50 yards in the air right into Anderson's hands for the touchdown. Major Wright was 10 yards behind the play.
-When trying to decipher the players who will round out the roster, special teams are the place to look. By charting the players used in the four phases of special teams, you can see trends in personnel. The coaching staff wants those guys to make the roster.
With that in mind, here are the players on the starting kick return unit: Anthony Walters, Khaseem Greene, Jon Bostic, Blake Costanzo, Craig Steltz, Tony Fiammetta, Wootton, McClellin, Eric Weems, Armando Allen and Devin Hester as the deep man.
When considering whether or not Hardin is going to make the team, note that he isn't a part of either unit. Yet the player he's battling with for the fourth safety spot, Anthony Walters, is on both.
-S Chris Conte picked off the fourth Cutler pass of the day during 7-on-7 drills.
-During passing drills, the tight ends worked on a lot of jerk routes, which is similar to hitch and go, only the player is moving horizontally, and not vertically, across the field.
-With D.J. Williams still in the boot, Jon Bostic has been taking the first-team reps at middle linebacker. As a result, the second-team linebackers are Greene, Costanzo and J.T. Thomas.
-Rookie WR Marquess Wilson took reps exclusively with the second team. His transition from third team to second team is now complete. On one snap, he easily burned CB Isaiah Frey on a slant pattern.
-During 11-on-11 run drills, I saw Greene make at least two bad reads, which left wide-open lanes for the running back. He definitely has the deer-in-the-headlights look on the field. That doesn't mean he can't develop, it just means he has a lot of work to do. Remember, Isaiah Frey had that look last year.
-OT Cory Brandon cannot pass block. Guys just run right past him in 1-on-1 drills. I'll be shocked if he's again signed to the practice squad.
-During 2-on-2 drills yesterday, RG James Brown and RT J'Marcus Webb struggled with defensive stunts. They did much better today, which is encouraging.
-WR Josh Lenz made another good seam catch today. Additionally, he was the only one returning punts alongside Devin Hester in special teams drills. Lenz isn't going to make the roster, so this move says more about Weems and the club's reluctance to use him as a returner.
-I'm still concerned about Matt Slauson. He's not moving his feet well and looks slow in pass protection. During 1-on-1s, Paea easily blew past Slauson on one snap.
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.