It was a warm, humid afternoon in Bourbonnais for the 12th practice of Chicago Bears training camp. Yet that didn't stop droves of Bears fans from pouring onto the campus at Olivet Nazarene. Officials estimated more than 15,000 fans showed up today, which beats the all-time Bourbonnais record by more than 3,000.
No fan base is more dedicated.
It was also Armed Services day, so the crowd was littered with service men and women in their camouflage fatigues.
Just before practice, the team waived safety Cyhl Quarles and signed S Derrick Martin. From the official press release:
The 5-10, 198-pound Martin has appeared in 66 games with four starts over seven seasons with Baltimore (2006-08), Green Bay (2009-10), the New York Giants (2011) and New England (2012), gathering 37 tackles, three interceptions, eight pass break-ups, one sack and one fumble recovery after being selected by the Ravens in the sixth round (208th overall) in the 2006 NFL Draft.
-Also out was WR Joe Anderson, who suffered a minor shoulder injury in the preseason opener.
Notes from Day 12
-As always, coach Marc Trestman conducted a hurry-up drill right in the middle of positional workouts. When the first team lined up, here was the offensive line: LT Jermon Bushrod, LG Kyle Slauson, C Roberto Garza, RG Kyle Long, RT Jordan Mills.
Notice that neither Eben Britton nor J'Marcus Webb were in the starting lineup.
It stayed that way the entire session.
"We had a team meeting this morning," Mills said after practice. "Coach said he wanted to throw people at different position to just see where we are at. He told me I was going to run with the ones, just to see how good I would do. It was unexpected but you have to be ready in the NFL. If somebody goes down or they want to make a switch out, you have to be prepared and ready, and I was prepared and ready."
Putting Mills at right tackle was an interesting move to say the least. Both Webb and Britton were very inconsistent during Friday's preseason opener, yet so was Mills. In fact, of the three, Mills has looked the worst in both 1-on-1 and team drills during camp. Yet Mills is the younger player with higher upside, so he's going to get a look with the starters for the foreseeable future.
"He's certainly going to practice this week at right tackle for most of the reps," Trestman said. "This has been part of our plan. I wanted to get Kyle in there to get some work with the ones, and Jordan as well. We need J'marcus to get over there and work as a backup at the left tackle position and we think Eben is in better position to back up on the right side and get some work there and keep it competitive. So I wouldn't draw any conclusions about what's happened today.
"It really is part of our plan to find the best five over the course of training camp and in week 2 [into] the second game, this is the way that we're starting. We're not doing anything but working the plan at this point in time."
While this may not be a permanent move, putting Mills in with the starters makes one thing very clear: the veterans were not getting it done. The calls for Webb's head have been ardent and loud, yet Britton played worse than Webb against the Panthers. I have said all along that Britton is not an upgrade, and obviously the coaching staff feels the same way.
The days of Britton playing left tackle could be over. Yet the same can't be said for Webb, who started on the left edge the past two years.
"I think we've been very clear with J'Marcus about what we're doing," said Trestman. "I said it last week that there's been an up and down performance level by J'Marcus but we were still going to do this. We were still going to give work to the other guys and see what they could do as well. So we'll evaluate it. We're going to go through the week like this. We'll evaluate the game and move forward into Oakland."
Having to earn the starting gig is nothing new to Webb, who said he's not disappointed in the demotion.
"They definitely want to give me looks at both sides," Webb said. "You've got to be versatile in this offense. Like I said, one of the things I get to work on this week is being versatile, and playing next to different guys."
The right tackle spot is still open. Mills has not secured it. But it appears someone is going to have to outplay him if he's going to move back with the second team.
Yet lost in this is the emergence of Long at right guard, who did not give way to James Brown for a single snap in practice.
"I think [the coaches] are just trying to throw us in there and see what we can do," said Long. "It was a lot of fun today getting to go against the ones. You get to see some different faces."
Long had a strong outing in Carolina and followed that up today with a very good practice. In pass protection, Long is starting to figure it out. His balance and strength are phenomenal. At this point, it would be a surprise to see him give back his starting role.
-One last note on the offensive line: Britton not only worked at right tackle with the twos, he was also inserted at center with the threes. It was the first time in camp he has played center, and it showed. His shotgun snaps were horrible and he stayed late after practice to work on it.
The staff has also worked Matt Slauson at center, and had Boggs in with the second team today. Obviously, Edwin Williams is not in the club's future plans.
-With Earl Bennett and Joe Anderson sitting, Devin Aromashodu took all of his reps with the first team today. We knew that the battle for the club's No. 5 receiver spot would come down to Aromashodu, Toliver, Rucker and Weems, but today we found out the frontrunner.
Yet Aromashodu must keep looking over his shoulder, as rookie Marquess Wilson has come alive. He was the club's leading receiver in the opener, which included a 51-yard catch and run, during which he nearly scored. As I have said all along, he has third-round talent; he just needs to focus.
"[Wilson] has shown he can do it and then he'll fall off and then we'll have to pick him up again," said Trestman. "I have seen him out there and when he's active and when he's focused he shows that he has the ability to do it."
In college, Wilson did not play special teams and he hasn't been used in too many special teams roles so far in Bourbonnais. Yet today, he was working with the starters for two of Joe DeCamillis' units. That's a signal that Wilson is moving closer to making the 53-man roster.
"He's got to understand it's so important for him to be a special teams player for us if he becomes a fourth or a fifth wide receiver and he is competing to be a fourth or a fifth wide receiver," Trestman said. "He's a young player, he's probably never done it before but he's got to recognize how important it is because of where he would be on the roster presently to make special teams a priority. We talk about that every day and I think it's become clearer to him now and I think we're going to see more because he's shown flashes of it in practice."
-Despite his fumble on Friday, Armando Allen again assumed his spot as the club's third ball carrier. He even took a few reps with the first team before his hamstring tightened up. Allen must secure the ball better, but he's too valuable to cut, and Trestman knows it.
-With Melton out, DT Nate Collins lined up next to Stephen Paea with the starters today. With the second team were Corvey Irvin and Zach Minter. Right now, Irvin is the clear frontrunner for the fourth DT spot, but Minter is coming on strong. He had a solid performance in Carolina and has moved his way up to the second team. The door has opened for Minter. Can he step through?
-The offense ran a counter-trap play today and there was some interesting blocking up front. The play started left, yet it was designed to come back through the right A gap. At the snap, Irvin exploded off the ball, yet Long just stepped aside like a matador and let Irvin dive into the backfield, effectively taking himself out of the play. Long then worked up field to block for the runner, who had a clear gap through which to run.
-C Roberto Garza was just awful today in 1-on-1 drills. In fact, his performance today takes the cake for worst 1-on-1 performance of camp. Garza's feet were in quicksand and he showed absolutely no power. He doesn't appear injured, so there was really no excuse for looking that bad. He provides veteran leadership but beyond that, Garza could be the worst starting offensive lineman on the team, and that's saying something.
-Also during 1-on-1 drills, Britton took two snaps at center. The defender blew past him both times.
-Trestman is always willing to praise his players as much as he criticizes them. Today, he went out of his way to congratulate three players.
The first was Eric Weems, who got an "atta boy" smack on the helmet from Trestman after a strong downfield block on a run play. The second was Marquess Wilson, who did a great job sitting in the soft spot against zone coverage in 11-on-11s. And finally, Trestman gave some love to Isaiah Frey for once again being the best defensive back on the field.
Later in practice, Frey intercepted the only pass of practice. At this point, he probably has twice as many interceptions as any other corner on the team.
"He made a couple of very good plays out here today in practice as the nickelback," said Trestman. "We're excited. We need him. We need the competition there."
-DE Jamaal Anderson (knee) returned to practice today. In 1-on-1s, he showed very good hand usage in fighting off blocks.
-TE Steve Maneri gets better every day as a blocker. He has struggled at times but he has shown progress and he was very good today. He has really good strength, so when he locks and keeps his feet moving, he's tough to beat around the edge.
-In the red zone, TE Martellus Bennett ran a fade route to the back corner of the end zone. QB Jay Cutler lobbed a perfect pass, which Bennett tracked and caught over his shoulder. It showed great concentration, balance and hands. It was a play Kellen Davis cannot make.
-The offense ran a screen to Matt Forte during 11-on-11 drills. It was set up well, yet Tim Jennings had an opportunity to hold the play to a short gain. In his way, though, was WR Alshon Jeffery, who locked up Jennings and drove him out of the ball carrier's way. Forte galloped for 40 yards before being touched. Not only can Jeffery catch the ball, he's a weapon as a blocker as well.
-LB James Anderson had a great deflection at the goal line covering Martellus Bennett, which is no easy task. Anderson ran stride for stride with the tight end and quickly got off his feet as the pass was thrown. Anderson has been extremely impressive so far against both the pass and run.
-Trestman quote of the day, pre-snap to QB Josh McCown: "Get up there and find the MIKE (linebacker)! Call somebody the MIKE Josh!!"
-Trestman bonus quote:
Bears PR: "Do you want to go see the troops?" Trestman: "Absolutely. Where are they?"
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.