The Chicago Bears held the first practice of organized team activites (OTAs) at Halas Hall this afternoon. It was a warm, beautiful day with temperatures in the 80s. The sun was working overtime.
It was the first chance for Chicago's returning veterans to work with the incoming class of free agents and rookies. The session was roughly an hour and a half in length.
LB D.J. Williams and S Derrick Martin were not present at practice. S Chris Conte, S Craig Steltz and G Matt Slauson were in attendance but did not participate. Coaches are not available to the media during OTAs so there was no official word on the absences and injuries.
During team drills midway through the session, WR Domenik Hixon went down with an apparent leg injury. He limped off the field and then was helped by trainers into the facility. He did not return.
Notes from Week 1 of OTAs
-Today was our first chance to view Shea McClellin, formerly a first-round defensive end, at his new linebacker position. McClellin worked on the strong-side (SAM) with the first team, alongside Jon Bostic at middle linebacker (MIKE) and Lance Briggs on the weak side (WILL).
With the first team, McClellin came off the field in passing situations. With the second team, he played MIKE and stayed on the field in nickel sets, alongside Khaseem Greene. Undrafted free agent Christian Jones served as SAM with the second team.
"I was doing some Mike with the second team. It's different going from Sam to Mike but I enjoy linebacker, period, so whatever they want me to do," McClellin said after practice. "It's a little bit of a change. I did it a lot in college and my whole career in high school. So the instincts are there and I've just to learn the concepts, the coaches and things like that. Still got a lot to work on."
The absence of Williams is likely the only reason McClellin was working with the first team. With Williams on the field, Bostic will slide to SAM with the starters. So it appears the Bears feel McClellin is best fit at middle linebacker, with the potential to play outside as well.
"My first two years weren't the greatest but I think linebacker is a natural fit for me," he said. "I think it's what I should be doing and I'm very excited about it."
-Speaking of position switches, the Bears made a big change at cornerback.
When they broke the huddle, Tillman moved wide right, Fuller moved wide left and Jennings slid in the slot. No matter which receivers lined up where, this was how the Bears lined up their cornerbacks in every nickel set. The only time it changed was in response to a bunch formation by the offense, in which all three corners lined up on the same side of the field.
Jennings said after practice his shift to nickelback on passing downs is permanent.
"We're going to try it out," said Jennings. "We've got to get Fuller out there so I'll move in on nickel packages and we'll bring Fuller at the left corner. Hopefully, it'll be a full-time thing."
In reality, Jennings is best fit in the slot. Despite showing his prowess out wide the past four years, his 5-8, 185 frame allows him to match up well with quick slot receivers, while his tackling ability should help against the run.
"If I'm playing nickel it's going to be a lot different. I'm going to have to be in on runs a lot more," he said. "You're just another linebacker, an athletic linebacker. You have to be able to see a lot more things. You've got to be able to see a lot more backfield sets. It's a lot more reads, a lot more keys that you have to get."
Fuller (6-0, 194) is a bigger, longer player than Jennings, which should benefit him out wide against some of the league's top pass catchers. It's obviously the position the Bears feel he fits best, so slotting him there from the start should better prepare him to face receivers like Calvin Johnson and Jordy Nelson twice each season.
-With Conte and Steltz on the sidelines, the starting safety tandem consisted of two of this year's free-agent acquisitions, Ryan Mundy and M.D. Jennings. Fourth rounder Brock Vereen worked alongside Danny McCray with the second team.
Yet like the linebacker position, the injuries up top don't allow us to accurately evaluate the safety depth chart. Vereen is getting second-team reps currently but it'll be interesting to see where he lines up once Conte and Steltz return to action.
-Staying in the secondary, it appears last year's starting nickelback Isaiah Frey has tumbled down the depth chart. He worked at nickelback with the third team and took occasional snaps at wide corner with the second team.
-As expected, Marquess Wilson worked exclusively with the first team as the offense's No. 3 wide receiver. Wilson looked bigger than last year and told me after practice he's put on about 10 pounds this offseason and currently weighs 205. The strength is noticeable.
-On the opposite end of the spectrum, WR Chris Williams is one of the smallest players I've seen on an NFL field. He's listed at 5-8, 175, but that's generous on both fronts. He's very quick but it's tough to see him getting up after a hit from an NFL linebacker or strong safety.
Williams was a record-breaking kick returner in the Canadian Football League and it appears his path to the final 53-man roster will be in that capacity. He's just too small to be an NFL wideout.
-The starting defensive line consists of RDE Jared Allen, DT Jeremiah Ratliff, NT Stephen Paea and LDE Lamarr Houston. Allen played every snap on the right edge and it doesn't appear he'll be moving around much. He's rushed from the right side his whole career and the Bears aren't going to mess with a winning recipe.
Houston, whom many assumed would get snaps at defensive tackle, played defensive end only. After drafting two defensive tackles, the Bears have a logjam at the position and, for today at least, there was no room for Houston inside.
-The second-team defensive line: DE Trevor Scott, DT Will Sutton, NT Ego Ferguson, DE Willie Young. The third-team defensive line: DE Israel Idonije, DT Tracy Robertson, DT Brandon Dunn and DE Trevor Scott.
-Jordan Palmer looked very comfortable running the second-team offense. He was under control and accurate for most of the session and appears the front-runner, by far, for the backup quarterback role.
On the other hand, Jerrod Johnson struggled. He was late on his throws and his reads, and had a hard time completing passes other than check downs. On one snap, he had WR Josh Morgan wide open 15 yards down the right sideline, yet Johnson double clutched, then fired a pass that was seven yards out of Morgan's reach.
-With Slauson on the sidelines, Eben Britton served as the club's starting left guard. Britton, who served as the club's third tackle or "monster" tight end last year, has experience at both tackle and guard. He worked at left guard with the second team as well. It appears Britton is offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer's jack-of-all-trades and could be the first name called if an injury hits either of the guard or tackle spots.
It's interesting that Boggs, and not free-agent acquisition Brian de la Puente, was working behind Roberto Garza with the second team. De la Puente took his reps with the third team and will be interesting to see how quickly he'll overtake the youngster, or if Boggs can hold off the veteran. Either way, it appears Boggs is being given a fair chance to keep his roster spot.
-Of note on special teams: Chad Rempel, a who played under Marc Trestman in the CFL, was used as the first-team long snapper during field goal drills. Brandon Hartson was the backup.
Also with the first team, P Tress Way was the holder, while sixth-round rookie P Pat O'Donnell was with the second team. The team apparently wants to give the appearance that O'Donnell will have to "earn" his roster spot. That nonsense disappears once he starts kicking, so he's not truly in danger of losing his job to Way.
With the second-team field goal unit, third-round rookie defensive tackle Ego Ferguson was lined up on the right edge of the offensive line as a blocker. The Bears apparently aren't going to let Ferguson's size (6-3, 315) go to waste.
Finally, special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis finished his session with a 65-yard field goal, one that Robbie Gould came far short of completing. Of note was Brock Vereen, who returned the short kickoff out of the end zone. We didn't see any other kick or punt returns during practice but Vereen could be in the competition for one of two available return positions.
-After practice, tight ends Martellus Bennett and Zach Miller stayed on the field. They knelt facing each other about three yards apart and bounced a bucket of tennis balls to each other. It was a drill to sharpen their hand quickness.
-Also after practice, all four quarterbacks – Jay Cutler, Palmer, Johnson and David Fales – stayed late with the third-team receivers. Fales and Johnsons threw passes, while Cutler and Palmer served as their coaches. Cutler had a play sheet in his hands and was calling out plays, formations and reads to the two youngsters.
Not even two years ago would you have seen this out of Cutler and it appears Palmer is a serious team player as well.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is in his fourth 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.