The Chicago Bears this afternoon conducted the fifth practice of organized team activities (OTAs). The session was held on arguably the most gorgeous day of the year, with a cloudless sky and a cool breeze. Temperatures hovered in the 80s throughout the hour-and-a-half practice.
For the second week in a row, safeties Chris Conte and Craig Steltz spent practice on the sidelines in baseball caps and shorts. Conte is still recovering from offseason shoulder surgery and may not be fully healed by the start of training camp. After practice, Steltz declined to comment on his absence.
Also in street clothes for the second straight week was starting left guard Matt Slauson.
LB Lance Briggs took part in positional drills but disappeared during the team portions of the practice and never returned.
Bears coaches do not speak during OTAs, so there is no official word on any of the injuries or absences.
NOTES FROM WEEK 2
-Practice today was without pads and started with a long special teams session followed by positional drills.
During positionals, Marc Trestman came over to where the linebackers were working out. He asked linebackers coach Reggie Herring, "You got any juice out here Reg? The offense is flat as hell. We need some juice today. That's the flattest offense I've ever seen."
The team then shifted to 11-on-11s. During one of the first snaps, DE Lamarr Houston and T Jordan Mills got into a pushing match after the whistle. DE Jared Allen then stepped in, which prompted TE Martellus Bennett to enter the fray. Bennett and Houston eventually locked up before being separated. Bennett then spun back around, got in Houston's vicinity and slammed his helmet into the ground.
Once separated, the players shuffled to their respective huddles, at which time D.J. Williams yelled, "It ain't flat no more."
"That's just football," Mills said after practice. "Attitudes are going to get heated. People are going to get tired of this and that but it's a part of the game. Tempers are going to flare, arguments are going to happen."
Mills said on-field scuffles like today's can help a team get better.
"The intensity of the game, you push somebody past their limits," he said. "When you do that, you make yourself a better player and you make them a better player, and then the team becomes great."
-Last week, in place of Steltz and Conte, the first team safeties were Ryan Mundy and M.D. Jennings. This week, Mundy was joined by fourth-round rookie Brock Vereen. Jennings worked with the second team.
This is a fairly significant sign that Vereen has jumped over Jennings on the depth chart.
Remember, Jennings had just one interception and two pass breakups in two full years as a starter for the Green Bay Packers. He's experienced but lacks production. Apparently, the coaching staff feels better about Vereen's upside than that of Jennings.
If Vereen secures this first-team role throughout OTAs, it will put him in a good position to compete with Conte and Steltz during training camp. Step 1 in Vereen's ascension to the starting lineup is complete.
-Last week, with D.J. Williams absent, the starting linebackers consisted of Lance Briggs at WILL, Jon Bostic at MIKE and Shea McClellin at SAM. With Briggs not participating in team drills today, the starting lineup was Khaseem Green at WILL, Williams at MIKE and Bostic at SAM. McClellin worked exclusively at MIKE with the second team.
This tells us a couple of things. First, Bostic is ahead of McClellin on the depth chart at SAM. Second, Greene is the primary backup to Briggs. Third, the coaching staff does not see McClellin as a WILL linebacker.
-With starting DT Jeremiah Ratliff out, rookie Will Sutton worked with the first team today.
We reported Sutton's impressive showing at rookie minicamp and obviously the coaching staff has taken notice as well. Sutton worked at 3-technique, with Stephen Paea at nose tackle.
-With Tillman out, Kelvin Hayden stepped into the starting lineup. Yet he took Tillman's role, with Tim Jennings staying in the slot. Kyle Fuller came in on passing downs at the other wide corner spot.
Even with Tillman gone, Jennings resumed his role as the club's nickel. Obviously, his move to the slot is going to be permanent.
-Nate Collins, who missed most of last year after tearing his ACL, looked good today in one of his first practices since surgery. He was not limping or favoring the knee. Collins rotated between the second and third team.
-The competition for the backup running back role continued today, with Michael Ford and Ka'Deem Carey splitting reps behind Matt Forte. Right now, it appears Ford has a slight lead in the competition, yet Carey has outshined him in the passing game. Ford may have value between the tackles but he does not possess the same pass-catching ability as the fourth-round rookie.
-With Matt Slauson out, Eben Britton again took his spot as the club's starting left guard.
-The competition for the backup center spot is in full swing. Taylor Boggs again took the majority of the second-team snaps today yet Brian de la Puente was sprinkled in with the backups. This is step forward for the former Saints starter, as he saw no second-team reps last week.
Eventually, Boggs will likely give way to de la Puente. That process may have already began.
An interesting aside to the center battle: Boggs and de la Puente also rotated with the third team, as there are no other centers on the roster. At the same time, they rotated at right guard, a position at which neither has any experience.
-During 11-on-11 drills, TE Martellus Bennett had the catch of the day. Running a deep crossing route, Bennett created separation from Williams and was open roughly seven yards from the sideline.
QB Jay Cutler threw a high pass but Bennett went up and snatched it out of midair. It was an impressive grab from a player of his size.
Bennett was also the focal point of the passing attack during red-zone drills, repeatedly catching drag and out routes for touchdowns. If you're looking for a sleeper tight end candidate in your fantasy league, don't forget about the Black Unicorn, as he'll again be a big part of Trestman's offense this season.
-During team drills, starting wideout Alshon Jeffery took a breather after running a fly route on the previous play.
He was replaced by Terrence Toliver with the first team. Toliver, a fourth-year receiver, has the size (6-5, 204) NFL teams like out wide. He worked in this role last year during training camp, only to eventually give way to Marquess Wilson. Keep an eye on Toliver as we head into training camp and the preseason, as he has some upside as the club's potential No. 4 receiver.
-Let's not beat around the bush, Jordan Palmer needs to get injured to lose his spot as the club's backup quarterback. The reason: neither Jerrod Johnson nor David Fales is ready to take snaps as an NFL signal caller.
Fales today showed some good accuracy and decision-making but his lack of arm strength is very noticeable up close. It's just hard to see him fitting passes into tight windows with the game on the line, especially with the speed present in most NFL secondaries.
Johnson struggled again today, as he did last week. He has a very hard time finding receivers down the field and takes too many sacks. Like Jason Campbell before him, Johnson is far too reliant on the check down pass.
-During punt drills, the only two players returning punts were Eric Weems and Chris Williams. Those are your frontrunners for the job, although the club did sign two returners in Armanti Edwards and Michael Spurlock shortly after practice.
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.