Bears OTAs: Final Wrap Up

We empty our notebook from one of the final practices of Chicago Bears organized team activities, a session that featured a brand new quarterback, new kick returners and much more.

The Chicago Bears this afternoon conducted one of the final practices of organized team activities (OTAs).

The weather in the Chicago region is currently miserable, with rain showers blanketing the area. As such, the Bears practiced under the dome of the Walter Payton Center.

ROLL CALL

Safety Chris Conte (shoulder) is still recovering from offseason shoulder surgery and was not present. Safety Craig Steltz and guard Matt Slauson were also on the sidelines for the third straight week.

Jordan Palmer participated in positional drills but, for the second week in a row, he did not work in team drills. After practice, he said he has a slight pectoral/shoulder strain that has kept him on the shelf the past two weeks.

"I've got a little strain in my pec, so they're holding me out for last week and this week," said Palmer. "I'll be ready to go for the minicamp. Just letting it breathe. It's frustrating because it's not anything serious. Just pulling me out and letting it get a little bit of rest.

"It's my throwing shoulder. It's a nothing deal. It's frustrating. If I played any other position it wouldn't be an issue."

Palmer's injury helps explain the recent acquisition of Jimmy Clausen. The Bears currently have five quarterbacks on the roster, which will be about two too many come training camp. Expect at least one of the team's signal callers to be cut before camp begins.

NOTES FROM WEEK 3

-Clausen did not receive any snaps in team drills until late in practice. On his first snap, he completed a 20-yard pass to TE Zach Miller, who made a nice diving grab on a crossing pattern. The rest of Clausen's passes were on underneath routes and check downs.

At first blush, it's clear Clausen has a stronger arm than sixth-round rookie David Fales, although that's not saying much. Clausen looked a bit lost on his reads, which is expected considering how new he is to the playbook.

"I'm just trying to learn the plays as quick as possible," Clausen said after practice. "It's a very unique offense. It's a quarterback-friendly offense, which is great. Just have to try to pick it up as quick as possible."

-Speaking of Fales' arm, today he again demonstrated the inability to make NFL-level throws. During one snap of team drills, Fales had a receiver wide open on a hitch route near the sideline. The throw was probably 20-25 yards from Point A to Point B. Fales skipped his pass at about 15 yards.

It's still very early for the rookie but Fales needs to start showing he can hit the simple passes or else the Nathan Enderle comparisons will begin in earnest.

-The defensive coaching staff rotated linebackers heavily today. Shea McClellin, Jon Bostic and D.J. Williams all took turns at different spots with both the first and second teams.

It's very clear that outside of Lance Briggs, the Bears are considering numerous different options in terms of the club's starting linebackers. It's also clear this is a fluid process and nothing is set in stone at this point. It appears the player that performs at the highest level during training camp and the preseason will earn a starting gig.

-Also of note was the use of both McClellin and Bostic with the first-team punt unit. Both linebackers rotated at the left and right guard positions on punt team. Their speed and tackling ability could have value in coverage.

It appears the coaching staff is going to make use of its early draft picks one way or another, even if that means lining them up on the interior of the offensive line for punts.

-Staying with the linebackers, both Briggs and Williams spent a lot of time working with linebackers coach Reggie Herring during the first portion of special teams drills. It was simple coaching on fundamentals but both veterans, each in the twilight of his respective career, appeared very receptive to the instructions. That's a solid sign that Williams and Briggs are buying what Herring is selling.

-When considering the potential of a bubble player, special teams is always key. Such is the case for tight end Fendi Onobun, who spent last season on the practice squad. Onobun has potential as a second pass-catching tight end. To better help his odds of making the team, he needs to show his value on special teams as well.

Today, Onobun worked with the second-team punt unit, which isn't a great sign. He has a lot to prove on offense during training camp and the preseason, and it appears he has a hill to climb on special teams as well.

-The Bears have two full-time long snappers on the roster, as well as UDFA offensive lineman Cody Booth, who snapped in college. Yet during the first portion of ST drills today, the starting long snapper was linebacker Jordan Senn. Nowhere in Senn's biography does it say he has experience as a long snapper, so this was an interesting move.

Senn has value on special teams as a coverage player and blocker, but if he can also long snap, that makes him a near lock for the team's No. 6 linebacker position. Senn's few snaps looked good but he resumed his other ST duties the remainder of practice, with Brandon Hartson and Chad Rempel snapping the rest of the way.

-With Slauson out, Eben Britton began practice as the first-team left guard, a role he's played since OTAs began. With the second team, offseason acquisition Brian de la Puente worked at left guard, a position at which he has no experience.

In a very interesting move later in practice, Britton was replaced by de la Puente in the starting unit.

De la Puente has taken every single snap in his career at center, including three years as a starter for the New Orleans Saints. Coordinator Aaron Kromer was his position coach for two of those years and gave him his first starting gig. Kromer obviously seems something in de la Puente, even beyond just playing the pivot.

If de la Puente can prove his worth at guard, he could serve as the team's primary backup at both guard and center, which could open up a roster spot.

De la Puente did not take any snaps at center today. The second-team reps were all the property of Taylor Boggs, who has held firm in his bid to keep his job. I still believe it's a tenuous grasp but Boggs is definitely giving the veteran a run for his money.

-The quarterbacks spent a lot of time during positional drills working on shovel passes. During red-zone drills, the second team offense attempted such a pass but it was stuffed by the defense.

-During positional drills, Josh Bellamy dropped two easy passes, which is a surefire way for a bubble player to get cut. Bellamy appears a long shot to secure one of the team's final WR spots.

-Rookie safety Brock Vereen worked exclusively with the first team for the second week in a row. At this point, he and Ryan Mundy are the team's starting safeties. Conte is going to need one heck of a training camp to beat out Vereen, assuming the rookie continues his upward trend.

-For one of the first times since he took over as the team's defensive coordinator, I saw Mel Tucker take over a positional drill.

Today, he relieved Chris Harris of his duties with the team's safeties during handwork drills. Tucker took the reigns, doling out advice and encouragement in spades. Remember, Tucker began his career as a defensive backs coach, so this is a natural fit for him.

We'll see if Tucker continues with this level of hands-on coaching, something he didn't do in 2013, during minicamp and training camp. It surely can't hurt for a coordinator on the hot seat to get his hands dirty in practice, instead of trying to do 10 things at once.

-During 11-on-11 drills, Tim Jennings lined up in the slot across from Marquess Wilson in man coverage. Wilson stemmed to 12 yards then cut up-field on a post pattern. He gained a step on Jennings and made a solid over-the-shoulder grab from Jay Cutler, who dropped the ball on a dime.

It was one of the better plays Wilson has made the past three weeks. Easily beating a two-time Pro Bowl cornerback is a great sign for Chicago's three-receiver sets this year.

-For one snap during 11-on-11s, Brandon Marshall took a breather. This happened last week as well and Terrence Toliver took Marshall's spot with the starters. Today, Eric Weems jumped in for Marshall with the first team.

At this point, the battle for the fourth receiver spot is between Toliver and Weems. Toliver is taller, longer and faster, yet Weems has valuable experience. It's a position battle worth watching as we move into training camp.

-On the next snap, Marshall took a rep with the second time. He apparently felt the need to make up for the snap he had just missed.

-James Brown, a former starter at guard, took most of his snaps today at left tackle. He split time with seventh-round rookie Charles Leno Jr. with the second team and also worked with third team.

Brown was a full-time member of the team last season but was inactive in every game. He's in a serious battle to keep his job and showing positional versatility can only help him.

-There has no been no change along the defensive lines.

First team: DE Jared Allen, DT Jeremiah Ratliff, DT Stephen Paea, DE Lamarr Houston.

Second team: DE Willie Young, DT Will Sutton, DT Ego Ferguson, DE Trevor Scott.

Third team: DE Israel Idonije, DT Tracy Robertson, DT Nate Collins, DE David Bass.

Collins is firmly buried on the depth chart. He emerged as a viable playmaker as the club's starting 3-technique last year before tearing his ACL. Now he's once again fighting for job. The Bears will likely keep five DTs this year, so Collins isn't in horrible shape. If he's healthy, he'll be a luxury as the club's No. 5.

-The Bears are not rotating defensive ends along the line of scrimmage. Under the former regime, guys like Idonije, Julius Peppers and Corey Wootton were lined up at every position along the defensive line.

This year, I haven't seen a defensive end take a single snap at defensive tackle. In fact, I've never seen the defensive ends switch sides of the field. Allen, Scott and Bass are right-side only, while Houston, Young and Idonije are left-side only.

It appears the plan is to be creative with the defensive tackles, linebackers and secondary, while letting the edge guys stay in their spots and rush the quarterback. The expected creativity from Mel Tucker obviously doesn't include his edge rushers.

-Rookie punter Patrick O'Donnell was again bouncing punts off the dome of the practice facility. He's beastly.

-Returning punts today were newcomers Armanti Edwards and Michael Spurlock. It's obvious the coaching staff is going to give these two true shots to earn the returner role.

Only one other player returned a punt today: Brandon Marshall. It's doubtful Marshall will be returning kicks any time soon but he could take Earl Bennett's role as the club's "hands" returner, one who can come in and secure a fair catch if that's all the team needs.

-In attendance today was former NFL quarterback Bernie Kosar, who spent some time working with the quarterbacks during practice. Kosar was Marc Trestman's first quarterback pupil, both at the University of Miami and with the Cleveland Browns.


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.


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