The Chicago Bears conducted the first practice of veteran minicamp this afternoon. The Chicago-area weather is currently so humid, it feels like you've been hit with a warm bowl of soup when you walk out the door. As such, today's session was held inside the climate-controlled dome of the Walter Payton Center.
"All excused for personal reasons today," head coach Marc Trestman said after practice. "Family reasons, nothing out of the ordinary."
"Jordan was coming off of last season, the Green Bay game with his [broken] foot," coordinator Aaron Kromer said. "He had practiced enough and done enough that there was no reason to keep pressing him on."
Safety Craig Steltz, who did not practice during OTAs, was dressed and participated in warm ups and positional drills. He sat out team activities.
"He's still in a recovery mode from the work he had this offseason," said Trestman. "It's just day-to-day there. It's leg related. He appears to be healing."
NOTES FROM DAY 1
-The Bears pumped in crowd noise during the 11-on-11 portions of practice today. It was startling to the spectators to say the least.
"Everybody knows what we're up against early in the season, you know we have to go on the road early, we have to play in the noise early," Trestman said. "Anything we can do during OTAs, just to give ourselves some practice working in an environment that we're going to work on training camp – so this is like a training camp day, we wanted to get some noise in. Just to experience everything we would experience during the course of the season, here at training camp or at some time during the OTAs and minicamps."
An interesting note about the crowd noise: the longer it took for the offense to get the play off, the louder the noise became.
This is nothing out of the ordinary, only that this was a prolonged session that included a few wrinkles.
Both Marshall and Jeffery took turns catching balls on their knees. Wide receivers coach Mike Groh would shout out "left" or "right" before each ball and the players would have to lift the corresponding leg as they made the catch. Later, Groh would throw soft elbows and shoulders into the upper and lower backs of his Pro Bowl receivers, simulating contact at the catch.
It was one of the more thorough Jugs sessions I've ever witnessed, one that wrapped with cornerback Tim Jennings taking a quick turn in front of the machine.
-Speaking of Jennings, he had a rough day on the field. During 11-on-11 drills, he was beat handily by Jeffery on a go route that resulted in a 40-yard touchdown pass. Later in the session, Jennings was beat by Marshall in similar fashion, again for a deep touchdown.
He had at least four PBUs, most of which came on deep passes. He was beaten badly by Jeffery on a fly route, one that Cutler overthrew, but for the remainder of practice, it was Fuller who got the best of his offensive counterparts.
One thing is clear about Fuller: he's fearless. On every snap in practice he squares off against one part of the best receiving tandem in the NFL and he doesn't back down. He mirrors receivers well and is very aggressive and physical when the ball is in the air. If he can consistently make plays against Marshall and Jeffery in practice, his confidence will only continue to grow.
-Throughout the offseason, Marquess Wilson has been very impressive. He's definitely the third or fourth option for Cutler on most plays but when his number has been called, he's come through.
Most impressive has been his concentration, which hasn't waned at any point. Wilson dropped a lot of easy passes during positional drills last year and I haven't seen any of that the past month. Wilson told me during OTAs his time spent with Brandon Marshall this offseason taught him how to prepare and practice like a pro and that has certainly been evident on the field.
"[Wilson] is one of those guys, he doesn't say much, but he's always listening," Cutler said. "He's always watching and I'm excited for him this year."
-Sixth-round QB David Fales has a noticeably awkward throwing motion. He appears to deliver the ball from his chest, much like a shot putter, and there's a hitch that happens in his transition. That, combined with a weak arm, could result in a number of passes batted down at the line of scrimmage.
-Chicago's defensive staff continued to rotate the linebackers today at a ferocious pace. On almost every snap, a new linebacker was inserted or shifted through the group. Lance Briggs, D.J. Williams, Shea McClellin and Jon Bostic all took first-team snaps with each other, and all but Briggs took snaps with the second team as well.
Yet through this rotational mess, it appeared that McClellin might have inched his way higher on the depth chart than Bostic. McClellin got the initial reps with the starters at SAM and took more snaps with the first team than Bostic.
That could all change tomorrow, as the Bears have been heavily rotating the linebackers for weeks now, but it was interesting to see McClellin's significant involvement with the first team.
-Speaking of multiple substitutions, the offensive line was nearly as chaotic. With Slauson and Mills on the sidelines, Kromer took the opportunity to give multiple guys reps at different first-team positions. Eben Britton worked at both left guard and right tackle, Taylor Boggs got significant reps at left guard, Brian de la Puente also worked at guard, while Michael Ola and James Browns both took snaps at right tackle.
"It's a great opportunity for them. It gives the backups all the chances to play against guys they don't play against," Kromer said. "That's what you see in these camps is you see the same guys playing against the same guys all the time and then all the sudden a backup has to play against a One, against what our defense would consider a One, or vice versa, and so they get a new technique, they get a new style of play that they have to conquer. And it really helps them grow more than we see anything. It helps them grow as a football player because they're not going against the same old move all day."
-During positional drills, the defensive ends practiced dropping from a three-point stance into the flats. It was a coverage drill, so expect the Bears to occasionally use their ends as underneath robbers on zone blitzes.
-The club's top three receivers weren't the only ones making plays today. Receiver Terrence Toliver also had himself one heck of a practice. He didn't make any highlight-reel grabs but he was the model of consistency with the second team. By my count, he caught at least eight passes during team segments, consistently finding ways to beat both man and zone coverage.
Toliver has very good size (6-5, 204) and has demonstrated consistent hands throughout the offseason programs. He could emerge as a viable No. 4 wideout before it's all said and done.
-One final note on the receivers: Chris Williams took a rep with the first team, lining up in a bunch formation with Brandon Marshall. It was the first starter rep I've seen Williams take.
Williams then finished practice with a diving grab over the middle.
-TE Zach Miller is not a dependable pass catcher. He had multiple opportunities to show his worth today on 50/50 balls down the field and he could not haul in a single pass. When he's open, Miller is solid, but he doesn't have the ability to catch balls in traffic.
-It's always beneficial to pay attention to the starting units on special teams. These are the third-phase players that have a leg up in the battle for the club's final roster spot. Many times, a positional battle between two comparable players could come down to which one has more value on special teams.
With that in mind, I've noticed that DE Trevor Scott has been used in all but one of the four starting units. He's also getting reps as the primary backup behind Jared Allen. Scott isn't a player many are talking about but it's obvious the coaching staff sees him as a valuable piece of the puzzle.
-Here is the starting punt team (from left to right): Tony Fiammetta, Trevor Scott, Jon Bostic, Brandon Hartson, Shea McClellin, Jordan Senn and Dante Rosario. In the backfield was Danny McCray. The gunners were Eric Weems and Marquess Wilson. Tress Way, and not sixth rounder Patrick O'Donnell, is still the first-team punter.
Returning punts were Chris Williams, Armanti Edwards and Michael Spurlock. Weems did not return any punts.
-Following one special-teams rep, coordinator Joe DeCamillis was all over UDFA linebacker Christian Jones about his lack of hustle. For a player attempting to secure one of the final roster spots, getting called out by a coordinator isn't a good sign.
-During the final walkthroughs, held at the very end of practice, the second team worked exclusively on the Wildcat package. Armanti Edwards was the primary running back in the formation, with KaDeem Carey taking most of the reps by his side.
The coaching staff put Edwards through at least 20 reps in the Wildcat, so don't be surprised to see him in the backfield at some point during the preseason.
-The practice ended with a shoving match between LB Jordan Senn and OL James Brown … during walkthroughs. Guys have to be pretty hungry for roster spots if they're driven to shove teammates during a non-contact walkthrough.
Bears training camp under the hot August sun should be very interesting this year.
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.