The Chicago Bears conducted the final practice of veteran minicamp this afternoon. It was the final team session before a month-long break heading into training camp. The outdoor field was still wet from thunderstorms that relentlessly peppered the Chicago area the entire evening prior. As a result, the team once again practiced under the dome of the Walter Payton Center.
Safety Chris Conte was again excused and it was revealed after practice that his absence had nothing to do with offseason shoulder surgery.
"We sent him home because he's been sick with something that could be contagious," coach Marc Trestman said after practice. "It's nothing serious, I want to make that very clear. We sent him home for a couple days so he could rest."
Cornerback Sherrick McManis sat out his second straight practice. Defensive tackle Ego Ferguson participated in positional drills but did not take part in team drills. DT Will Sutton, who was excused the last two days, was present and practiced in full.
NOTES FROM DAY 3
-Yesterday, the team pumped a truncated version of AC/DC's "Thunderstruck" through the loud speakers. Today, they again started practice with Angus Young and Brian Johnson but the music didn't end there. Throughout warm ups and positional drills, the soundtrack included songs by Bon Jovi, Bob Marley and Guns N' Roses.
This never happened under Lovie Smith and shows Trestman's willingness to give the players leeway when deserved. No doubt, it created a more upbeat atmosphere through the first portion of practice.
Interesting note: every song played today was at least 20 years old – 36 in the case of Marley's "Jamming" – which is interesting, as most of the players on the current roster were still in diapers, or not even born, when those tunes first hit the charts.
-The first play of team drills came during the two-minute session that Trestman always inserts in the middle of positionals. It was a play-action pass in which receiver Alshon Jeffery ran a fly route, leaving first-round cornerback Kyle Fuller in his dust. The play went for 40 yards.
In our pre-draft evaluation of Fuller, we outlined his tendency to sit on short and intermediate passes. This often leaves him flat-footed when it's time to break out of his back pedal. As a result, Fuller is susceptible to the deep pass, something we saw today as well as on Tuesday.
When he focuses and reads the receiver, Fuller can be very effective in man coverage but when he cheats up, he turns into a liability. It's an area in which he must improve before the start of the season.
-Defensive line coach Paul Pasqualoni doesn't have much use for the bag dummies. Under former defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli, the bags were an integral part of every practice. In his system, the primary goal of every defensive lineman was to shoot gaps and get up-field quickly. Under Pasqualoni, the focus is much more on reading and reacting to the offense.
In lieu of bag drills, Chicago down linemen now work extensively on understanding basic blocking schemes. Pasqualoni spends time every practice using a scout team to run different blocking patterns in both zone and man sets. Over and over, the starting defensive line runs through drills that simulate what an opposing offensive line might do on a run play, and then they react.
The goal here is to ingrain these patterns in the minds of the defenders, so that when a certain cross block or pull block occurs in front of them, they'll instantly know how to react. This read-and-react system is 100 percent the opposite of the old regime. We'll find out soon enough which is the better system.
-We've talked a lot about the potential of Chris Williams as a kick returner for the Bears. His speed is wicked but there are definitely concerns about his size.
Today, he showed he's more than just a burner. Working as a receiver with the second team, Williams was dominant. He caught at least 10 passes during team drills, including one 50/50 ball in which Williams elevated and beat the defender mid-air for the catch. He then came down on his feet and was able to pick up an extra few yards.
At 5-8, 175, Williams has sneaky size that allows him to hide behind his bigger teammates, something we've seen from him on bubble screens. His straight-line speed also makes him a weapon on go routes.
It's tough to foresee Williams as a big part of Chicago's offense, assuming he makes the team, but he showed today that he definitely has the potential to be a weapon if called into duty.
-Like yesterday, there were a number of dropped passes during this afternoon's practice. The first came from running back Senorise Perry, who let a ball bounce off his hands right into the arms of cornerback Demontre Hurst, who made the grab and tiptoed in bounds to complete the pick.
Later in team drills, tight end Fendi Onobun put on a show of ineptitude. He dropped an easy pass in the flats, which was returned for a touchdown. On the next play, QB Jimmy Clausen went right back to Onobun, who let the ball bounce right off his hands. All together, Onobun dropped three passes and, as a result, the team waived him after practice.
It was really a disheartening display to witness a player struggle so mightily. His body language – head down, shoulders slumped – revealed what most of already knew: his dream of playing in the NFL was coming to an end. That is not fun to watch.
Onobun is a great guy and I wish him the best but he just isn't cut out to play professional football.
-For the first time in my four years covering the Bears, I saw the defense deploy a "dime" package in 11-on-11 drills. The package included Charles Tillman, Tim Jennings, Kyle Fuller and Kelvin Hayden as the four corners, with Jon Bostic the only linebacker on the field.
Hayden is an experienced, productive cornerback who has value on defense. In nickel sets, he's not in the team's plans, but as a dime back, Hayden could be very effective. We'll find out in training camp if this "dime" set reoccurs or if it was just a one-time thing.
-Jimmy Clausen took the vast majority of snaps with the second team today, which is a big change from last week, when he barely saw any team reps. He's obviously progressing in the system and received a vote of confidence from his coach after practice.
"Jimmy has done a very good job, very maturely fit in and taken the place of trying to learn and work to learn the offense," said Trestman. "He's grinding at it as well. He's spent long hours here. He's had help from the guys in the room to get him where he is today. So we'll see. We're going through the process of working with our roster. I think that he'll be one of the guys that we do bring back and we'll take it one day at a time when we get to training camp."
It appears Clausen will be with the team in Bourbonnais. Cutler and sixth rounder David Fales aren't going anywhere, which means either Jordan Palmer or Jerrod Johnson will soon be cut. There is no chance the club will bring five passers to training camp.
Palmer appears to have lost some of his velocity due to a pectoral strain and Johnson has been spotty at best. Johnson appears likelier to get the axe but at the same time, I wouldn't be surprised if both are cut at some point during camp. There just aren't enough snaps for four passers.
-The more I watch Terrence Toliver, the more I like what I see. Today, he made cornerback C.J. Wilson look silly on a double move. Toliver left the defender in his wake and was wide open for an easy touchdown. Just like Joe Anderson last year, pay attention to Toliver in camp, as he has the skill set to surprise a lot of people.
-The past three days, the defense has deployed a large number of blitz packages during team drills. Linebackers are coming off the edge and in the gaps, safeties are lining up in the box and nickelbacks are blitzing around corners. We've seen man blitzes and zone blitzes, ones in which defensive linemen are dropped into coverage. I even saw one snap in which defensive end Trevor Scott stayed on two feet across from the tight end, leaving just three down linemen, in essence making it a 3-4 set.
Here's the thing, the first-team defense gets burned almost every time on these blitzes. Cutler is just too good at reading the pressure, which is too often revealed way to early in his cadence, giving him time to adjust. He's adept at finding the pressure and adjusting to his hot route, and the receivers are almost always on the same page.
This offense is going to be something else to watch.
As a pass catcher, Zach Miller has had as many good plays as bad. He's not a natural receiver but he doesn't have to be. For Miller, his key is to show he can block and that he has value on special teams.
Special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis is paying attention to Miller, who wears number 86. After a rep during kickoff drills, I overheard DeCamillis say, "I see you 86." That's a great sign for the kid, as DeCamillis is the coach he must impress.
-Chris Williams is lightning fast but he's not the only one who can run on this team. During kickoff drills, Williams busted a return outside and safety M.D. Jennings ran stride for stride with him and forced him out of bounds. Jennings may not be much of a playmaker but it's doubtful many receivers are going to beat him deep.
On one of the last plays of practice, Jennings picked off a Palmer pass intended for Josh Bellamy, who ran a horrible flag route that left his quarterback out to dry.
-At the end of practice, the media were sent out of the building as the team began its walkthroughs. I lingered a bit and was one of the last people out. I ended up getting a good look at the second-team offense, which was again running Wildcat sets with Armanti Edward and Jordan Lynch in the backfield.
This is the second time in three days I've seen this formation. If Edwards makes the team, expect the Bears to deploy him in Wildcat in certain situations throughout the regular season.
-Here is the first-team kickoff unit: Danny McCray, M.D. Jennings, Khaseem Greene, Jordan Senn, Michael Ford, Dante Rosario, Tony Fiammetta, Ryan Mundy and Shea McClellin. Jon Bostic rotated with McClellin, Marquess Wilson rotated with Fiammetta.
-And that's it folks, all of the OTAs and minicamps are in the books. The first practice of training camp is Friday, July 25th, which gives us more than a month off before the six-month, no-days-off grind of the NFL season begins. Stay off the police blotter and I'll see everyone in Bourbonnais.
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.