The day has finally come Chicago Bears fans. The first 2014 Training Camp practice is in the books, which means the season is officially under way. It’s been a long wait for most of you, so let’s dive right in and dissect today’s action.
The weather in Bourbonnais was absolutely beautiful to start practice, with low-70s temperatures and nothing but clear skies. Clouds rolled in about halfway through the session, sprinkling those on the campus of Olivet Nazarene University with light, intermittent rain.
Overall, it was a very active, high-tempo practice, which is what we’ve come to expect under head coach Marc Trestman.
Chris Conte (shoulder), Kyle Long (viral infection) and Craig Steltz (hamstring) were all present today but did not practice. Conte and Long are expected back at some point next week, while Conte will be out through at least the first preseason game.
No other players left the field due to injury, so it was a safe session for everyone.
NOTES FROM DAY 1
-Today’s practice followed the same schedule we witnessed in OTAs and minicamp. A long special teams session opened the action, with coordinator Joe DeCamillis working with his kickoff units.
Of note was the inclusion of Josh Morgan as one of four players returning kicks, along with Chris Williams, Micheal Spurlock and Armanti Edwards. Morgan did not return kicks or punts during offseason activities, so it was somewhat surprising to see him lined up deep.
In three NFL seasons, Morgan has returned eight total punts and 25 total kickoffs, so he brings some experience to the table.
Not included in this list is Eric Weems, who is definitely in the mix for the return jobs, yet he also has value in other areas of special teams and worked with the first-team kickoff unit in coverage.
Here is the current Bears starting kickoff group (from left to right): Kelvin Hayden, Weems, Khaseem Greene, Jordan Senn, Danny McCray, Robbie Gould, Sherrick McManis, Shea McClellin/Jon Bostic (the two rotated every other snap), Michael Ford, Dante Rosario and Ryan Mundy.
Of note is Ford, who was not a part of the first-team KO unit this offseason. Ford is in a battle for the backup RB spot. Showing well in special teams will help his cause.
That said, DeCamillis dressed down Ford following one snap in which he felt his player was loafing. In a display of early-camp intensity, DeCamillis sprinted across the field screaming “MICHAEL! MICHAEL! MICHAEL!” before finishing his tirade in Ford’s face.
It’s safe to assume that will be the last time Ford gives anything less than full effort. Ford also dropped an easy pass during 7-on-7 drills, so it was a rough day all around for the second-year player.
-As they did during OTAs and minicamp, the Bears pumped music onto the field through sideline speakers during positional drills. It was the same mix from the offseason, which includes AC/DC, Guns N’ Roses, T.I., Bon Jovi and more.
“I’ve talked a lot about this with guys around the league. I just wanted to bring something to practice — just a little more energy to practice,” Trestman said afterward. “Talking to the players about it, that we would do some work in individual when we can coach them close up and still get our job done, but have a little fun as well with just getting them going.
“And it translates to games because there’s music before games. So because they’re working with music before games, why shouldn’t we have music during that same kind of warm-up period, that individual period that we have in practice. That was really the No. 1 reason to do it, to make the practice as game-like as it could be. And now warm-ups are going to be similar as well.”
-If nothing else, safety Adrian Wilson looks the part of a football player. He may be 34 and coming off a lost season but my goodness, he towers over the rest of the safeties on this roster. At 6-3, 220, Wilson is a physical presence on the back end.
Yet it doesn’t appear the Bears are handing him anything. If Wilson wants playing time, he’s going to have to earn it.
That didn’t take long.
For the remainder of practice, Wilson rotated between the second and third teams. He did not receive a first-team rep, as Ryan Mundy and Brock Vereen took all of the starter snaps.
On one play, Wilson lined up in press coverage against tight end Martellus Bennett. Within the 5-yard chuck area, Wilson absolutely mugged the Black Unicorn. It got to the point that Bennett could not turn around on his hitch pattern and had to rip his arms away from Wilson to make his break.
It was at the moment Wilson’s value became clear. That big group of pass-catching tight ends that permeate the league, Wilson can handle those guys.
Last note on Wilson: he was used with the second-team kickoff unit on the far right edge. You don’t typically see five-time Pro Bowlers working as a backup on special teams but it appears Wilson isn’t above doing whatever it takes to make the final 53-man roster.
-During team drills, the defense absolutely dominated the offense. At every level, it appeared the defense was one step faster.
The player of the day was rookie Kyle Fuller. During his first training-camp snap, working with the starters in 11-on-11 drills, Fuller intercepted a pass from Jordan Palmer. It was an athletic grab near the sideline.
Later in team drills, Fuller lined up against wide receiver Terrence Tolliver in press coverage. Fuller swallowed up Toliver at the line of scrimmage, making it very difficult for the receiver to release into his pattern. Fuller stayed in Toliver’s hip pocket, which resulted in the receiver slipping and falling as he came out of his break. The pass from Jimmy Clausen flew right into Fuller’s hands, who then returned the ball down the sidelines for a touchdown.
“I was just playing my technique, fundamentals and when the ball's in the air just trying to make a play,” Fuller said of his two picks.
It certainly was a very strong first day from Chicago’s first-round rookie.
“It was a good start for Kyle,” Trestman said. “That was a terrific play he made in the first series of the day. The second one, he got a wrong route and he was in the right place and made the play, and that’s a good thing. He’s around the football. It was a good start for him today.”
-If Fuller was the best player on the field today, defensive end Willie Young was right on his heels. To be fair, players were not in pads today (the first padded practice is this Sunday) so it’s hard to truly evaluate offensive and defensive linemen.
That said, Young was an absolute beast rushing off the left edge. He worked mainly with the second team and repeatedly flew past RT Joe Long. Young’s burst off the ball was outstanding and he demonstrated the ability to dip his shoulder and turn the corner.
Later in practice, Young got snaps with the first team against Jordan Mills. Like Long, Mills had little answer for Young. The first snap, Young flew around the outside. On the next rep, he set up Mills with the edge rush before cutting back inside.
All told, Young had roughly four or five sacks in today’s practice.
-Sticking with the defensive line, we saw a substantial shift in personnel this afternoon, with Lamarr Houston sliding inside to defensive tackle late in practice.
This was the first time the Bears have slid Houston inside. Through OTAs and minicamp, Houston lined up exclusively on the left edge of the defensive line. This isn’t an extremely surprising development, as he played DT in college and rotated inside for the Oakland Raiders as well. In essence, the Bears are trying to get the four best pass rushers on the field and Houston can provide more pressure than Paea offers.
Following practice, I spoke with Houston about the shift inside. I’ll post that story later today.
-With Kyle Long on the sidelines, Eben Britton filled in at right guard with the first team. Through 10 practices this offseason, it’s clear that Britton will very likely serve as the primary backup to four of the five starting offensive-line positions: left guard, right guard, left tackle, right tackle.
Later in practice, Britton took a couple of reps at right tackle in place of Mills. Yet he had even less success against Young, who made Britton look silly on a speed rush. It was so effective, Britton turned around and shook Young’s hand, as if to say, “you got me.”
-The linebacker rotation was once again in full effect today. Lance Briggs, D.J. Williams, Jon Bostic and Shea McClellin all rotated at multiple spots with the first team, in both base and nickel packages. Other than Briggs at WILL, it’s truly anyone’s guess how the starting LB group will look in Week 1.
My best guess: Briggs (WILL), Williams (MIKE), Bostic (SAM). Yet I still believe McClellin will see the field in sub packages. The first snap he took with the starters today, McClellin blitzed the right B gap. With his experience as a pass rusher, expect him to be used plenty as a rover blitzer on passing downs.
For McClellin, it’s obvious he’s still not completely comfortable with his new position. Before one snap in team drills, everyone had to stop so linebackers coach Reggie Herring could explain to a confused McClellin where he needed to line up. The former defensive end still has a ways to go.
-The battle for the No. 4 WR position is wide open and, based on what I saw today, it appears Eric Weems is the frontrunner. On at least three snaps, Weems filled in for a starter who needed a breather.
Terrence Toliver also took one rep with the first team. He ran a deep flag route and created separation immediately. Cutler lobbed a pass in but Toliver could not track it. He ended up spinning himself around and never got a hand on the pass.
That one play encapsulates Toliver as a receiver. He has great size (6-4, 204) and speed, yet he’s not a playmaker down the field. I cannot count how many times the past two years I’ve seen him watch a deep ball fall at his feet. He does not use his big frame well and struggles to judge passes that stay in the air a while. If he can’t find a way to be a threat down the field, he’ll again lose out on a roster spot, as he has no value on special teams.
The only other receiver to get a snap with the first team – besides Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery and Marquess Wilson – was Josh Bellamy, who impressed me during offseason activities with his sharp routes and good hands. He created separation and Cutler found him down the field, yet Bellamy dropped the pass. That’s not going to help his cause.
-Sticking with the receivers, one play today demonstrated Chris Williams’ potential value to the offense. Lined up against Kyle Fuller – who dominated everyone else he faced this morning – Williams ran a double move. He started on an inside slant with Fuller on his hip.
Williams then broke up field and immediately created three yards of separation, and that’s not an exaggeration. Jordan Palmer lobbed in an easy pass that Williams caught in stride for a 40-yard completion. Williams is tiny but he can run with the best of them.
-DE Austen Lane doesn’t see the field very often. With a glut of defensive ends on the roster, Lane has been rotating with the third team. He’s not currently in the team’s plans but he did have a nice play today, beating guard Ryan Groy with a swim move that would have resulted in a sack.
This says more about Groy – a UDFA from Wisconsin whose been working at left guard with the third team – than it does Lane. Groy has not been very impressive this offseason and must raise his level of play once the pads come on if he wants any shot at making the final 53.
-My favorite play from today’s practice came from RB Shaun Draughn. Working with the third team, Draughn took a carry up the middle and decided he wasn’t going to be stopped. In a non-contact drill, Draughn lowered his head and threw a shoulder into LB DeDe Lattimore, driving the defender onto his back. Trestman doesn’t like that type of contact in practice but it was an impressive run from a player fighting for a roster spot.
-Lattimore worked at MIKE with the third team today and showed good awareness in coverage. On one snap, he manned up on RB Jordan Lynch and shadowed him in the flats, never allowing separation. The play broke down and Lynch was forced to cut back inside, yet he dropped the dump off pass. It was a solid play by Lattimore, a UDFA looking to make the practice squad.
-During 11-on-11 drills, Kyle Fuller took a couple of plays off. In this scenario, I would have assumed that Kelvin Hayden would be inserted in the starting lineup. Instead, Isaiah Frey took Fuller’s first-team reps out wide. Frey started 16 games last year at nickelback but he’s been an afterthought for most of the offseason. His insertion with the starters means his value on defense isn’t lost on the coaching staff.
-The Alshon Jeffery reverse, which netted him 105 rushing yards last season, has not died. The Bears ran the Jeffery reverse twice today.
-During walkthroughs, the second team worked on the Wildcat package with Armanti Edwards running the show. Edwards took the snaps and practiced handing off to Jordan Lynch – who is noticeably thinner than he was in offseason activities – Senorise Perry and Ka’Deem Carey.
We saw the Bears practice the Wildcat with Edwards during OTAs and minicamp, and it doesn’t appear they’ve yet trashed the concept.
-Finally, it wouldn’t be a Bears practice if there wasn’t an on-field dust up. After one snap, Eric Weems and Sherrick McManis got into a pushing match that needed to be broken up. It wasn’t much of a fight – the big throw downs only involve Martellus Bennett – but it again shows the intensity of action on the field.
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.