The Chicago Bears conducted the second practice of 2014 Training Camp this morning under cloudy but muggy skies. More than 8,000 fans showed up for today's session, which was the final non-padded practice of camp.
“I think [Long] is close [to returning]," coach Marc Trestman said after practice. "I know he’s chomping at the bit to get back out here. He’s a wreck emotionally to get back out there. He’s excited to get back out here. It’s day-to-day but we’re going to do it right, when the doctors say he’s ready to go, he’ll be out there. He’s trained really hard this year and this was a setback that bothered him and unnerved us from the standpoint that we wanted to see him get off to a great start. But that’s the way it is.”
Also on the sidelines was CB Tim Jennings, who had soreness in his quad.
"He had a little bit more of it last night," Trestman said. "We don’t think it’s anything [serious]. It’s a day-to-day thing but we want to be cautious.”
DE Willie Young began practice 100 percent, yet his quad tightened up roughly halfway through the session. He did not return to the field.
“He had a little bit of quad soreness, not a lot, just a little bit of soreness," said Trestman. "We want to monitor that and be sure we’re using common sense and caution there.”
NOTES FROM DAY 2
-The session began in typical fashion, with special teams work. About halfway through special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis' session, Trestman halted everything and lined up two separate 11-on-11 drills. The second team lined up at the 30-yard line heading into the end zone and the first team lined up at the opposite 30-yard line. After a handful of plays on both ends, Trestman shuffled everyone back to their stations on special teams.
This insertion of a brief 11-on-11 drill in the middle of the first special teams portion of practice has been a staple under Trestman the past two years. It's his way of keeping the players on their toes, while mimicking the quickness and chaos of game days.
-Notable on special teams is the fact that everyone, outside of the quarterbacks, practices in DeCamillis' skill drills, most of which include chasing a big silver bouncy ball. Yesterday, Jared Allen was chasing balls next to fourth stringers and today, Charles Tillman was active in the drills.
-The first-team punt return unit: Sherrick McManis, Danny McCray, Kyle Fuller and Brock Vereen blocking the gunners. In the middle were Shea McClellin, Jordan Senn, Khaseem Greene, Dante Rosario and Tony Fiammetta. The Bears were using two players deep, one as an up back who served as the primary blocker for the returner. The two up backs were Marquess Wilson and Michael Ford.
The punt returners today were Eric Weems, Josh Morgan, Chris Williams, Micheal Spurlock and Chris Williams. Of the five, Williams was easily the most explosive and showed the best field vision, particularly in traffic where his small size allows him to fit through tight seams. From my vantage point, Williams appears the frontrunner for that job.
-The first play of team drills was a pass by QB Jay Cutler trying to hit WR Marquess Wilson on an out route. CB Kelvin Hayden, who filled in at nickelback with Jennings on the shelf, jumped the pattern and picked off the pass, returning it roughly 10 yards before being knocked out of bounds. It was a solid pick by Hayden and his first big play on the practice field since tearing his hamstring in last year's camp.
"We’re excited to have Kelvin back. We missed him last year," said Trestman. "He’s back and he’s worked very very hard to put himself in this position to compete for a job on this team. It’s good to see him have success today.”
Hayden will serve as the primary backup to all three starting cornerback spots, so it was good to see the 31-year-old get back on the horse.
-The difference in arm strength between Cutler and the rest of the team's quarterbacks is immense. Even in my fourth training camp covering him, Cutler's arm strength still amazes me at times.
Case in point: during team drills he dropped back to pass and was looking in the direction of WR Alshon Jeffery, who lined up wide left and ran a deep in route. Cutler lit the wick on the bazooka connected to his neck and fired an absolute missile that split three defenders. And of course, Jeffery snatched it out of the air with hands the size of catcher's mitts.
It was one of those throws where you see the target and he's surrounded by players and you think to yourself, "oh no." And the next thing you know the ball has zipped past three outstretched arms, leaving nothing but a trail of smoke.
-Speaking of Jeffery, he had a very strong afternoon. On one snap, he flew down the right sideline and created five yards of separation from Hayden. Cutler put the pass right on the money for a completion that would have resulted in a 50-yard touchdown.
Later in practice, Jeffery again found room down the right sideline and Cutler hit him in stride for a 30-yard completion. Jeffery looks smooth and confident, and he hasn't dropped a pass yet. If he's due for a drop off in production this year, I'm not seeing it, as he looks just as sharp as he did at this time last year.
-On the other end of the wide-receiver spectrum, Terrence Toliver had another poor showing. He got a rep with the first team during 7-on-7 drills and lined up wide left. He ran a deep fly pattern and Cutler dropped in a great pass 40 yards down the field. The ball bounced right off Toliver's chest.
Later in the session, working with the second team, Toliver ran a crossing route and QB Jimmy Clauson threw a strike that again bounced off the receiver's chest. It was an outing reminiscent of Fendi Onobun during veteran minicamp, one that got Onobun cut just hours following the final practice. Toliver has size and speed but he needs to start showing more consistency or he could be included in the first round of cuts.
-Jimmy Clausen took many more reps with the second team than Jordan Palmer this morning. For those who didn't know any better, it would have appeared that Clausen was the bona fide backup. Yet Trestman said not to read too much into it.
"[Quarterbacks coach] Matt [Kavanaugh] is mixing it up," said Trestman. "You shouldn't draw any conclusions by who the guy that goes in there after Jay's in there. We're just moving people around and giving each guy a chance to work with different people and different centers and so forth. It's one practice at a time, and that'll be our approach as we work our way through it."
Trestman's comments aside, Clausen has progressively earned more and more reps with the second team since joining the club during OTAs. It's an obvious trend. It may not mean Clausen has passed Palmer yet but it's still a trend worth noting.
In one team session, Clausen completed back-to-back deep passes down the seam, one to TE Dante Rosario and the other to WR Micheal Spurlock.
-Spurlock had a very solid day as a pass catcher. He caught two deep passes with the second team during team drills and had at least three more catches later in the 11-on-11 sessions.
This is a good sign for Spurlock, who is competing for the starting returner gigs. GM Phil Emery said the player that wins that competition will likely have value on offense or defense, so Spurlock flashing as a receiver bodes well for him.
-Following one team drill, Trestman immediately called out the field goal units. The players in those two groups had to hurry to their positions, while everyone else had to quickly clear the field. It was another example of Trestman keeping his players ready for anything.
-The highlight of the day came from Khaseem Greene. Working with the second team, Greene undercut a quick slant, tipping the ball into the air and then catching it for the interception. He then sprinted into the end zone untouched for a touchdown. It was an outstanding play, as Greene not only immediately diagnosed the play but was quick enough to get a hand on the ball and athletic enough to come down with it.
“That was a very goo play by Khaseem, staying with the football and making a play," Trestman said. "It’s one day at a time. Players have got to stack practices [against] competition over this time. We want Khaseem to put back-to-back practices together like he did today and make plays like that and show he can do it on a consistent basis. We’ve got to keep our feet on the ground. We were in shorts today, so there’s a segment of football we’re not playing, but certainly that’s a response to a play that catches your eye."
-For the second day in a row, the Bears slid Lamarr Houston inside to defensive tackle. Obviously, yesterday wasn't an anomaly, as it appears Houston is going to see plenty of time along the interior of the defensive line.
When Houston moves inside, Stephen Paea comes off the field. Yesterday, Willie Young replaced Paea but with Young out, Trevor Scott was elevated to the starting lineup. Scott took advantage of his reps at left defensive end, routinely working his way past RT Jordan Mills. On one snap, Scott was in the backfield so fast, Cutler had no option but to fire the ball into the ground.
If Scott continues to flash when the pads come on, the seven-year veteran will solidify his role as the club's fourth defensive end.
-T Charles Leno Jr. worked at right tackle with the third team yesterday but was slotted with the second team today. Unfortunately for Leno, things didn't go so well, as DE David Bass worked him over. Bass, who was elevated to the second team due to Young's injury, is a sleeper candidate who can earn a roster spot as the club's fourth or fifth defensive end with a strong training camp. Today was a good start.
-During one third-team rep, CB Demontre Hurst lined up in the slot and did a good job shadowing the tight end in the flat. After the whistle, I overheard coordinator Mel Tucker say to Hurst: "That was one hell of a rep. Way to stay square."
Hurst has an uphill climb ahead of him if he wants to catch on as the club's fifth or sixth corner but it's obvious Tucker is keeping an eye on him. We'll see if Hurst, who played well during offseason activities as well, can work his way up the depth chart.
-Like yesterday, S Adrian Wilson rotated with the second and third teams at roughly a 50/50 split. It will be interesting to see if Wilson, a physical hitter, can push his way up the depth chart once the pads go on tomorrow.
-WR Chris Williams made a nice catch on a seam route, elevating amongst two defenders and coming down with the ball. Despite his size (5-7, 175) Williams is a baller who has more than once shown value as a wide receiver. He even saw a rep with the first team today and was used as a decoy on a reverse. A player as fast as Williams could be a weapon for a creative play caller.
-The Bears yesterday evening signed eight-year veteran offensive lineman Dylan Gandy. He was inserted immediately with the second team at right guard. Here is the full second team offensive line as it stood today: LT James Brown, LG Michael Ola, C Brian de la Puente, RG Gandy, RT Leno Jr.
Taylor Boggs was dropped to the third team.
-The injury to Young gave last year's sixth rounder, DE Cornelius Washington, a few series with the second team. During one drill, he beat Brown around the left edge on two straight plays. The second time, Palmer fired the ball into the ground.
Washington is still a long shot to make the team this year but if he can continue to show improvement, he'll earn some consideration as the club's 10th defensive lineman.
-In the final two-minute drill, the offense moved the ball from the 30-yard line into the red zone in only a few plays. On 3rd and goal, Cutler lobbed a pass to TE Martellus Bennett down the left seam. LB James Bostic read the play, posted up in front of Bennett and knocked the pass away. Bostic struggled in coverage last year, so seeing him recognize the play and get a hand on the ball is a good sign.
After the snap, Bennett turned to Cutler and pointed to the sky, telling his quarterback to put some more air under the ball.
-Finally, it wouldn't be a Bears practice without an on-field scuffle. Houston and Mills, who threw down during OTAs as well, again got into a pushing match after one whistle. Young stepped in to support Houston, which caused Kyle Long, who wasn't even dressed, to step in and separate everyone.
By my count, that makes three fights in 11 practices the media has been privy to this offseason.
“We’re going to start charging to get in here," Trestman joked afterward. "There’s times in practice when a player might lose his mind. The bottom line is, when we talk about it in meetings, fighting is a disciplinary issue. We would’ve lost both players; if it was a game, we would’ve lost both players. And it’s a safety issue.
"The guys who were involved in it were both remorseful and they don’t want it to happen. They know how it hurts a football team. The thing you like to see is that it didn’t linger. The team got back to work, there were no other altercations and I thought overall, when you have 99 percent of your practice that is cooperative with this kind of intensity, even though we are in shorts and not in pads, that’s the way we sell it to guys, that one play can lose players and it’s a safety issue.”
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.