The Chicago Bears conducted the fourth practice of 2014 Training Camp today on a sunny, cool morning. It was the second padded practice of camp preceding tomorrow's day off.
WR Alshon Jeffery (foot) came out to the field in full pads and stretched out with the team. Yet before positional drills began, Jeffery headed to the sidelines and took off his pads. He did not return. The team described it as a sore foot.
G Matt Slauson (shoulder) did not finish practice but said it was only precautionary.
NEWS AND NOTES FROM DAY 4
-Special teams again opened today's practice, with coordinator Joe DeCamillis working with his punt units. Here was the first-team punt unit: Eric Weems and Sherrick McManis were the gunners; Jordan Senn, Jon Bostic, Khaseem Greene, Shea McClellin, Trevor Scott, Dante Rosario and Danny McCray were along the line of scrimmage; Danny McCray was the up back and Brandon Hartson was snapping. Tress Way continues to work as the starting punter.
The Bears used WR Marques Wilson as a second-team gunner. Wilson has done very little special teams work this offseason, so it was surprising to see him out wide.
-I wrote yesterday about tight end Matthew Mulligan's potential as an in-line blocker. Mulligan today showed power not only during bag drills but in live action as well. He can explode into defenders, which could be valuable in two-tight-end sets. For the second day in a row, Mulligan earned a rep with the first team on a run play. He appears the frontrunner for the club's third tight end spot.
-During receiving drills, the running back and tight ends worked on one end of the field, while the wide receivers worked on the other end. I stood in between the two drills and I counted one total ball dropped. It was as clean and focused a receiving session I've seen all offseason.
-The team conducted 1-on-1 drills between wide receivers and cornerbacks, as well as running backs and tight ends against linebackers and safeties. In yesterday's session, Jeffery and rookie CB Kyle Fuller put on a competitive show. With Jeffery on the shelf today, Fuller squared off against Brandon Marshall. During the two reps I saw them face each other, Marshall got the better of Fuller, first on a fly route (which was thrown too wide) and an 8-yard in route, which Marshall dropped. Fuller is good but Marshall showed the youngster today what it takes to match up with an elite NFL wideout.
Overall, Marshall had a sub-par practice, dropping four passes by my count, but that comes with the territory.
-On the other side of the field, LB Shea McClellin squared off against RB Matt Forte. Forte cleared the line of scrimmage then hesitated. McClellin began to break forward, then Forte turned on the burners, creating five yards of separation. The pass was completed for a 35-yard touchdown.
McClellin struggled in coverage during team drills for the second day in a row. He has repeatedly shown a lack of anticipation and awareness in zone sets, and he's always a step behind in man-to-man. That's an area he must work on.
Yet as a blitzed, McClellin has been very disruptive since the pads came on. Coordinator Mel Tucker is lining up McClellin all over the field, blitzing him from every gap. For this season at least, it appears McClellin's biggest impact will come as a pass rusher with a head of steam.
-WIth Long out, Eben Britton served as the starting right guard the first three practices of camp. Today, Britton worked exclusively at right tackle, while Micahel Ola and Brian de la Puente rotated at RG with the starters.
"We've got a lot of confidence in all those guys," coach Marc Trestman said after practice. "It's a competition between Eben, Brian, Ola. All those guys are certainly very capable guys that we're glad to have, so they're getting the work against the ones and that gets us better."
So far, none of the three have had an answer for Lamarr Houston when he slides inside to defensive tackle. Britton struggled yesterday containing Houston, which resulted in a demotion, yet neither Ola nor de la Puente had any more luck today. I would argue Houston looks just as good at defensive tackle, if not better, as he does playing defensive end. He's undersized inside but he makes up for it with quick feet, a powerful upper body, strong hands and an effective swim move.
-Britton has had a rough camp in general and has had more bad snaps than good. That continued today working at right tackle with the backups. Against DE Trevor Scott, Britton was little more than a turnstile. This says as much about Scott, who has looked great so far, as it does Britton but it's clear last year's sixth offensive lineman needs to raise his level of play.
-The fans once again cheered for rookie P Patrick O'Donnell, yet it was Tress Way who stole the show. Kicking from their own 15-yard line, O'Donnell's farthest quick landed at the 20-yard line. Way landed his second kick on the 5-yard line. I still believe it's unlikely Way will win this competition but he's not going down without a fight.
-In the first set of red-zone drills, the first pass went to TE Martellus Bennett down the seam. LB Jon Bostic broke on the pass and was able to tip the ball in the air. S Ryan Mundy then tipped the ball backward, and it ended up landing in Bennett's arms for the touchdown.
Later in team drills, QB Jay Cutler tried to force a pass to Marshall down the right seam. Bostic was again in good position and disrupted the pass, which popped up and into Kelvin Hayden's arms for a pick.
These were the third and fourth pass breakups I've witnessed from Bostic the first four days of camp, two of which came in the red zone. This is a marked improvement from last season, when he was visibly lost in coverage, and a very positive sign for the second-year player.
-There were a couple of false starts today, the first by RT Jordan Mills, yet Trestman said he's happy with the amount of pre-snap penalties.
"I think they are doing very well," he said. "We probably have fewer (penalties) going into our fifth practice on Wednesday than we did last year at this point in time and we’re using multiple snap counts, that is the other thing, we’re probably more evolved in our snap counts than we were a year ago because we have so many. That takes a lot of concentration and focus and that is part of the reason we have them. We want them to focus and snap counts force them to do it."
-The defense has shown a lot of blitz looks since the pads have come on. Tucker has been bringing pressure from all over the field, including lining both nickel linebackers over the center. To counter this, the offense has been pushing the running back up toward the line of scrimmage, about a yard deep of the A gap. The Bears didn't do this type of pre-snap adjusting with the running backs last year, so it appears they're doing some tweaking with the protections this year.
-TE Dante Rosario had a bad drop when he was wide open 15 yards down the field. So far, Rosario has looked like just another guy. He's still getting occasional first-team reps but he could open the door for someone like Zach Miller to claim the backup tight end role.
-For the first three days of camp, S Adrian Wilson split his reps between the second and third teams. Today, he worked almost exclusively alongside M.D. Jennings and Danny McCray with the second team.
It took Wilson just four practices to elevate up the depth chart. You wonder how long it will take before he starts challenging current starters Ryan Mundy and Brock Vereen.
-During red-zone drills between the second teams, I posted up in the end zone to get a better look at second-round rookie Ego Ferguson. He's a raw player but he showed some very positive signs with the pads on.
First, his combination of size (6-2, 215) and power is immense. His initial hand punch off the ball consistently rocks opposing blockers on their heels. Working at center with the second team, Taylor Boggs could barely stay on his feet after Ferguson punched him in the chest.
Second, the rookie has very nimble feet for a player of his size. He lacks adequate pass-rush moves and relies too much on the bull rush but he's not a lumbering player. He's light on his feet, which is very desirable for a big nose tackle. He's not there yet but Ferguson shows all the makings of a potential run-stopping beast in a year or two.
-With Ratliff on the shelf, rookie Will Sutton got first-team reps at the 3-technique position.
-Right now, the backup quarterback position is Jimmy Clausen's to lose. The coaching staff won't admit it but Jordan Palmer has been extremely mediocre the entire offseason. He has made very few impressive throws.
Clausen hasn't been great either but at least he's showing improvement on a daily basis. In the last set of team drills today, Clausen found Micheal Spurlock deep down the left sideline, dropping in a nice touch pass before the safety could reach the ball. Incremental improvement every day should be enough for Clausen to win this race running away.
-Finally, it wouldn't be a Bears training camp practice without fisticuffs. Yet today, we were treated to three separate dust ups. The first one was very brief and I could not see through the bodies the initial participants.
The second fight pitted Britton against DE Austen Lane. Trestman himself tried to break this one up before Willie Young stepped in to separate the two. As Young, who has already been involved in two fights, was breaking it up, one of his teammates yelled, "Hey Willie, get outta there!"
Just another day in Bourbonnais.
-Trestman quote of the day (to the third-team players): "These reps are precious."
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.