The fifth practice of Chicago Bears 2014 Training Camp is in the books. Today’s two-and-a-half hour session was conducted under warm, clear skies, and a relentless sun. Attendance peaked at roughly 10,500 fans, which isn’t bad for a Wednesday morning.
-Kyle Long (viral infection) has been cleared to return. He’ll begin conditioning tomorrow and the team expects he’ll first suit up for Family Night this Saturday.
“He hasn’t put pads on for quite some time and hasn’t played football for quite some time, either even through the OTAs and now the time away of the first five days of practices,” said coach Marc Trestman. “We’ve been here six or seven days of learning and doing those kinds of things and he’s been away some of that time. I think that all goes into the mix and we’re going to do the right thing. We’ll do what the trainers and doctors tell us to do and he’ll be in meetings and he’ll get back on his feet and we’ll get him going.”
-Eben Britton hurt his hamstring during 1-on-1 pass-rush drills. He’ll be evaluated tomorrow and is considered day-to-day.
-Tim Jennings (quad) was dressed and participated in positional drills, yet he sat out the remainder of practice.
-Alshon Jeffery, who sat out Monday’s practice with a sore foot, returned today and participated in full.
NEWS AND NOTES FROM DAY 5
-During the opening special teams portion of practice, coordinator Joe DeCamillis conducted kick-return drills. The usual suspects were back returning kicks – Chris Williams, Micheal Spurlock, Armanti Edwards and Eric Weems – yet also included in the mix was Michael Ford.
Ford, who returned kicks at LSU and had a 100-yard return in last year’s preseason, has been an afterthought in this year’s returner competition. Today was the first time all offseason, dating back to OTAs, that Ford has been rotated with the kick returners.
Unfortunately, the time away from the position did not bode well for Ford. On one rep, Ford followed his two-man wedge up the middle, right to where the coverage players were waiting. DeCamillis came flying across the field, screaming: “They did a hell of a job blocking and you ran right into a problem. It looks nice in practice but you’re going to get your [butt] knocked out in a game.”
-Also of note during KR drills was the inclusion of TE Matthew Mulligan, along with FB Tony Fiammetta, in the first-team two-man wedge. Mulligan has earned the occasional first-team rep as a blocking tight end and today got his first starting special teams reps.
-The second-team two-man wedge consisted of rookie defensive tackles Will Sutton and Ego Ferguson, who has also worked as an edge blocker with the second-team field goal unit. It appears, one way or another, Chicago’s second- and third-round picks are going to have an impact this season.
-Here is your first-team kick return unit: Brock Vereen, Jordan Senn, Khaseem Greene, Jon Bostic, Danny McCray, Tony Fiammetta, Trevor Scott, Matthew Mulligan, Josh Bellamy, Dante Rosario and Eric Weems.
-The big news today was the insertion of safety Danny McCray with the first team in place of rookie Brock Vereen.
“We wanted to take a look at him. He’s been practicing well,” Trestman said. “We’ve said all along the safety position is wide open and we wanted to take a look at him with the first group today. We talked a lot about it yesterday.”
Yet again, despite his vote of confidence in McCray, Trestman warned against reading too much into the depth chart on the fifth day of camp.
“I don’t think you should take any one day and start making decisions on who is playing that position, other than certainly the guys that we all know. But the safety position is wide open and Danny has worked to an extent that he gets a chance to get some work there so that’s what we did today.”
For his part, McCray is aware of the opportunity in front of him.
“It’s a big opportunity. I think that’s what we’re all here for, open competition. They’re just rolling guys around to see who fits and who can make plays. Everybody has an equal chance and [the coaching staff] has shown that throughout OTAs and minicamp and here in training camp.
“It’s Day 5, so the excitement isn’t really there, I just know that I’ve got a good opportunity to come out and show what I can do.”
Chicago’s coaching staff has rotated players in and out of nearly every defensive position, so it’s too early to anoint McCray, who has 10 career starts, as a legitimate candidate at safety. He’s in the mix for sure, and will likely make the team due to his value on special teams, but he hasn’t earned anything yet.
-During the first set of team drills, LB Jon Bostic showed blitz too early, which allowed the offense to audible. After Bostic slapped himself in the head, he turned and looked at Lance Briggs, who was holding his arms up on both sides of him as if to say “what are you doing?”
Bostic has looked much better this year than his did during his rookie training camp but plays like these show how much work he still has ahead of him.
-Ego Ferguson is big, powerful and light on his feet but in terms of pass rush, he’s borderline worthless. During 1-on-1 drills, Ferguson was stymied on all three of his reps.
After his first snap, Lamarr Houston yelled, “Get off the ball Ego! Come on!”
Ferguson has immense strength and his hand punch can shock opposing blockers off the ball but he doesn’t know how to finish. He cannot create separation with his arms and has no idea how to shed blocks. He’d better develop into a beast against the run because it’s hard to imagine Ferguson having any impact as a pass rusher during his career.
-On the play in which Eben Britton hurt his hamstring, he squared off against DT Jeremiah Ratliff. At the first hard count, Ratliff jumped offside and was visibly upset with himself. When the ball was snapped, he took it out on Britton. Ratliff grabbed him by the shoulders and yanked Britton forward, which caused the injury.
Ratliff was the first to Britton’s side and appeared remorseful but on the positive side, it was an impressive display of brute force that shows Ratliff, a four-time Pro Bowler, still has plenty left in the tank.
-Lamarr Houston was again nearly unblockable during 1-on-1 drills. RT Jordan Mills looked silly trying to block Houston off the edge.
The signing of Allen received more publicity but Houston is going to have more impact for the defense this year, mark my words.
-After Britton was carted off the field, Michael Ola served as the starting right guard. Britton’s injury opens the door even further for Ola to earn a roster spot as the club’s swing guard.
-LB Shea McClellin looks very good as a blitzer. The timing of his rushes have been outstanding so far, which allows him to bust into the backfield nearly every time. He may not be a three-down linebacker yet but McClellin could end up being the pass rusher at linebacker everyone wanted him to be at defensive end.
-LB Christian Jones has also been blitzed plenty with the second and third teams. Remember, Jones played mainly defensive end his senior year, so he’s adept at rushing the quarterback.
On one snap, Jones blitzed off the edge and was untouched coming into the backfield. Rookie RB Ka’Deem Carey saw the blitz, crossed the backfield and stuck Jones right in the chest. It was an impressive block, one that showed Carey’s awareness and willingness in pass protection.
-James Brown has worked at left tackle with the second team for most of camp, with seventh-round rookie Charles Leno Jr. at LT with the third team. In all honesty though, those two should flip spots on the depth chart, as Leno Jr. is a player with much more potential.
Leno Jr. is a technically sound player with good balance and a strong hand punch. Brown is a tweener who doesn’t have the size or footwork to handle speed rushers off the edge.
During one team drill in which the third teams squared off against each other, Brown took a few reps at left tackle. On one play, LB Connor O’Neill came off the left edge on a well-timed blitz. Brown never even looked in the direction of O’Neill, who was in the backfield before the ball could be handed off.
-On the first snap of the two-minute drill, WR Alshon Jeffery lined up wide right with CB Kyle Fuller across from him. At the snap, Fuller shifted his body to Jeffery’s outside, forcing the receiver to release inside. Jeffery took what Fuller gave him and then immediately shifted back to Fuller’s outside shoulder.
Just like that, Jeffery exploited Fuller’s technique and created two yards of separation. Because Jeffery had outside position, Jay Cutler was able to complete the pass toward the sideline, away from the safety, 25 yards down the field.
It was a veteran move by a wide receiver that is on the verge of a very special season. And if Fuller is forced to cover Jeffery on every practice snap this year, he’s going to develop into a top-flight cornerback as well.
-Amazingly, there were no fights in today’s practice.
-The Bears last night signed WR Dale Moss, who spent part of 2012 on the club’s practice squad and was with the team for a portion of 2013 offseason activities. Moss (6-3, 215) is noticeably bigger than the rest of the backup wide receivers but was extremely rusty today.
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.