The Chicago Bears conducted the 10th practice of 2014 Training Camp this morning in arguably the muggiest conditions of camp to this point. Humidity was intense and breeze was sparse, which made it feel like you were sitting in a bowl of soup.
-TE Martellus Bennet (suspension) and DE Jared Allen (excused) were not in attendance.
-CB Isaiah Frey injured his hamstring late in the session and was carted off the field.
“It looks like a pull,” Frey said. “We’ll see. We’re still trying to figure things out. Right now, in my mind, it feels like a pull.”
-T Jordan Mills did not finish practice due to a sore left foot, the same foot he broke in the season finale last season. He told me during lunch it was nothing serious, just discomfort from scar tissue.
-LB Lance Briggs (knee) returned to the field today, after sitting out the second half of yesterday’s session, and practiced in full.
-WR Brandon Marshall had a veteran day off.
NOTES FROM DAY 10
This was something that has been building for a while. Bennett has been involved in four fights, that we know of, in a little more than a year. Yesterday’s incident, in which his body slammed first-round rookie CB Kyle Fuller to the ground, was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
You can’t risk a teammate’s health and career, as well as the success of this year’s team, because you can’t handle getting knocked down in practice. Bennett will return eventually, most likely before the start of the season, and the hope is he’ll have a better outlook toward practice going forward.
-Never in my year-plus covering special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis have I seen him as fired up as he was this morning. After a poor rep by Trevor Scott during individual blocking drills, Joe D absolutely exploded, letting fly a tirade of cuss words that would make many men blush.
The Bears were average on special teams last year and that doesn’t appear good enough for DeCamillis, who has taken it up a notch in this year’s camp. We’ll see if his extra intensity translates to success on the field.
-Heading into camp, there has been concern about the wear and tear on RB Matt Forte’s body, his two career knee surgeries and the fact he’ll turn 29 before the end of the season. All of those factors point to a player that could see a significant drop off in production.
Yet Forte isn’t showing any of that in camp, as he was absolutely phenomenal today in 1-on-1 pass-catching drills. On the first snap, Forte put an inside move on LB Lance Briggs that left the defender on his butt.
Forte then had a field day against anyone who lined up across from him, leaving player after player in his dust. He saved the best for last though, going up over LB Christian Jones in the back corner of the end zone to haul in a touchdown grab.
Forte looks lean, fast and confident, and his hands have never been better. If his body holds up, he’ll easily earn his third straight trip to the Pro Bowl.
-TE Matthew Mulligan is a big boy (6-4, 267) and doesn’t have any speed to speak of but he was actually very impressive against opposing linebackers in 1-on-1 drills. He was able to create separation on a couple of occasions due to strong route running. He also showed decent hands, although he’s not the type who is going to make a contested catch in traffic.
Mulligan is also an outstanding blocker. On one snap, he nearly lifted DE Cornelius Washington off his feet driving him past the pocket. Mulligan is a borderline lock to make the team and he’s going to have some real value once the games begin.
-RG Kyle Long looked rusty today in only his second full practice since recovering from a viral infection. On one snap, he pulled around the right side and completely whiffed on LB D.J. Williams before falling on his butt. It appears the team’s Pro Bowl guard is going to need some time to get up to speed.
-I continue to marvel at Alshon Jeffery and his immense ability as a receiver. With Bennett suspended, Wilson on the shelf and Marshall taking the day off, Jeffery was QB Jay Cutler’s top target on nearly every pass play. And Jeffery didn’t disappoint, snagging nearly every ball thrown his way.
He broke out last season with 89 catches for 1,421 yards, which earned him a trip to the Pro Bowl. Based on what we’ve seen from Jeffery so far in camp, he could easily eclipse those numbers in 2014. He’s a special, special player.
-LB Shea McClellin appears to be finding his groove in run fits. On a number of snaps today, McClellin exploded into his correct gap to find the ball carrier, which is a great sign in terms of his ability to stop the run.
He’s getting better in coverage but he still has a lot of room for improvement. During one snap, he dropped into the deep middle zone and broke laterally on a pass. McClelin was right there for the pick-six, yet he let the ball go right through his hands.
-The Bears have been rotating linebackers heavily throughout camp, with seemingly no rhyme or reason. Yet today, I figured out the pattern.
In first-team base sets, where three linebackers are on the field, it’s Lance Briggs (WILL), D.J. Williams (MIKE) and Shea McClellin (SAM). In first-team nickel, it’s Briggs and Jon Bostic.
Over the past few practices, I’ve paid close attention to this rotation and have yet to see the coaching staff deviate from these two lineups. It will be interesting to see if this rotation holds true during the games, giving the Bears a four-man linebacker crew.
“They all play. We count their reps. We move them around,” coordinator Mel Tucker said yesterday. “As you can see during practice guys are shuffling in and out in different groups and all that just trying to make sure that everyone gets the correct amount of reps so that we can evaluate them and so really there's nothing set in stone right now. We're just getting the reps in, learning the defense, evaluating and competing.”
-In the competition for the backup QB position, Jimmy Clausen has separated himself from Jordan Palmer. From my standpoint, Clausen appears the more confident and accurate signal caller. On two straight reps in red-zone drills today, Clausen dropped in touch passes right to the fingertips of his receivers in the back corner of the end zone.
On the other hand, Palmer is too indecisive and too often tucks the ball down during non-contact drills. If the regular season started tomorrow, there’s no doubt Clausen would be the one backing up Cutler.
-S Adrian Wilson again looked slow in 1-on-1 drills but, as I mentioned in a previous diary entry, it’s hard for me to tell if he’s going full speed.
Case in point: during team drills Wilson lined up across from Matt Forte, who shifted out wide roughly five yards from the right sideline. At the snap, Forte head-faked outside and then ran a slant. Wilson jumped all over him and knocked the ball away.
With Wilson, it appears his value is in the box and only in the box. If he’s working against short and intermediate routes, his size and physicality give him an advantage. If he’s working in the deep part of the field, he looks like a liability.
-The competition for the No. 3 wide receiver spot, albeit temporarily, began in earnest today. The coaching staff rotated a number of players with the first team, including Chris Williams, Eric Weems, Micheal Spurlock and Josh Bellamy.
Unfortunately for the Bears, none of the players stood out. In fact, they all appeared to wilt under the pressure. Even the sure-handed Josh Morgan, who I believe will emerge as the winner of this battle, let an easy catch go right through his hands in team drills.
Coach Marc Trestman said the club will sign another wideout within the next 48 hours. Whoever that player is, he’ll instantly become one of the frontrunners to be Chicago’s slot receiver.
-Here is the club’s first team punt return unit: Danny McCray, Jordan Senn, Khaseem Greene, Jon Bostic, Tony Fiammetta, Dante Rosario and Brock Vereen, with Kyle Fuller and Sherrick McManis blocking the gunners. Michael Ford served as the up back and the only two players to return punts were Eric Weems and Chris Williams.
-Coordinator Aaron Kromer was very clear that we should not read too much into the depth chart at this point, as every unit is fluid during camp.
“We’ve got a lot of competition at a lot of positions and it’s going to be tough for us to make decisions at the end of camp. And I emphasize the end of camp because you can’t read into much right now,” Kromer said after practice. “Everybody’s learning, everybody’s working together, everybody’s moving to different positions. And it’s important that we continue to do that and give everyone chances. So you look at this first preseason game and some guy will start and some guy will back up first and some guy will play with the 3s and next week the 3 might play with the 2s or he might even move up with the 1s, who knows? But it’s at the end of camp that we’re going to make these decisions. And we just have to give everybody on the team an opportunity to show what they can do against good competition.”
That may be true but it’s pretty clear that Shaun Draughn is firmly in the lead for the backup running back position. Draughn has been working with first team for the past week, getting only occasional second-team reps, while Ka’Deem Carey, Michael Ford, Jordan Lynch and Senorise Perry jockey for the club’s No. 3 ball carrier role.
-After Mills (foot) left practice, Dennis Roland was inserted at right tackle with the starters. Roland is massive (6-9, 315) and has started 30 games at the NFL level. Right now, he’s definitely in the mix for the team’s swing tackle position. Eben Britton needs to get back on the field to hold off Roland, who has been impressive since joining the team last week.
-For the second straight day, Ryan Mundy and Adrian Wilson were the starting safety tandem. This ends a streak of nearly a week in which a new safety duo lined up with the first team every day. I believe, when the dust clears, Wilson and Mundy will be the club’s back end starters.
-Quote of the day, by Mel Tucker following a PBU by Charles Tillman against Alshon Jeffery: “Good job Chuck!”
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.