The Chicago Bears this afternoon conducted the 12th practice of training camp in hot, humid temperatures. Practice was in shells, which is shorts, helmets and shoulder pads. More than 17,500 people showed up today, which is the highest attendance of any practice this year.
-Today featured the return of TE Martellus Bennett, who was suspended from the team last week due to conduct detrimental to the team.
“I’m very excited to be back, to be out here out here with the guys, working back to our ultimate goal, which is getting to a championship. So it’s good to be back,” Bennett said before practice. “It’s always tough [being away]. You always want to get out there and do what you do, but it is what it is. I’m happy to be back and get back on the field today and run around and fly around.”
Bennett resumed his role with the first team during today’s session. Coach Marc Trestman said the team was happy to see Bennett return.
“We had a process, a protocol of what we wanted to do and he did it. He did everything we wanted to do in a very positive and professional manner and that’s why he’s back. He deserves to be back,” Trestman said. “We have a way we cooperate and a way we work and he understands that. He understands it fully. He knows what’s expected of him. He’s had time to think about it. I think he’s really done a good job with the time he’s had off. And we’re happy to have him back.”
-Also returning today was Chris Conte (shoulder), Craig Steltz (hamstring) and Tim Jennings (quad). Conte and Jennings participated in full, while Steltz only took part in positional drills. Conte worked with the second team, while Jennings resumed his role as nickelback with the first team.
After practice, Conte discussed his decision to have shoulder surgery in late March.
“My shoulder wasn’t right, so I had to fix it,” Conte said. “I did everything I could to not have surgery, but at the end of the day, that’s what I needed to have. That’s what the doctors said I needed to have. I did everything that I could not to have surgery, but at the end of the day the best option was for me to have surgery. So I went ahead and did that and did everything I could to make myself be 100 percent and be the best football player I can be.”
-Not practicing were CB Isaiah Frey (hamstring), OL Eben Britton (hamstring), WR Chris Williams (hamstring), WR Marquess Wilson (collarbone) and Jordan Mills (foot). Mills was in a walking boot but he said after practice it’s just precautionary.
-OL Brian de la Puente (knee) was not in attendance.
“[It’s an] MCL. I think it was a Grade 2 [sprain],” de la Puente said. “The ACL was fine, which was a big relief. I’ve just got to get treatment and hopefully get back out there in a couple weeks.”
NOTES FROM DAY 12
-The players were not in full pads today, making today’s practice more of a glorified walkthrough. As a result, the special teams units were on the field for nearly half the day.
Here was today’s first-team kick-return unit: Danny McCray, Jerry Franklin, Jon Bostic/Shea McClellin, Khaseem Greene, Brock Vereen, Tony Fiammetta, Trevor Scott, Matthew Mulligan, Josh Morgan and Dante Rosario. Rotating at kick returner were Eric Weems, Micheal Spurlock and Senorise Perry.
Notable are the additions of Franklin, Morgan and Perry, none of whom have worked with the first-team KR unit to this point in camp. Morgan is in competition for the club’s No. 3 or No. 4 receiver spot, so his inclusion is a good sign.
Franklin is a very long shot to make the roster, so it was interesting to see him out there. Perry was a part-time returner in college, so he has some experience in that role. Unfortunately for Perry, he muffed the first ball kicked to him.
-The entire offense was out of rhythm today, for no discernable reason. The first-team offense had a hard time completing passes, even in 7-on-7 drills, when completions are typically easy to come by.
In particular, Brandon Marshall seemed extra perturbed. Remember, Marshall had words with Bennett following his body slam of Kyle Fuller, so the return of Bennett so soon may not be sitting well with Marshall.
-The more I watch Michael Ola, the more impressed I become with his ability in pass protection. Following Friday’s strong performance, Ola shined today in 1-on-1 drills. On his first snap, Ola shocked Lamarr Houston with his initial hand punch, which shook Houston’s knees.
With Mills and Britton out, Ola served as the club’s starting right tackle today and furthered his case for a roster spot. Britton’s hamstring better heal up quickly or he could end up losing his role to Ola. As the team’s swing tackle, Ola could have a lot of value.
-TE Zach Miller, who scored two touchdowns in the preseason opener, increased his reps with the first team today. In both 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills, Miller worked with Bennett in two-tight-end sets.
On top of that, Dante Rosario was seen taking snaps with the third team. It appears Miller’s performance Friday night has propelled him into a neck-and-neck race with Rosario for the backup TE spot.
-During 1-on-1 drills, when the second and third teams squared off, RG Matt Slauson worked with DT Stephen Paea off to the side on his snap reads and technique. It’s rare to see a blocker giving a defender tips but Slauson is that type of unselfish player.
-On the current depth chart, Josh Bellamy is listed as the third X receiver. Yet I’m not sure what he’s done to earn that spot on the roster, as Bellamy’s hands are sketchy at best.
On one snap today, Bellamy took a first-team rep and beat Kelvin Hayden on a fly route up the left side. QB Jay Cutler dropped in a beautiful pass over the defender. Bellamy tracked the ball well yet couldn’t make the over-the-shoulder grab. From what I’ve seen, his spotty hands make him too unreliable for a roster spot.
-On the other end of the spectrum, Josh Morgan had an outstanding day of practice. He took a handful of first-team reps and made the most of them.
During team drills, Morgan began his strong run by making a one-handed grab 20 yards down the left seam. It was the play of the day. On the next snap, he beat Kyle Fuller on a 12-yard hitch.
Morgan then stayed on the field with second team and on his first rep, he made a great catch on a slant pattern. The ball was out in front of Morgan and headed right for a defender but Morgan snatched it out of the air. Based on his performance throughout camp, topped off by today’s top-tier outing, I firmly believe Morgan will emerge as Marquess Wilson’s temporary replacement.
-Jared Allen returned today and it appeared the time off did him well. During the 2-minute drill, Allen recorded a “sack” on Cutler, beating Bushrod around the edge. It was the first true pressure Allen has generated all camp, which is a good sign going forward.
-Typically before a team drill, the defense will gather together and do a collective break of the huddle. It’s a unity exercise.
Today, the offense and defense huddled together as a group and all 22 players broke the huddle as one. This is my fourth training camp covering the Bears and I’ve never seen this before. One has to wonder if this is another fallout from Bennett’s suspension, with players attempting to build team chemistry across the board and not just with the individual units.
-RB Jordan Lynch had one of his most impressive plays of camp so far. After running a wheel route, Lynch caught the ball up the left sideline. He then made two defenders legitimately miss, with the second guy falling flat on his butt.
Lynch is still buried on the depth chart and is very unlikely to make the team, but he’s shown a lot of ability and potential. If the Bears can somehow sneak him onto the practice squad, he could have value as an all-purpose player down the line.
-Graham Pocic has worked at right tackle with the third team all camp. He’s struggled since being signed by the team a few weeks ago and today could not contain DE Austen Lane. Pocic does not look like an NFL player.
-Tracy Robertson was listed as a defensive end on the depth chart in the offseason, yet he’s worked as a defensive tackle to this point in the offseason. Today, he was shifted back outside to DE.
Robertson has flashed sporadically along the interior but he looked even better at defensive end. On one snap, he jolted TE Matthew Mulligan off the ball – which is not easy task – then held separation with his arms before shedding the blocker and hitting the ball carrier. It was a very impressive play. If injuries hit the defensive line, Robertson could be a ringer waiting in the wings.
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.