The Chicago Bears took to the practice field today at Halas Hall for the first time this season. Under the watchful eye of new head coach John Fox and his coaching staff, the overhauled roster took its first steps toward rebuilding a franchise that has fallen on hard times.
The weather in Lake Forest today was sunny but cool, with a chilly wind from the South.
Not in attendance today were RB Matt Forte, TE Martellus Bennett and DT Jeremiah Ratliff. Forte was also absent during the ceremony in which he was supposed to receive the club’s prestigious Brian Piccolo award.
Forte said on social media he’s working out independently and will be present during mandatory minicamp later this month.
“You know what, it's voluntary,” Fox said after practice. “I know where he is. I know what his thoughts are. I'm not going to share them with the world. I prefer he'd be here, just like any player, but I understand this is the offseason and when guys got things that they have to take care of or maybe commitments that they've made, this is the time to do it. They can't be doing it in season.”
Fox said the same about both Bennett and Ratliff.
“They miss the installation. They miss the mental time. They miss the on-the-field work,” he said. “So we have a next-man-up approach here, so guys will get opportunities. When one door closes, another door opens for somebody else.”
Bears players who were in attendance but did not practice due to injury were LB Jon Bostic (back), OLB Lamarr Houston (knee) and OLB Willie Young (heel). Houston and Young are still recovering from serious injuries suffered last season, yet Bostic on the sidelines was a bit surprising.
“He's got a little twinge in his back that they're dealing with,” said Fox. “He's just not able to be out there right now. He was at practice, he's been at meetings so he's out there doing what he can do right now.”
Bostic missed three games last season with a lingering back injury that apparently is still bothering him.
NOTES FROM DAY 1
-Former head coach Marc Trestman’s practices were extremely hectic. Fox’s are the exact opposite.
Today’s session was slow paced, with Fox spending most of his time roaming the defensive half of the field during positional drills. The cacophony of screaming coaches and chaotic movement is gone. Instead, Fox and his staff move at a more deliberate pace.
-During the first set of 7-on-7 drills, Jay Cutler hit new wide receiver Eddie Royal on the first two snaps, and on three of the first four. Cutler and Royal were teammates for one season and Denver and they appear to have rekindled that chemistry.
This is a good thing, as the Bears need someone to replace Brandon Marshall as Cutler’s security blanket.
-WR Marquess Wilson worked mainly with the second team. He obviously will have to earn his way into the starting lineup.
Wilson took his first step toward doing that with the catch of the day today. On a fly route down the left sideline, he went up and over CB Demontre Hurst, snatching the ball over the cornerback’s head and strolling into the end zone for a touchdown.
This was a common occurrence for Wilson last offseason, who looks like he’s ready to break out in his third NFL season.
-The first snap of 11-on-11 drills was a play-action bootleg in which Cutler tucked the ball and ran.
One of Trestman’s biggest failures as an offensive play caller was his reluctance to put Cutler, a very mobile quarterback, on the move. Obviously new coordinator Adam Gase does not plan on making the same mistake.
-The offense executed a number of run plays during 11-on-11 drills. The players were in shells – shorts and shoulder pads – so it wasn’t full contact, yet I did notice both man and zone blocking schemes for the offensive line. The front five even sprinkled in a trap block on a “wham” play up the middle.
Kyle Long never moved from his right guard position.
-DT Ego Ferguson appears to have lost some weight, as he looks a little trimmer around the middle.
-On defense, S Ryan Mundy was by far the most vocal leader on the field. Communication was evident across the defense, with guys talking non-stop pre-snap, yet Mundy stood out as the field general, making sure everyone was lined up properly.
-In nickel sets, Tim Jennings was the nickelback. I did not see him line up at the boundary corner position on any snap.
-Surprisingly, free-agent acquisition Alan Ball did not take a single snap on defense, not even with the backups. He was dressed and worked in positional drills but spent no time on the field during team drills.
Coordinator Ed Donatell spent most of his time with the OLBs during positionals. The drills were all read-and-react, with the focus on players reacting to the first move of the opposing tight end and offensive tackle. This is not an up-field, penetrating defense by any means.
-The inside linebacker group was as follows: Shea McClellin, Khaseem Greene, Mason Foster, Christian Jones, Jonathan Brown and DeDe Lattimore. Neither McClellin nor Jones, who both rushed the passer in college, took any snaps at outside linebacker.
-The emphasis of defensive line coach Jay Rodgers today was on a violent punch to the chest of the blocker, then extending the arms and shedding blocks violently. “Thumbs up” was the technique call for the initial punch.
-With Ratliff out, second-year defensive tackle Will Sutton took second-team reps at nose guard.
-WR Marc Mariani was the only player returning punts during special-teams drills.
-CB Kyle Fuller worked alongside both Sherrick McManis and Al Lous-Jean with the first team. McManis made one really nice play, breaking hard on an Alshon Jeffery hitch route and knocking the pass away. Remember, McManis was a training camp standout last year who fell out of favor with the previous staff.
-The offense used a number of I-formation sets with FB/TE Gator Hoskins, a tryout player, as the lead blocker.
-On one snap, Jared Allen dropped into coverage and cleared a lot of space. He was able to get in the passing lane and nearly picked off a pass eight yards down the field.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is in his fifth season covering the Chicago Bears full time. Follow Bear Report on Twitter.