Bears Minicamp Notebook: Day 2

We break down all the on-field action from the second practice of Chicago Bears voluntary minicamp, including a beastly outside linebacker, an emerging nose guard, a new nickelback and more.

The Chicago Bears conducted the second practice of voluntary minicamp this afternoon. The weather at Halas Hall was beautiful, with sunny skies and temperatures in the upper 60s.

RB Matt Forte, DT Jeremiah Ratliff and TE Martellus Bennett were not in attendance for the second day in a row.

After practice, it was revealed the Bears are entertaining trade offers for Bennett, who wants a contract extension.

Players present but not practicing due to injury were LB Jon Bostic (back), OLB Willie Young (heel) and OLB Lamarr Houston (knee), as well as newcomers CB Alan Ball and DE Jarvis Jenkins.

Notes from Day 2

-Offensive coordinator Adam Gase worked with quarterbacks, receivers and tight ends on dual routes and timing today. The session included multiple sets, including the two- and three-man bunch formations Gase deployed in Denver.

Notable about the drill was Gase’s presence. He’s not the biggest guy but Gase was 100-percent in charge. He was authoritative, decisive, vocal and in total control.

This isn’t uncommon in NFL practices, yet this was my first chance to truly see Gase in action. He only has three years experience as a coordinator but it was clear today, through his confidence and assertiveness, why he was considered for multiple head-coaching jobs this offseason.

-On defense, it’s impossible to ignore the size of OLB Pernell McPhee. He’s 6-3, 280 pounds, which is nearly identical to former Bears defensive tackle Henry Melton. Yet McPhee plays in a standup position and is sometimes tasked with dropping into coverage, which is a testament to his athleticism.

McPhee uses explosion, power and quickness when rushing the quarterback but his size and thickness are going to help the run defense substantially. If Lamarr Houston (6-3, 300) can return to health this year, the Bears are going to have a set of beastly outside linebackers to bookend the defensive line.

-I mentioned yesterday NT Ego Ferguson and his relatively svelte form compared to last year. Today, he showed how he’s translated his reduced weight into quickness.

On a stretch run to the left side during 11-on-11 drills, Ferguson shot the play-side gap and split the center and guard. He then worked down the line and was able to meet RB Ka’Deem Carey at the point of attack. Had it been live action, Carey would have been stopped for no gain.

Chasing a running back to the numbers was not possible for Ferguson last year. The deer-in-the-headlights look is gone for the second-year defensive lineman and it appears Ferguson may be on the verge of a breakout campaign as the club’s starting 0-technique.

“You’re good on defense when you’re good up the middle,” head coach John Fox said after practice. “I think we’ve got some good candidates there. We’re not in pads yet, so we’ll wait and hold judgment until that. Basically [we want] a block-eater inside that’s tough and doesn’t get knocked off the ball.”

So far, Ferguson fits the bill.

-On one of the first snaps of team drills, WR Eddie Royal beat CB Sherrick McManis on an out route near the sideline. Yet McManis was able to strip the ball from Royal after the catch. With the ball on the ground, defensive players swarmed the pigskin, with coaches furiously cheering them on, which was a staple of the turnover-heavy system of former head coach Lovie Smith.

-For the second day in a row, CB Tim Jennings took every snap at nickelback. I asked Fox after practice what he likes about Jennings in the slot, a spot at which he’s taken very few reps during his five seasons in Chicago.

“We’re just looking at players in different spots,” he said. “Dimension-wise, he’s built like a nickel corner. He’s played it before (in Indianapolis). We haven’t picked our starting lineup for Green Bay by any stretch so we’re just taking looks at players.”

-Four passes were batted down at the line of scrimmage during 11-on-11 drills. Under former head coach Marc Trestman, this was frowned upon, as knocking down passes in practice in no way makes a team, particularly the offense, better.

Yet that doesn’t appear to be an issue for the new staff, who consistently screamed for the players to scoop up the ball after the PBU.

-Yesterday, only WR Marc Mariani returned punts during special teams drills. Today, WR Eddie Royal joined him. Royal averaged 9.1 yards per punt return in 2014, albeit on just 11 returns.

-The Bears have a lot of defensive ends trying to convert to outside linebacker. With guys like Jared Allen, that transition is going well.

Yet for others, dropping into coverage is a foreign art.

Take David Bass for example. On one snap today, he dropped into the short left flat and followed the tight end as he broke inside. At the same time, Eddie Royal ran a dig route to the area vacated by Bass, who did not realize the receiver was right behind him. Royal made the grab a yard behind Bass and turned up the field.

Awareness in coverage is obviously something Bass, as well as a number of the club’s new outside linebackers, must develop quickly.

-OLB Austen Lane gave Michael Ola, who worked at right tackle with the second team, a workout today. Lane was able to repeatedly turn the corner on Ola, who could not kick-step and slide fast enough to beat the defender to the corner.

After two straight snaps of that, Lane then crossed him over on an inside move, which would have resulted in another sack.

Ola was decent in relief duty last year and he has versatility but from what I’ve seen over the first few days, he’ll need to step it up the next few months if he wants to keep his roster spot in 2015.

-Yesterday, Marquess Wilson made the catch of the day, leaping over Demontre Hurst on a 30-yard deep ball for a touchdown. Today, Wilson nearly made the same grab, this time over Al Louis-Jean, yet he couldn’t hang on to the ball.

If the Bears pass on wide receivers early in this year’s draft, it appears Wilson is ready to step in and produce as the club’s No. 2/No. 3 receiver.

-Not to be outdone by Wilson, Pro Bowl wideout Alshon Jeffery had today’s catch of the day. On a go route down the right sideline, QB Jay Cutler under-threw the pass. Jeffery cut inside of CB Kyle Fuller, extended his arms inside and snatched the ball with his fingertips. It was a very impressive catch and a reminder of Jeffery’s potential for dominance.

-On one snap, Jared Allen turned the corner on LT Jermon Bushrod, who was slow out of his stance. This forced Bushrod to grab Allen around the shoulders and throw him to the ground, for what would’ve been an obvious hold.

Allen appears rejuvenated, as evidenced by this play, yet there is concern about Bushrod, who was wildly inconsistent last year.

-During 11-on-11s, RB Jacquizz Rodgers cleared from the backfield and up the right seam. LB DeDe Lattimore stuck to Rodgers’ hip and ran stride for stride with the running back, forcing the incompletion.

Lattimore may be a long shot to make this year’s roster, yet there are a lot of question marks about this team’s crop of inside linebackers. Lattimore lacks ideal size but he’s quick and explosive. More plays like these and he may start working his way up the depth chart.

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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.

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