The Chicago Bears conducted the seventh practice of organized team activities (OTAs) this afternoon. The weather at Halas Hall was exceptional, with sunny skies and temperatures in the mid-70s.
Notes from Week 2 OTAs
-Also absent was tight end Martellus Bennett, who has not participated in any of the team’s offseason activities.
“As I said before this is voluntary, it's not going to change for the rest of this offseason. So you'll have to ask him [why he’s not here],” head coach John Fox said after practice. “I just know we've got a lot guys out here working really hard to get better.”
Bennett, who is entering the third year of the four-year contract he signed in 2012, is due $6.125 million this season. He carries the sixth highest cap hit on the team but wants a better deal.
In two weeks, mandatory minicamp will begin, at which time we’ll know how far Bennett is willing to take this holdout.
“I can't predict what those intentions are,” said Fox. “I'd prefer him to be here. Now we'll put all of our energy and focus on the guys that are.”
“They’re week-to-week,” Fox said in reference to Young and Houston. “They’re going through their rehab. They’re with the medical staff now. They do an outstanding job. They’re on target and we’ll see when they get back out there.”
Houston and Young worked out briefly on the sidelines and both looked very good. I won’t be surprised if both are ready to go by the start of the regular season.
-In Bennett’s absence, the Bears are working out six tight ends. Dante Rosario is by far the most athletic of the bunch and has taken the majority of the first-team reps. He may be the only tight end capable of replacing Bennett in the passing attack.
Also on the club’s radar is Zach Miller, who was a training camp star before a foot injury suffered in the preseason ended his 2014 season.
“[Miller] made a really good grab yesterday. I think he's flashed,” said Fox. “He's a guy that we heard had a great camp, so he was a good get for us in the offseason and we just need him to stay healthy.”
-On hand for today’s session were two NFL referees. This has been a common sight at Halas Hall this offseason and it appears the league’s refs now go through offseason activities as well.
At one point during 11-on-11 drills, OLB Pernell McPhee jumped on a hard count, causing the offensive line to move as well. Both sides pointed to the referee on the sidelines, who gave McPhee the encroachment penalty. This elicited a round of high fives from the first-team offensive line.
-The offensive linemen were very vocal today, particularly during team drills. The cacophony was led by guard Matt Slauson, who has taken on a new leadership role following the departure of Roberto Garza.
“[Slauson] has really attacked this offseason,” Fox said. “He’s been great with our coaching staff and with his teammates and I’ve definitely seen him take a step forward in the leadership department.”
During red-zone drills, QB Jay Cutler found TE Dante Rosario wide open in the left flat for an easy touchdown. Following the scoring grab, Slauson led the charge of offensive players down the field to celebrate with Rosario.
This goal-line party included Cutler, who sprinted into the pile of teammates. In five years covering Cutler, I’ve never seen such raw emotion – positive raw emotion, that is – from him during an offseason practice.
-With starting NT Ego Ferguson on the sidelines today, second-year defensive lineman Will Sutton took starter reps at nose guard, with second-round rookie Eddie Goldman working exclusively with the second team.
Coming into this season, Sutton’s role was undefined. He’s a 3-technique defensive tackle best fit in a 4-3 scheme, so it was unclear if defensive coordinator Vic Fangio would use Sutton at 5-technique defensive end or nose tackle.
To this point, I have yet to see Sutton take a snap at 5-technique. He appears to be a pure nose guard in the eyes of Fangio.
-The Bears last week released Ray McDonald after his third offseason incident in less than a year.
“We gave him a second chance and everybody knew the parameters. I think those were pretty well documented, and we moved on,” said Fox. “We’ve got capable guys. That’s what we’re doing now in the middle of these OTAs. We’re six OTAs in and somebody will rise to the [top]. It’s kind of where everybody in the league is at this point in time in the offseason and we’re no different.”
Right now, that player is Brandon Dunn, who took first-team reps alongside Sutton and Jarvis Jenkins along the defensive line. Dunn (6-2, 300) is a second-year player who spent most of his rookie year on Chicago’s practice squad. He was elevated to the active roster for the final three games of the 2014 campaign, finishing with one tackle and one pass breakup.
McManis, who was outstanding in training camp last season but faded during the regular season due to injuries, is again having a strong offseason and appears in line for a bump in playing time on defense. Fox said it’s not uncommon for a player like McManis, who has been used mainly on special teams for most of his career, to make a late-career leap on defense.
“I think it’s fairly normal,” said Fox. “I think most good defensive players I’ve ever been associated with, that’s where they first got their break and that’s where they earned their keep so-to-speak is on teams. There’s a great carryover. Performing well on special teams correlates pretty well to playing well on defense. He’s been a guy that’s caught my eye. He’s adapted well to Vic’s defensive schemes and we’ll see where that goes.”
-At cornerback, don’t rule out Al Louis-Jean, who took first-team reps in place of McManis during one of the team sessions late in practice. Louis-Jean (6-1, 187) is big, young (21 years old) and athletic. Keep an eye on him as the offseason progresses, as he could sneak into the starting lineup at some point in 2015.
-The Bears signed UDFA kicker Jeremiah Detmer to put a little pressure on Robbie Gould, who had his worst NFL season in 2014. Detmer knocked a 53-yard field goal right down the middle, with plenty of room to spare, during field goal drills.
-P Patrick O’Donnell still lacks consistency. On his first punt today, he let fly a gorgeous kick that flew 60 yards in the air. On his next punt, he shanked it 25 yards down the field.
-Jared Allen looks lost on the field. He’s rotating with Sam Acho at outside linebacker with the first team and has been conversing with Pernell McPhee to better understand the scheme and system. Obviously, Allen isn’t yet completely comfortable playing OLB for the first time in his 11-year career.
-Speaking of Acho, he could be the club’s biggest surprise on defense this season. Along with McPhee, Acho is one of just two outside linebackers with previous experience in a 3-4 defense and has been working almost exclusively with the starters.
“As far as the switch, as far as the 3-4 defense, that’s kind of what I’ve been doing the last four years,” Acho said after practice. “It’s just a good fit. This couldn’t be a better fit for me, from a physical perspective and what we can do on the defensive side of the ball.”
-During 11-on-11 drills, QB Jimmy Clausen and RB Senorise Perry collided on a routine handoff, sending Clausen to the ground. The trainer immediately ran over but Clausen, whose pride hurt more than his body, shoved the trainer away from him.
Playtime is over kids.
-A year on the club’s practice squad has not improved QB David Fales’ arm strength. On one snap today, he rolled out on a naked bootleg but was met almost immediately by the backside defensive end. Fales fired a jump pass to the tight end in the near flat, roughly eight yards away, which fell three yards short.
-LB Jonathan Brown had an outstanding pass breakup during 7-on-7 drills. He was one-on-one covering the tight end, who ran a drag pattern across Brown’s face. Brown followed the pattern and dove in front of the receiver to knock the ball away.
-The Bears are pairing their young safeties, Brock Vereen and Adrian Amos, together with the second team. It appears those two will be developing together as the team’s potential long-term safety duo of the future.
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.