The Chicago Bears today conducted the third-to-last practice of organized team activities (OTAs). It was a gorgeous day in Lake Forest, with temperatures in the mid-80s and not a cloud in the sky.
Notes from Week 3 OTAs
-For the first time since being drafted by the Bears as a guard in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft, Kyle Long this week practiced at right tackle. He said after the session it was the second day in a row he lined up on the right edge.
“This was the first two days where I was able to get out there and do that,” Long said. “We had a need today in practice. We had a couple guys out so coach asked me and I went out there. I was a little like a fish out of water but that’s to be expected.”
Jordan Mills, who has started at right tackle the past two seasons, was not present today, which explains Long’s move outside.
“Obviously when you’re inside you’ve got a guy on either side of you to help with protections and assignment stuff,” said Long. “When you’re outside on the edge there’s a lot more space you have to deal with. The type of athlete you’re playing against changes. So there’s a lot of variables that play into it. I’m just trying to get better at as many things as I can, as a football player to help the team.”
The versatility of Long, who looked very smooth during positional drills working on combo blocks with the tight ends, is a boon to Chicago’s offensive line. His combination of quickness and power should allow him to transition seamlessly to right tackle, although head coach John Fox said the move is temporary.
“He’s obviously a very capable athlete,” Fox said. “He’s got great strength, great athleticism. So I think he’s capable of playing anywhere across the line. Right now he’s a starting guard. We had a shortage of tackles right now. We’ve got a couple guys in the training room. So we took a look at him there today. He can play just about anywhere across the O-line.
“We move guys around all the time. In this league, especially on game day, you typically go into a game with seven linemen. You’ve got to be ready for some multiple position changes. So we’ve got a couple guys on the shelf right now. So it was something we want to take a look at.”
Long also addressed his tweet – “Good riddance” – following the dismissal of former teammate Ray McDonald.
“We’re past that now,” said Long. “I’ve got enough on my plate right now. What’s done is done and we’re moving on.”
-With Long at right tackle, Vladimir Ducasse worked at right guard with the starters for the second week in a row. With Bushrod out, second-year lineman Charles Leno started at left tackle for the second straight week.
-Outside linebackers Lamarr Houston (ACL) and Willie Young (Achilles) were present but neither participated in practice. Both worked out individually with the training staff. Young in particular looked very good and was high-stepping and running without a noticeable limp.
I’m no doctor but it appears Young may be on track to return quicker than many predicted.
Also sidelined was CB Alan Ball, who has not practiced since veteran minicamp. The Bears do not disclose injuries, so it’s unclear his malady. In addition, T Jermon Bushrod did not dress and missed practice for the second week in a row.
-Second-year safety Brock Vereen took first-team reps alongside Anrel Rolle during practice today. Ryan Mundy, who started 16 games for the Bears in 2014, worked with the second team next to rookie Adrian Amos.
The Bears have a solid mix of young players and veterans on the back end of the defense, and it appears Vereen has caught the attention of the new coaching staff.
“I think it's going to work great,” Rolle said. “We've got the young guys pushing us and the veteran leadership there, too. We're all flying around. The veterans just have to lead by example. We want to be a force.”
-Shea McClellin and Chrisitan Jones are firmly entrenched as the starting middle linebackers, for as long as Jon Bostic is sidelined, presumably. Mason Foster and DeDe Lattimore are working with the second team, with Jonathan Anderson rotating in.
The inside linebackers blitzed throughout practice today, often overloading the A gap with cross stunts and delays. On one snap, OLB Sam Acho took two steps backward, as if dropping into coverage, while Foster blitzed the left C gap. Acho then changed direction and blitzed off the edge. With Foster occupying the left tackle, Acho went untouched into the backfield.
Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio was working on his blitz packages all day and had a lot of success. The patchwork offensive lines were not prepared for the constant barrage of pass rushers, which led to a lot of short passes and quarterback scrambles.
On the first two snaps of 11-on-11s, QB Jay Cutler could find no one to throw to and was sacked twice.
This was the first time we’ve seen Ferguson at defensive end. Like Long on offense, Ferguson’s size and newfound quickness, due to offseason weight loss, gives him positional versatility.
"We have such a deep rotation that everyone needs to know everything," Ferguson said. "[Fox] preaches a lot about in meetings to not just know one position. We're supposed to know every position because you never know what's going to happen on game day."
Rotating with Sutton at nose tackle was rookie Eddie Goldman, who has slowly worked his way up the depth chart this offseason. Ratliff has not been present the past three weeks, so things will change when the veteran returns, but the Bears will be banking on their three youngsters to anchor the defensive line.
On one snap, Goldman used a swim move that left rookie C Hroniss Grasu in his wake. The play would have gone for a sack.
-Martellus Bennett was a no-show again today. All practices to this point have been voluntary, yet mandatory minicamp starts next week. If Bennett is again absent, his holdout for a new contract will begin in earnest.
With Bennett out, Zach Miller and Dante Rosario rotated with the first team at tight end. Miller, who broke his foot in the preseason last year, looks completely healthy. He’s a better route runner than Rosario, although Rosario has better hands.
That said, neither player comes even close to Bennett in terms of all-around skill set, which is very noticeable during team drills.
-Sticking with the tight ends, Blake Annen, a third-year player out of Cincinnati, has rock-like hands, while Bear Pascoe should be practicing with the offensive line, as he’s borderline worthless as a receiver.
-WR Kevin White has an effortless stride. Much like Alshon Jeffery, he doesn’t look like he’s moving fast, but his long legs create momentum that is tough to stop. White is also very quick in and out of his cuts, especially for a player his size.
Still, Lawrence took second-team reps alongside White and Marc Mariani. At one point, Mariani came off the field and was giving White tips on the offense.
-As I mentioned last week, don’t sleep on Al Louis-Jean, who again rotated with Sherrick McManis at the boundary corner position, opposite Kyle Fuller. McManis took the majority of snaps with the first team but Louis-Jean is obviously on the coaching staff’s radar.
-With Tim Jennings absent, CB Demontre Hurst took starter reps at nickelback, just as he did last season.
“I think he’s smart, he knows how to cover, he’s got excellent ball skills,” said Fox, who coached Porter in Denver in 2012. “He’s been with a couple teams since I last had him but I like what I’ve seen so far. We haven’t put him in a bunch because he’s still learning the system but he’ll pick it up fast. We’re hoping he helps us.”
Fox said Porter could play in the slot if necessary.
“He’s smart enough to do that. He can play in all three spots on the sub-defenses. So we’ll wait and see how it shakes out.”
-For the second week in a row, Cornelius Washington took second-team reps at defensive end. Don’t sleep on Washington, who has the size, strength and athleticism to make an impact at the position.
-At outside linebacker, athleticism will be key. In base packages, man-to-man sets will require the OLBs to cover running backs one-on-one.
On one snap, OLB Pernell McPhee followed the motion man, RB Jacquizz Rodgers, to the sideline. Rodgers then ran a go route at full speed. Amazingly, the 280-pound McPhee ran stride for stride with the much smaller running back. It was an impressive display.
Conversely, OLB Sam Acho could not keep pace with RB Jeremy Langford on a fly route. Langford’s 4.42 40-yard dash led all running backs at the combine and his speed carries over to the field.
-In Adam Gase’s offense, the receivers are interchangeable. There are no set positions for individual players.
As such, Kevin White, who lined up wide right on every single snap for West Virginia, has taken many reps out of the slot. He admitted after practice he’s facing a steep learning curve.
“There's a lot on me right now,” White said. “It'll happen, slowly but surely. It'll all come together.”
On one snap, White ran a corner-stop route, yet was too shallow coming back to the ball. This elicited a butt chewing from receivers coach Mike Groh.
-Finally, more folks should be talking about Alshon Jeffery, who is having as good an offseason as any player on the team.
On one snap, Cutler was pressured in the pocket and lobbed a deep pass to Jeffery down the right sideline, which fluttered and came up a bit short. Jeffery tracked the ball and then undercut CB Kyle Fuller, who never looked back for the ball, and made the catch over the defender’s head.
Following practice, the receivers stayed behind for 10 minutes to run extra routes with the young quarterbacks. Not only did Jeffery, a Pro Bowl wideout, participate but he actually dove for a pass on a crossing route.
It’s rare to see accomplished receivers working so hard post-practice. With Brandon Marshall a distant memory, Jeffery is line for a big season in 2015.
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.