The Chicago Bears conducted the first practice of mandatory minicamp this afternoon. The weather at Halas Hall was exceptional, with temperatures in the low 70s and skies much sunnier than Martellus Bennett’s disposition.
Notes from Day 1
-Today featured the return of the disgruntled Bennett, who has not participated in a single team activity this offseason. As a result, Bennett was very rusty on the field and dropped more passes than he caught. At one point during positional drills, in which the tight ends ran fade routes to the back of the end zone, he dropped three straight passes.
Yet despite sitting out every single voluntary activity to this point, Bennett was on the field with the first team during the first snap of 11-on-11 drills, which says a lot about the club’s backup tight ends.
“This game’s about matchups. The tougher matchups you can create for the opponent’s defense, the better,” head coach John Fox said. “[Bennett’s] got all the physical tools it takes, both as a blocker and as a pass catcher. Those are both important skill sets for that position. He proved what he’s capable of a year ago and hopefully we can duplicate that and then some this year.”
Fox said Bennett looked prepared and in command of the playbook.
“I think he’s been looking at his iPad; that was evident,” he said.
It was an interesting statement, as Bennett was very clear that he did not look at the playbook until today.
“Today’s my first day looking at the offense,” Bennett said.
Bennett also made it clear his desire for a new contract.
“I think that everybody should be lobbying for new contracts,” he said. “If your performance is at a high level and you're playing to a high level, then you want to be compensated for the level that you play at. I think for most people, the idea of being in a contract for not as long as they think you should because of what's socially acceptable to the community of football, I think that's where people get into, 'Oh, there’s two years left,' but most people don't honor their phone contract.
“It's no different for me than it is for everybody else. I think every American, every person in the whole world should be trying to get a new contract, and if they're not, it's silly.”
The Bears do not have any intention of adjusting Bennett’s contract, which could cause problems. He’s an emotional person to begin with and his body language today was one of a player who didn’t want to be there.
We’ve witnessed Bennett’s me-first attitude the past two years – remember, he was suspended by the team last year for body slamming first-round pick Kyle Fuller during a non-contact practice, one of at least four on-field fights he’s been a part of since coming to Chicago – and this situation is just warming up. There’s definite tension on the side of Bennett, who made no effort to disguise his unhappiness with the organization.
“I don’t know, my agent, it’s between them and [the front office],” Bennett said when asked if he wants to be traded.
Stay tuned. This soap opera is just getting started.
-Kyle Long lined up at right tackle today for the second week in a row, as Jordan Mills is still sidelined due to injury. Long also participated in combo blocks with the tight ends during positional drills.
Players are not padded, so it’s very tough to gauge offensive and defensive linemen, yet from a pure movement standpoint, Long is more than capable of lining up on the right edge. The longer Mills sits, the more likely it is Long will establish himself as the club’s right-side edge blocker.
-The defensive line is currently in a state of serious flux. Jeremiah Ratliff did not practice with the club the final two weeks of OTAs but he returned today, which facilitated a mad shuffling of players along the D-line.
During the first set of team drills Ratliff lined up at nose guard, with Ego Ferguson and Jarvis Jenkins at defensive end. Later in practice, Ratliff was replaced by rookie nose tackle Eddie Goldman with the first team during goal-line drills. At 336, or about 30 pounds more than Ratliff, it appears Goldman will anchor the defense in short-yardage situations.
Goldman also worked at 5-technique with the second team, while Will Sutton rotated at nose tackle and 5-technique with the 2s. Brandon Dunn took most of the DE reps with the second team, while Cornelius Washington, who took second-team reps at defensive end during OTAs, worked exclusively with the third team today.
-During positional drills for the defensive linemen and outside linebackers, every single drill was focused around shedding blocks “violently.” The sessions revolved around body positioning, footwork and hand usage in order to separate from blockers.
If Chicago’s defenders can’t fight off their blocks this season, it won’t be for a lack of effort on the part of the coaching staff.
“I liked Brock coming out [of college],” Fox said. “I probably did more work on him before he was drafted than I did as a Chicago Bear. He’s explosive. He’s got good range. He’s got good top-end speed as well as good short-area quickness. Now it’s just a matter of bottling it, learning and having good eyes at the position of safety.”
Vereen, the club’s fourth-round pick last year, has steadily worked his way up the depth chart and is in a position to claim a starting role heading into training camp.
During the final two-minute drill at the end of practice, Wilson beat CB Kyle Fuller down the left sideline, made a leaping grab and kept his toes in bounds. The following snap, Wilson ran a crossing route and made a touchdown grab amidst heavy traffic.
“I think [Wilson] is back on track to where he was last training camp, progressing every day and making big plays for us,” Jay Cutler said.
Wilson was the star of camp last year and appears to be on the road to redemption after a broken clavicle cost him six games last season.
That said, Carden struggled for most of the day. He threw a weak sideline pass that was knocked away by undrafted rookie CB Qumain Black. Later, Carden threw a late pass over the middle that should have been intercepted by Black, who let the pass go right through his fingers.
Carden did make one nice pass, finding TE Blake Annen down the left seam for a 20-yard completion.
While Carden has been up and down, he’s worked his way up the depth chart and now has a very good chance of de-seating Fales as the club’s practice-squad, developmental signal caller.
-The defense used a lot of interior blitzes today, as they did last week. And for the second week in a row the offense had no answer for it. There were a number of snaps that would have gone for sack had it been live action.
On one snap, Cutler barely avoided a sack and then fired a pass to the left flat, which went right through the hands of OLB Jared Allen, who would’ve had an easy pick-six had he held on. Obviously, Cutler and the rest of the offense are not yet comfortable working against coordinator Vic Fangio’s blitz schemes.
-The most vocal player on the defense is S Antrel Rolle. The 10-year veteran has slid deftly into a leadership role.
“This man could be a cornerback,” teammate Willie Young screamed from the sidelines.
A short while later, Bass again knocked down a Clausen pass in the backfield, only that time he couldn’t hold on to the pick. Bass then beat RT Michael Ola around the edge and knocked the pass out of Clausen’s hands during his wind up.
Bass is buried on the depth chart behind a host of veterans, and could get pushed further back once Young and Lamarr Houston return, but he’s definitely made an impression on the new coaching staff.
-For the second week in a row, Clausen fumbled a handoff, this time with RB Senorise Perry.
-During special teams drills, the players not participating stood around and talked. The only exceptions were WR Alshon Jeffery and RB Matt Forte, who tossed tennis balls back and forth to each other, which is a common hand-eye-coordination drill.
Later, during the second set of special teams drills, Forte worked with the quarterbacks catching passes out of the backfield. He was the only running back putting in extra work.
Jeffery and Forte are quiet guys but they are outstanding leaders by example.
-CB Sherrick McManis continues to impress on defense. Working with the first team, McManis made a very nice pass breakup on Jeffery running a deep sideline hitch. McManis was very physical when the ball was in the air, outmuscling the larger receiver.
If McManis can stay healthy this year, he can have a significant impact on defense.
-CB Terrance Mitchell had a strong day. On one snap, he followed WR Cameron Meredith on a crossing route and dropped the receiver immediately after a two-yard gain. Later, during two-minute drills, Mitchell undercut an out route and nearly had a pick-six.
Mitchell is a strong sleeper candidate to secure the club’s final cornerback spot this season.
-I’ve been impressed with undrafted LB John Timu. He’s not an imposing figure (6-0, 243) but he’s smart, aggressive and fundamentally sound. On one snap today, he blitzed the A gap and used a quick swim move to beat G Conor Boffeli. Timu is a long shot to make the roster but a strong training camp could land him on the practice squad.
-The final snap of the day was a Hail Mary pass to finish up the last two-minute drill. Fangio lined up six defenders along the goal line to knock away the scoring attempt. No stone is being left unturned.
Rookie WR Kevin White was not on the field today.
“Everybody’s day to day with me,” Fox said after practice. “I’ll meet with the medical people and we’ll make that call and [White] will be out here when he’s ready to be.”
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.