The Chicago Bears conducted the second practice of mandatory minicamp this afternoon. The weather in Lake Forest was overcast and rainy, with temperatures in the muggy low 70s.
Despite the consistent drizzle and sloppy turf, the Bears practiced outdoors, something that would have never happened under the previous regime.
Notes from Day 2
Today, Long took all of his snaps at left tackle. It was the first time since being drafted by the Bears more than two years ago that Long has lined up on the left edge.
“I think it's an injustice to just throw a guy, even as simple as it sounds, left to right, whether you're doing it with a corner or a outside backer or a guard or tackle. They need to practice it,” head coach John Fox said after practice. “This is a good time of year to kind of get the technique, the sets and all of the different communication that has to happen with the O-line. You know, getting that valuable reps and experience.”
Long is easily the most athletic and agile offensive lineman on the team, and arguably in the NFL, so a move outside makes a lot of sense. Yet this is a work in progress. Today, he had a number of very poor snaps at left tackle and even one where he fell flat on his face. The players aren’t in pads, so it’s tough to accurately gauge linemen on both sides of the ball, but it was clear Long was not comfortable at his new position and he lacked technique, specifically in his foot work.
Yet what makes Long such a good player is his willingness to learn. When the club first moved him to right tackle last week, I stood five yards from Long as he worked with offensive line coach Dave Magazu on combo blocks with the tight ends. Long asked questions before and after each rep, which showed his eagerness to absorb as much information as he could about his new role.
Today, Long conversed with left guard Matt Slauson, a six-year veteran, coming out of each and every huddle. When they approached the line, I could see Long asking Slauson quick questions about the protection schemes.
If Mills and Bushrod return to health in the near future, I expect Long to slide back inside to right guard where he’s earned a trip to the Pro Bowl every year of his career. Yet the time he’s spending now on the edges could be invaluable down the road, particularly if Mills or Bushrod struggle to get back on the field.
Long-term, Long has the makings of a dominant edge protector, on either the right or left side, so getting him experience at those positions now could pay big dividends in the future.
“I've told the players: You've got to start somewhere. It's not where you start the race; it's where you finish,” Fox said. “I can't predict what's going to happen at camp. I know we will move people. I think it's important that you're getting ready for a marathon. There's a lot of things that can happen throughout a season. Guys are going to be at different spots. We'll have a next-man-up approach, whether that's the O-line or any position.”
-Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio has been installing his blitz schemes the past few weeks, slowly adding in new wrinkles every practice. Today, he took things a step further, moving Pernell McPhee all over the defense.
In essence, McPhee took on a “rover” role and was moving with freedom before the snap. On one rep, he lined up outside and then shifted to the B gap pre-snap and blitzed the heart of the offense. On another rep, he started in the B gap and then stacked on the same side as Jared Allen, before dropping into coverage.
McPhee had a lot of success rushing the passer from multiple spots last season and it’s clear Fangio plans on using him in a similar fashion.
“I think he's a powerful man. When you put him over a tight end, or even put him over a tackle, I think he matches up well,” said Fox. “I think right now, on what I've seen, his strengths are more going forward than going backwards. So I see a big, powerful guy that's got some flexibility in a system, whether it's in a 30 scheme where he's a penetrating rusher inside, or even off the edge.”
Fox’s comments about McPhee “going forward” are telling. McPhee has good quickness but he’s 280 pounds. He can move but he’s not going to keep pace with a speedy running back in the flat.
As such, McPhee will likely see far more snaps as a rusher – whether that’s from the outside linebacker, inside linebacker or 5-technique spots – than he will in coverage.
-With Long at left tackle, Charles Leno moved to right tackle with the first team. Things did not go well for Leno on the right edge, as he was consistently beat around the corner by McPhee and Allen.
Leno, the club’s seventh-round pick last year, does not have ideal laterally agility and when he can’t immediately lock on to the defender, he struggles to square up. His hand punch is strong but he’s definitely a work in progress.
At the same time, Michael Ola has failed to stand out working with the second team at right and left tackle.
The pads are yet to come on but it’s clear why the coaching staff has slid Long outside, as there is very little consistency among the second tier of edge protectors.
On one rep, Cutler under-threw a pass to Jeffery running down the left seam. Jeffery stopped on a dime and reached over CB Kyle Fuller to make the grab. Later, Cutler lobbed a 50/50 pass near the end zone and Fuller saw the pass coming. Yet Jeffery out-leaped him and pulled the ball down for the score.
A lot of folks are questioning Jeffery’s ability to take over the No. 1 role now that Brandon Marshall is in New York. I can safely say that Jeffery is up to the task and in line for a monstrous season.
“I don't see why [he can’t be the No. 1],” Cutler said yesterday. “He makes big plays for us. He knows the offense. He's a big target and I think, more importantly, that's the guy he wants to become. He wants to become the No. 1 every day out here and he's taking the proper steps.
“He's always been a quiet guy but any time you put on film or see him work in the weight room or on the field, you can't deny that. It inspires the receivers, myself and everyone else to work as hard as he's working.”
-With Jeffery playing so well, it’s hard to tell if Kyle Fuller has regressed or if he’s just overmatched by one of the best single-coverage receivers in the league.
Whatever the reason, Fuller has struggled to make plays. Remember, Fuller was a stud in training camp last year and had me convinced he’d be a Pro Bowl rookie. He started the regular season strong and led the league in interceptions after three weeks, yet the wheels came off after that, with Fuller getting chewed up on a weekly basis.
“I think we've got some pretty tough matchups here. Offensively we've got some pretty good skill guys,” Fox said when asked about Fuller. “So, again, it's a process. I've seen growth, and he's learning our system. It's a new language, new terminology. I just see him getting better everyday.”
Injuries played a big role in Fuller’s disappointing rookie campaign and it’s far too early to panic. With any luck, Jeffery’s daily dominance will only make Fuller better prepared for twice-yearly matchups against Jordy Nelson and Calvin Johnson.
Jenkins talked today about the difference between Washington’s system and the one Fangio is currently installing.
“Under Vic, it's a lot more up-field,” Jenkins said. “It's a little more freedom, not much, but his defense is a little more technical because you've got a lot of guys tied into one play. It's a little bit more technical and your job and your responsibility is very major, because if one person messes up, it screws up the whole continuity of the defense.”
Technical is a very good way of describing the teaching techniques of the club’s front-seven coaching staff.
During positional drills, the time is always spent on technique or read-and-react drills. Occasionally the players will traverse the tackling dummies or bang on the sled but for the most part, group work centers on fundamentals.
Today, defensive linemen worked on hand placement to counter backside cut blocks, inside linebackers worked on coverage technique based on the release of the tight end and outside linebackers spent time on their coverage drops into the flat.
-Tim Jennings has taken occasional reps at the boundary corner position, often at the start of practice. Yet by the end of practice he’s used almost exclusively at nickelback.
It’s worth mentioning that Jennings had a face shield on his helmet today, something I’ve never seen him wear before.
-CB Tracy Porter had a nice interception today on a Jimmy Clausen pass. Working with the second team and covering WR Rashad Lawrence, Porter undercut a stop route and pilfered the pigskin for what would have been a pick-six.
-The Bears used QB Shane Carden as the No. 3 signal caller yesterday but today used David Fales exclusively in that role. It appears the coaching staff plans on rotating Carden, Fales and Patrick Devlin with the third team this week.
Teams typically bring just three quarterbacks to training camp, as there just aren’t enough available reps to justify a fourth or fifth passer, so this is the final audition for Fales, Carden and Devlin before Bourbonnais.
Fales did not look sharp at the start of the session but made a couple of strong throws during the 11-on-11 drills at the end of practice.
-On one 11-on-11 snap, the offense ran a screen pass to RB Matt Forte that caught the defense, which blitzed two linebackers, off guard. It turned into a big gain.
Notable on the play was C Will Montgomery, who raced out in front of Forte and led him down the field for more than 25 yards. Montgomery showed good speed and quickness at the second level, something we rarely saw from Roberto Garza or Brian de la Puente.
-For the first time this offseason, Jared Allen saw more first-team reps at outside linebacker than Sam Acho. As I mentioned yesterday, Acho is not quick in space and lumbers in coverage. Conversely, Allen is very fluid in space and has nearly intercepted two passes the past week.
Acho has experience in a 3-4, which is the main reason he’s been taking first-team reps – that and the injuries to Lamarr Houston and Willie Young – but Allen appears to be catching up to Acho and could supplant him as the starter in the very near future.
We’ll need to see Brock in pads before we anoint him the new starter but in terms of pure talent and skill set, he’s the full package.
-During the final two-minute drill, WR Eddie Royal found wide-open space up the left sideline for a 40-yard touchdown grab in between CB Kyle Fuller and S Antrel Rolle.
Obviously, the starting secondary is still working out some kinks, particularly in the communication department.
-Speaking of Royal, he made a Jeffery-like grab over CB Sherrick McManis during 11-on-11 drills, going up and over the cornerback for the catch. It was an impressive play from a 5-10 wideout. Later, Royal burned Vereen on a fly route down the right seam.
-Yesterday I mentioned the strong play of third-year CB Terrance Mitchell. Today, I was standing next to Mitchell as players and coaches were coming to the sideline. Outside linebackers coach Clint Hurtt sought out Mitchell and told him how impressive he’s been and that he needed to keep it up.
-The Bears brought in two tryout players today: S Sherrod Martin and RB Daniel Thomas. Of note was a blown coverage by Martin in red-zone drills, which earned the ire of defensive backs coach Ed Donatell.
-Here was the first-team punt unit: Dante Rosario, Christian Jones, LS Thomas Gafford, DeDe Lattimore, Sam Acho, Adrian Amos, Jacquizz Rodgers and Josh Bellamy. Gunners were not used today, although Sherrick McManis appears to be one of the primary gunners.
Remember, special teams units are a great way to evaluate the back end of the roster, as third-phase starters typically end up on the final 53.
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.