The Chicago Bears conducted the first practice of 2015 training camp this morning. The session took place under clear skies, with muggy temperatures in the mid 80s.
This is my fifth Bears training camp and today’s crowd was the smallest I’ve ever seen on opening day. We did not receive an estimated head count but if there were more than a 1,000 people there, I would be surprised.
Apparently, a 5-11 season has drained the hype and expectations from fans in and around the central Illinois area. That said, I do expect a packed house on both Saturday and Sunday this weekend.
Players today participated in “shells”, which is just shorts, jerseys and helmets. Padded practices begin on Saturday.
“He's day-to-day. It's not a long-term problem,” Fox said. “Like any injury — a blister could become a long-term problem if you don't treat it right. We're just trying to do the proper treatment and do what's in his best interest, whatever his best interest is is our best interest.”
When asked to elaborate on White’s injury, Fox was mum:
“I could say exactly what it is, but I'm not,” he said. “It's his shin. It's something that shouldn't be long-term but that we're going to monitor.”
CB Tim Jennings was excused for today’s practice due to personal reasons. He was in court today for a DUI charge from this off-season. He pled guilty to reckless driving but the DUI charge was dropped. He received 12 months probation and will serve 40 hours of community service.
Day 1 Notebook
-A number of potential Bears starters, all of whom missed time this off-season due to injury, returned to practice today: T Jermon Bushrod, T Jordan Mills, OLB Lamarr Houston, OLB Willie Young, LB Jon Bostic and CB Alan Ball.
Bushrod, Mills and Ball all participated in full. Houston and Young took part in warm ups and positional drills but sat out the team portions of practice.
Ball looked very good. The big cornerback is battling to be the staring CB2, in either base packages, sub packages or both. He missed all of the off-season activities but did not appear slowed by the time off.
During 1-on-1 drills between cornerbacks and wide receivers, Ball got a hand on one pass and undercut another that, had it been a game, he likely would have returned for a pick-six.
If Ball continues to ascend through camp, it would be a big boost to Chicago’s secondary. The Bears have a lot of question marks at the cornerback position, so an effective Ball is a necessity.
Houston said he’s 100-percent healthy and is ready for live action.
“We’re cleared. I’m 100 percent. I’m just taking it day to day and working my way back into playing football the proper way. Everything is good. Just taking it slow,” said Houston. “It’s a day-to-day process. Rome wasn’t built in a day. If they want to take it slow, I’ll take it slow with them. But I’m prepared to do whatever it is they need me to do because I’m 100 percent.”
-As I mentioned during OTAs and minicamp, CB Kyle Fuller has slumped a bit this year and has been almost invisible during practice. That trend continued today, with Fuller getting beat at least three times during team drills.
Fuller could very well flip the switch at any point in the upcoming five weeks but he’s playing with lead in his shoes right now. He’s not anticipating well and he’s not getting his hands on passes. That’s a concern as we move forward through training camp and the preseason.
-TE Martellus Bennett, who did participate in any of the voluntary practices this off-season, is still rusty. During bag drills, he slipped and fell on his face trying to round a dummy, and he did not look comfortable in the offense during team drills.
He’s clearly a step behind his teammates but there should be plenty of time for him to grow in offensive coordinator Adam Gase’s playbook. Yet it’s worth monitoring going forward. If he’s still showing signs of rust as we move through the preseason, we might need temper our expectations for Bennett, at least early in the campaign.
-WR Josh Bellamy is an athletic wide receiver who made a number of very nice catches today. He’s in a fight for the club’s No. 5 receiver spot and has demonstrated playmaking ability.
His biggest issue is his hands, which are sketchy. Case in point, today he dropped an easy pass against no coverage during individual drills, then came back five minutes later with a quality jumping catch on a pass thrown a yard over his head. Bellamy needs to find a role on special teams but if he continues to play well on offense, he’ll work his way onto the final 53-man roster.
-I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: throwing to TE Bear Pascoe is hopeless. He’s slow, has no hands and can barely get off the ground. He was unable to make a play on numerous passes today. Pascoe is a good blocker but that’s definitely as far as his value goes.
-Today’s offensive line today was the same group as last season, with the exception of Will Montgomery at center. Defensively, there were no depth chart changes from OTAs. With Jennings out, Sherrick McManis worked alongside Fuller as a first-team boundary corner, with Demontre Hurst working out of the slot.
-New wide receiver A.J. Cruz, whom the Bears signed this week, is small (5-9, 195) but he’s very quick. His ability to stop and start into and out of his breaks is impressive.
Cruz worked in the punt-return group today, an area in which he’s experienced. Playing for the Arizona Rattlers of the Arena Football League in 2015, he had 51 kickoff returns for 1,221 yards (23.9 ypr) and six touchdowns in 12 games played.
The Bears struggled in the return game last year, so Cruz gives new hope to an area of concern.
-During 1-on-1 drills, CB Al Louis-Jean had a nice pass breakup on a deep out route against WR Levi Norwood. Louis-Jean is one of my biggest sleepers this year and he appears ready to live up to expectations.
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.