Bears Training Camp Notebook: Day 6

We empty the notebook from the sixth practice of Chicago Bears 2015 Training Camp, a session that featured a resurgent outside linebacker, an injured offensive lineman and more.

The Chicago Bears conducted the sixth practice of 2015 Training Camp this afternoon. The weather in Bourbonnais was beautiful, with sunny skies and temperatures in the low 80s.

At practice today were three former players: Brian Urlacher (with Jay Glazer in tow), Olin Kreutz and Jame “Big Cat” Williams. Team owner Virginia McCaskey was also in attendance.

The return of Urlacher is a sign his animosity toward the team for the manner in which he was released – which was tantamount to former GM Phil Emery kicking him out the door – appears to be the in past.

“I’ve had a relationship with Brian before I came here so I think that always helps. He and I have a friendship already,” head coach John Fox said after practice. “I’ve encouraged him to be around more, to come around. He’s wise. I like alumni people, people who have been in the seats these guys have been.”

Urlacher is one of the greatest players to ever don the Navy and orange and the team, which is going through a major transition, could use him as an ambassador.

INJURIES

CB Alan Ball (foot) and WR Alshon Jeffery (shoulder) returned to practice today.

OL Michael Ola hurt his left knee during 1-on-1 drills. Ola was working against OLB David Bass when his leg gave way under him and he collapsed to the ground. The trainers checked him out for a few minutes before carting him off the field. He was seen after practice at the dining hall walking with just a sleeve on his knee, not a brace, which could be a good sign. We’ll know more on the extent of Ola’s injury tomorrow.

NOTES FROM DAY 6

-The player of the day was OLB Lamarr Houston, who was in the backfield as a pass rusher all afternoon. In one-on-one drills, Houston easily worked over RT Tayo Fabuluje.

During run drills, the offense tried to block him with TE Bear Pascoe, who had no luck. Houston was able to extend his arms on Pascoe and easily shed the block before filling the hole.

Later, Houston shot the gap between LT Charles Leno and LG Jason Weaver, disrupting the play in the backfield. On another snap, he just threw Leno to the ground, and on another, he ripped past Fabuluje for the sack in team drills.

Granted, all of these snaps came against the second-team offensive line, but Houston looked very good today. Recovering from an ACL tear, Houston did not participate in off-season workouts but he’s been turned loose in training camp. If he continues to play at this level, he could be back in his starting role sooner than later.

-The offense today took a beating. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio dialed up blitzes early and often, and the offensive line had no answer for them.

“Today was a bad day for us offensively,” Jay Cutler said after practice. “I think everybody across the page isn’t going to be happy with the performance.”

Offensive coordinator Adam Gase said it’s a challenge to face Fangio’s 3-4 system each day in practice.

“Anytime you play versus a 3-4 defense every day, you’re working against a lot of things that a lot of times it’s one week and then you’ll see a 4-3 for two or three weeks and you kind of lose how difficult it is to play a 3-4 defense. Coach Fangio does such a good job of seeing multiple looks and doing a great job with the safeties. It’s very tough to play their defense.

“They do such a good job of disguising. It’s such a challenge for our guys every day. We can’t walk out here and just think we’re going to rip them apart because it’s going to be a challenge play-in and play-out. Every play is something different from those guys and we’re kind of adjusting as we go and trying to figure out how to beat them on each play.”

The good news is that the defense is coming around, particularly the front seven. The blitz packages were detailed and consistent, with all four linebackers moving and blitzing from certain spots.

The bad news is the offensive line, which ranked 19th in sacks allowed (39) in 2014, is struggling with the Fangio’s exotic packages.

-DL Ego Ferguson had a very good day as a pass rusher. He was explosive off the ball and relentless working his way into the backfield. His weight loss has resulted in a noticeable increase in on-field speed and quickness.

To further this point, Ferguson actually beat LG Matt Slauson, who has been a brick wall to this point in camp, during 1-on-1 drills. That’s no easy task and something Ferguson would not have been able to do last year.

-ILB Shea McClellin also had a strong practice. He knocked away a few balls in coverage, an area in which he’s struggled, and picked up a sack in team drills working past RB Matt Forte on a B-gap blitz.

“The idea to move him inside was a good idea,” Fox said. “It’s obviously required a lot of work and effort on his part. Hats off to him for that. I think his skill set fits there and we’ll see how it goes moving forward. I’ve been pleased with him so far.”

-One of the biggest differences in this year’s defense is the aggressiveness of the inside linebackers. On run plays, the ILBs are crashing into gaps and blowing up plays at the point of attack. Often, the other backer is right behind the fill to clean up the play.

This is a stark, drastic contrast to the manner in which the Bears linebackers approached run fits last year. In 2014, Chicago’s run stoppers were hesitant and passive. This year, they are exploding into holes with reckless abandon.

That can only be a good thing for the run defense.

-TE Martellus Bennett lined up wide left on one snap and ran a quick slant. The two inside receivers blocked for Bennett, who quickly turned up the field after the catch.

This is a play that can pay big dividends on game day. If memory serves, Bennett has never caught a slant pass from the flanker position during his two years in Chicago. If you put the ball in the hands of a player his size, running downhill with blockers in front, particularly considering his elite ability to break tackles, Bennett could have a field day on slant patterns.

-WR Eddie Royal continues to impress. He beat Kyle Fuller and Al Louis-Jean easily during 1-on-1 drills and then made a great sliding catching for a touchdown during red-zone drills.

“[Royal] can do so many different things for us,” said Cutler. “If we’re in 12 [personnel] we can bump him outside. If we’re in 11 [personnel] he can go inside. We can have 10 personnel and put him anywhere, put him in the backfield. Eddie’s one of those guys, he’s really smart. He’s kind of crafty in everything he does. I would imagine we’re going to move him around quite a bit.”

Mark my words, Royal will be one of the biggest weapons for the Bears’ offense this season.

-C Will Montgomery is a functional blocker who lacks strength at the point of attack. He’ll need help from his fellow linemen to push the pile on short-yardage runs.

-On one snap today, the offense tried to run a trap block on NT Eddie Goldman. RG Kyle Long cross-blocked with Montgomery, yet Goldman was too quick and was in the backfield before Long could reach him.

Based on his play since the pads went on, it’s safe to say Goldman is going to have a substantial impact for Chicago’s run defense this season.

-RB Ka’Deem Carey had a number of big runs today. At least three times he burst through the line untouched for 20- to 30-yard gains. Carey needs those quality runs to keep abreast of the competition at running back.

-Gase’s offense has no use for a fullback. Moving on.

-OLB Pernell McPhee looks better each practice. He was playing the rover role for much of the afternoon, working from a moving two-point stance and blitzing different holes each snap.

McPhee has the size of a defensive tackle but moves like a safety. As the centerpiece of Fangio’s blitz schemes, McPhee is going to have an immediate impact.

-Jay Cutler has not thrown an interception the first six days of camp. Take that for what it’s worth but for him to have cut down on the stupid throws so dramatically can only be a good sign moving forward.

-CB Tracy Porter can play. On one play that QB Jimmy Clausen extended with his legs, Porter stayed in the receiver’s hip pocket and easily knocked away the deep ball. Tracking and executing a pass breakup on a 40-yard pass is no easy task and Porter did it with little effort.

He’s still taking all of his snaps with the second team but if he makes the roster as a backup, Porter will provide quality depth at the cornerback position.

-During 1-on-1 coverage drills, S Antrel Rolle matched up man-to-man against WR Cameron Meredith in press coverage. Meredith ran a 15-yard stop route but Rolle was all over him and knocked the pass away.

Remember, Rolle was drafted as a first-round cornerback in 2005 and did not transition to safety until three years into his NFL career. Based on what he’s shown so far, Rolle can still play a lock-down role in coverage, which should serve Chicago’s secondary very well.

-During 11-on-11s, RB Daniel Thomas ran off-tackle left and was met in the hole by S Anthony Jefferson. It was a nice run fill by the safety and resulted in a big collision, yet Thomas kept churning his legs and used his big body to fall forward, resulting in a three-yard gain.

Thomas can be a weapon as a short-yardage back if he can secure a spot on the 53-man roster.


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.

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