The Chicago Bears conducted the 10th practice of training camp this afternoon. Weather in Bourbonnais was muggy, like sitting in a bowl of warm soup, with temperatures in the mid 80s.
There was a good crowd surrounding the practice fields of Olivet Nazarene University, with plenty of fully uniformed armed forces in attendance.
WR Kevin White did a light workout with the trainers at the beginning of practice. Hid did some running, some high knees, shuffles, etc. to test his injured shin. White had a compression sleeve on his left leg and did not run with any noticeable limp.
“He’s making progress,” head coach John Fox said after practice. “As you may or may not have seen he was out there running today, on hard ground grass running. We’ve got a plan for him and he’s making progress. He’s been running, but it’s been in water, some various types of exercises that don’t take pounding on the legs. From what I gathered so far he had a good day today.”
White took a step forward but the Bears admitted he still has a long way to go.
“He’s [chomping] at the bit ready to go and we’ve got to be smart enough to ease him back into it,” said Fox. “He’s not played football in seven and a half or eight weeks so it would be crazy for us just to throw him back out there.”
Wide receivers coach Mike Groh said he’s hopeful White will play during the preseason but as of now, that appears unlikely.
“We’d love to have him play in a preseason game,” Groh said. “Obviously, the more he can get out here with Jay [Cutler] and the rest of the offense, the better, but that’s probably not going to be the case.”
CB Tracy Porter left practice about halfway through with a hamstring injury. Fox said he should be fine.
NOTES FROM DAY 10
-Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio has slowly increased his blitz frequency in each successive practice. Today was no different, with four linebackers blitzing gaps from every angle on nearly every snap.
In my notebook, I counted nine different plays in which a blitzing inside linebacker would have been credited with a sack. That’s just from the inside linebackers – not the outside linebackers, who get paid to pressure quarterbacks – with the majority coming from starters Shea McClellin and Christian Jones.
Both players have pass-rush experience and understand what it takes to collapse the pocket. With a head of steam and under the framework of a confusing, attacking 3-4 defense, Jones and McClellin have been extremely disruptive in Fangio’s blitz packages.
On one double A-gap blitz today, both inside guys were shaded over C Will Montgomery. At the snap, each player reached out and extended his arms on the center, as if using him for leverage, then McClellin swung around the back side. Montgomery lunged after McClellin, which opened a clear path for Jones to the quarterback.
Jones also had a very nice pass breakup during team drills. Coverage is his strong suit.
“I’m excited about Jones’s body type, his athletic ability,” said linebackers coach Glenn Pires. “He’s a rangy guy and plays long, which I think is good. Being able to take on the big guys, because he’s got some pretty good size to him.”
Yet the defensive play of the day came from McClellin against a counter trey. McCllelin lined up across from RG Kye Long, who pulled left at the snap to serve as the lead blocker. McClellin followed Long across the play and crashed into the gap, knocking Long to his knees before making a play on the ball carrier. It was a highly impressive play by McClellin who, along with Jones, is growing into his new role.
“You know I think he’s build a good foundation in the spring, during the OTAs and the mini-camp and I think he’s now getting more comfortable,” Pires said of McClellin. “He’s certainly far away from where we want him to be, because now it’s the physical part. But I think he’s going in the right direction. I’m really anxious to see these preseason games.”
-The backup inside linebackers also ate well today. Both Mason Foster and Jon Bostic made plays by aggressively shooting gaps against both the run and pass. Of note was a naked bootleg by QB Jimmy Clausen, whom Foster chased down from behind.
Jeffery made a solid leaping catch in the back of the end zone on a crossing route and hung onto the ball despite CB Kyle Fuller grabbing his arm. He followed that up by catching a ball on his back following a Fuller tip. Later, Jeffery beat Fuller on a go route and made an over-the-shoulder grab on a nice pass from Jay Cutler for a 60-yard touchdown.
Not be shown up, Wilson ran a fly route and beat CB Tim Jennings. The pass was slightly overthrown, yet Wilson got an arm out and made a one-handed grab over his shoulder. It was easily one of the best catches of camp, which is saying something, as there have been a lot of highlight-reel catches to this point.
“Wilson made a great catch today, didn’t he?” Groh said. “Making that play in a two-minute situation for us. I think he’s had a productive camp. He’s really kind of picked up where he was last summer.”
With White expected to miss most of the preseason, you can write in Wilson as the bona fide No. 3 receiver to open the regular season. And if he continues making plays, it’s going to be hard for White to steal those snaps once he returns.
-Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio is not afraid to line up his outside linebackers in the slot, or even out wide. On nearly every snap, one of his OLBs drops into coverage and sometimes that requires him to line up in space.
At first you wonder how someone like Pernell McPhee, all 280 pounds of him, is going to handle a shifty receiver out of the slot. Yet the vast majority of the time, the outside linebackers will be sitting in the underneath zone and won’t be asked to run stride for stride with a pass catcher 40 yards down the field.
There is a two-fold advantage to this strategy that has become clear to me as camp progresses. Against the run, that wide linebacker can crash inside and force the play to his help. It’s highly unlikely a tight end or receiver has the blocking acumen to stop someone like Lamarr Houston from setting the edge.
Second, bubble screens become very difficult for opposing offenses. Again, if McPhee is lined up three yards across from a receiver on a zero screen, with only a slot receiver or tight end trying to block him, that’s advantage Bears.
Case in point: today the offense tried to run a bubble screen to WR Josh Bellamy. TE Bear Pascoe tried to flare to OLB Jared Allen in the flat but Allen used a quick swim move to get past the block. Had it been live action, Allen would have dropped Bellamy for a three-yard loss.
-Speaking of McPhee, he’s fierce in pursuit on the backside. On one snap today, the offense ran off-tackle right, with McPhee lined up on the left. Instead of watching the play, McPhee slid down the line of scrimmage and exploded into the ball carrier as he tried to cut back. McPhee was signed due to his pass-rush ability but his physicality is going to have an impact in the run game as well.
-I know I’ve written about RB Jacquizz Rodgers a lot but it’s worth mentioning how well he sees hole develop. Because of an increasingly difficult media policy, we were forced into the end zone today, which wasn’t all that bad because it gave me the All-22 view of plays developing behind the quarterback.
I was impressed with Rodgers’ ability to find the open hole on most of his runs. In addition, rookie RB Jeremy Langford also showed good field vision and had two nice back cuts of note.
-Offensive and defensive linemen worked in one-on-one drills today. Here are the highlights:
C Will Montgomery is a smart player. Facing NT Eddie Goldman, Montgomery sunk his hips and locked on to the defender by his shoulders. As Goldman drove up field, he began leaning too far forward. Montgomery recognized it and quickly pulled his arms back, resulting in Goldman on his face. Montgomery walked away from the block before Goldman hit the ground, he was that confident in his technique.
Another player I’ve touted all of camp, Matt Slauson, again showed well. On one snap against DL Brandon Dunn, the defender tried to use a fancy arm move and then rip past Slauson’s inside shoulder. Yet Slauson stood there like he was made of concrete and straight stonewalled the defender.
When Pernell McPhee gets a head of steam, he’s an explosive force. On one snap, he gained leverage on OT Jermon Bushrod and drove him four yards backward into the quarterback.
RT Jordan Mills has lacked fire all camp. Facing off against OLB Sam Acho, Mills slid outside far too fast and Acho took advantage, cutting back inside. At that point Mills’s only option was to hold the defender. Acho took exception to this and threw Mills to the ground with force.
Speaking of Acho, two times in a row he took LT Jason Weaver and drove him into the face of the quarterback with a bull rush. Acho is still getting first-team reps, rotating with Allen, and is going to surprise a lot of Bears fans this year.
OLB Kyle Woestmann is a player. He put a wicked inside move on RT Tayo Fabuluje that left the blocker with nothing but a handful of air. At this point, only injury will stop Woestmann from securing a spot on the practice squad, and potentially more.
-CB Tracy Porter has been a first-team fixture for the past three practices. Today, he had a pick-six on a late ball by Clausen, undercutting the pass and taking it to the house.
Porter appears to have leapfrogged both Sherrick McManis and Alan Ball on the depth chart. From the standpoint of Ball, this is not surprising, as the guy just cannot stay on his feet. I cannot count the times I’ve watched him fall down, in both team and one-on-one drills, while in coverage.
-QB Jimmy Clausen had his best pass of camp today during red zone drills. Throwing to Bellamy running a back-corner route, Clausen split the underneath cornerback and safety Adrian Amos with a nice touch pass.
It was a great throw, although Amos was clearly late on his read. Amos’s mistake elicited the ire of defensive backs coach Ed Donatell, who let the rookie have it.
-Offensive coordinator Adam Gase deploys two-man rub patterns on many of his pass plays, particularly in the red zone. It’s something I outlined using All-22 film earlier this off-season.
I’ve seen plenty of this at camp as well, particularly in the red zone. Yet today, CB Sherrick McManis actually stopped a pick play. Lined up across from Bellamy in the slot, the outside receiver crashed down on McManis, who recognized it and slid around the block. He then got on his horse and forced Bellamy out of bounds before he could reach the end zone.
With McManis, the Bears have a quality special teams player who will provide outstanding depth at the cornerback position.
-Whenever a first-team receiver needs a breather, Josh Bellamy is the guy who fills in. He’s clearly the frontrunner for one of the final wide receiver spots.
-On Friday, C Hroniss Grasu struggled mightily in practice, getting manhandled repeatedly by DL Will Sutton. Grasu looked much better today and even had a pancake block on DL Ego Ferguson, which is no easy task.
It was a good sign for Grasu, who obviously learned from his poor practice.
-There have been very few fumbles through 10 practices, which is a good sign for the offense. Today though, RB Daniel Thomas put the ball on the ground after a picture perfect form tackle – face in chest, wrap up, drive legs – by S Sherrod Martin.
-During special teams, field goals were the focus. Up front, the first-team field-goal unit featured mainly starting offensive linemen, Bear Pasco and the long snapper. Notable was the presence of Vladimir Ducasse, who is also the leading candidate to secure the swing guard gig. Unless he falls apart in the preseason, Ducasse is going to make this 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.