The Chicago Bears today conducted the final practice of organized team activities (OTAs) that was open to the media.
The weather in Lake Forest was absolutely perfect, with sunny skies, a cool breeze and temperatures in the lower 70s.
-OLB Pernell McPhee, who is recovering from off-season knee surgery, was not in attendance. He did not participate in any of the voluntary workouts this off-season.
-RB Jordan Howard has a minor hamstring injury, which is why he hasn't practiced since the first day of rookie minicamp. He worked off to the side with the trainers today and said he should be ready to go for veteran minicamp next week.
-TE Rob Housler and ILB Jonathan Anderson were in attendance but did not practice. WR Eddie Royal took a veteran day off. CB Kyle Fuller, OLB Leonard Floyd and G Ted Larsen were not in attendance.
-Back from injury was S Adrian Amos, who has slowly been worked back into the fold following off-season shoulder surgery. Amos wore a red jersey today, which is a marker so teammates know not to get too physical with him.
-WR Alshon Jeffery was, once again, a no-show.
-I've talked a lot about seventh-round WR Daniel Braverman the past month and he again stood out today. He has been borderline un-coverable since rookie minicamp and it was no different this afternoon.
On separate snaps, he beat CB Deiondre Hall on a deep sideline route, ILB Nick Kwiatkoski in a quick out and S Chris Prosniski on a deep out. On all three of those catches, he created at least a yard of separation between him and the defender.
Braverman also took reps during kick return drills. If he carries this over to training camp, not only will he make the 53-man roster but Braverman could earn himself a good portion of the pass-catching targets this year. The comparisons to Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman are legit.
-TE Zach Miller had a strong afternoon. On the first pass thrown his way, a seam route up the right side, ILB Danny Trevathan got in his hip and was able to knock the pass away. It was a good play by Trevathan but also the only time during practice that Miller was unable to haul in a target.
Shortly after Trevathan's PBU, Miller beat him on an intermediate crossing route. Trevathan ran his mouth after the play and Miller responded "Every time you get beat you say 'pushed off'" then laughed at him and trotted back to the huddle. The competition between those two, which is fierce, is only going to make them better.
Health is always going to be a concern with Miller but it appears he's ready, both mentally and physically, to take over for the departed Martellus Bennett.
-With Housler sitting out, TE Khari Lee took his spot with the first team. Lee made a couple of good catches, which is the first action of any significance I've seen from Lee since, well, since ever. He's a big guy with a blocking frame but he's fairly adept as a pass catcher.
On one snap, Lee ran a flat drag to the near sideline and OLB Willie Young ran with him stride for stride. It was a play that showed Young's athleticism but also Lee's lack of speed.
-On one of the first snaps of team drills, QB Jay Cutler fired a missile - where smoke was trailing the ball - to WR Cameron Meredith on a deep cross. The pass hit Meredith in stride but it was too hot for the second-year player to handle, and he dropped it. Those are the types of plays, working with the first team, that Meredith needs to make.
-Speaking of dropped passes, WR Kevin White had a pair of ugly drops today. One was on a crossing route, the other on a short slant. Both passes hit him right in the hands. After the second one, one coach yelled, "catch the ball!"
White was also open deep on at least two occasions and Cutler overthrew him. The second came on a flea flicker in which White had five yards of separation from CB Tracy Porter. Yet Cutler was five yards too deep with the pass.
I'm not exactly sure what the issue is between White and Cutler but there is absolutely no chemistry between those two right now. I'm yet to see them connect on a deep ball, which is slight concerning, as we're now three weeks into practice. Obviously, it's going to take those two some time to mesh.
-With Kyle Fuller not in attendance, the Bears slid Bryce Callahan to the boundary corner position and moved Demontre Hurst to nickelback. This was interesting for two reasons.
The first is that Callahan was used exclusively in the slot last year. The second is that Hurst has played nothing but safety to this point in OTAs. Hurst has corner experience, so it's clear he's a jack-of-all-trades for coordinator Vic Fangio.
-WR Kieren Duncan continues to impress. He consistently finds ways to get open, although he hasn't always been on the same page with QB Brian Hoyer.
That was no different today, as Duncan's speed is just too much for the second-team secondary to handle, especially without pads on. Duncan was also used as a kick returner during special teams drills.
-Speaking of Hoyer, he looked good today, throwing smart, accurate passes throughout the session. That's an improvement over the past two weeks, when he was struggling to find open receivers.
Hoyer's best pass came on a sideline hitch route to WR Marquess Wilson. Wilson was tightly covered by Hall but the timing and placement of the pass was perfect.
-With Ted Larsen absent, rookie Cody Whitehair worked at left guard with both the first and second teams. The play that stood out for Whitehair was a screen pass to the left side. Both him and C Hroniss Grasu showed good agility and speed to get out in front of the play and pick off a defender. Whitehair is definitely athletic.
Yet Whitehair had arguably the worst snap of any offensive lineman the past three weeks. At the snap, Mitch Unrein used a head fake and tore right past Whitehair into the backfield. The defenders standing on the sidelines all went nuts cheering for Unrein. O-line coach Dave Magazu then had to give Whitehair some words of encouragement: "Regroup Cody. Regroup and clear your mind."
-Willie Young used a nasty rip move to beat LT Nick Becton around the corner for what would've been a sack. Young has looked good throughout OTAs, while Becton has shown very little, which is surely one of the reasons the club brought in Nate Chandler, who worked at RT with the second team.
-After one snap today, Meredith turned and socked CB Jacoby Glenn right in the face. I didn't see what elicited the punch but Meredith was not happy.
-CB Sherrick McManis, who began last year as the club's starting nickelback, was again working in the slot with the second team. Despite being 6-1, it's clear Fangio feels McManis' best role is at nickel.
-One pass of note was a bubble screen to Kevin White. With his combination of size and speed, expect to see a lot of those plays this year.
-In terms of chemistry with his receivers, Cutler just does not have it right now. On one snap, Cutler recognized blitz and motioned to Marquess Wilson out wide. After the snap, S Omar Bolden blitzed off the edge. Cutler lobbed a fade pass toward the sideline, yet Wilson was running a dig route inside. The two had words after the play.
-On one snap today, LB Lamarr Houston lined up in a rover position, in a two-point stance between the guard and tackle, with Akiem Hicks lining up in a traditional 4-3 DE spot with a hand in the dirt.
That's a formation we saw a lot from the Bears last year, typically using Pernell McPhee as the rover. Obviously, that defensive package will be used again this season.
-ILB Jerrell Freeman had a nice pass breakup against TE Joe Sommers in a short crossing route. Freeman read the play, broke hard on the ball, reached around the receiver and knocked the pass away.
Freeman has shown me something in coverage the past three weeks. He's not just a downhill run stopper. He's absolutely a three-down linebacker.
-Here is the starting kickoff return unit: Sherrick McManis, Ben Braunecker, Chris Prosinksi, Lamin Barrow, Nick Kwiatkoski, Josh Bellamy, Sam Acho, Mitch Unrein, Khari Lee, Jaqcquizz Rodgers and Daniel Braverman as the returner.
Remember, special teams is where we get a good glimpse at who is in the lead for those final roster spots.
-CB Tracy Porter had a rough day and was beat a number of times. With no pass rush, it's tough to be too hard on the corners, who likely won't be forced to stay in man coverage for six seconds during the games. Yet Porter was beat every which way today, which isn't a great sign for a player who was inconsistent last year.