The Chicago Bears conducted the first practice of mandatory veteran minicamp this morning. It was a lively session that featured the return of wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, who did not participate in organized team activities (OTAs) the past three weeks.
The weather at Halas Hall today was beautiful, although it was pretty toasty. Temperatures hovered in the low 80s, with clear skies and a healthy dose of humidity.
NFL referees, clad in their full zebra uniforms, were present throughout today's session.
-OLB Pernell McPhee (knee) is still nowhere to be found. He's apparently in the building but he hasn't practiced a single snap throughout the off-season, and today was no different.
-OL Ted Larsen and TE Rob Housler did not participate for undisclosed reasons. CB Kyle Fuller was dressed and had his helmet but he was inactive all day, watching from the sidelines.
-WR Marquess Wilson worked during individual drills but hurt his left ankle or foot during the first portion of team drills. He eventually left the practice field and did not return.
-RB Jordan Howard, who sat out OTAs because of a mild hamstring injury, returned to practice today. S Adrian Amos, who is recovering from off-season shoulder surgery, practiced in full but he was still wearing the red "don't hit me" jersey, so he's obviously not yet 100 percent.
-Jeffery immediately took his spot with the first team during team drills and he looked outstanding. The time away clearly did not affect him, as he was on the same page with QB Jay Cutler from the first snap of the day.
Jeffery looks very fit and he might have lost a few pounds from last season. He was fluid in his routes and his hands, as usual, were sticky. He carried himself as the club's No. 1 receiver and he was effective in every team session.
"There were a few tweaks here and there, but pretty much most of the [offense] is still the same," Jeffery said. "I'm not too much behind."
-When Jeffery and Kevin White are standing near each other, it's hard to ignore the size of the duo. Both have basketball player size and it's clear that both can be dominant physical presences this season and beyond.
“Speed. [White] has got a lot of speed," said Jeffery. "He’s very physical, a big guy. Just look at him. You look at him, the DB is going to think, ‘Oh man. I’ve got him on this side and this other guy on the other side. It’s going to be a long night.’”
-White's practice was not as smooth as Jeffery's.
On the first play of team drills, White ran a quick in route and was wide open for the short pass from Cutler. The ball bounced right off his hands and onto the ground. Additionally, during positional drills, White dropped two fairly easy over-the-shoulder passes.
Yet White bounced back later in the session. During the final 2-minute drill, he caught a 25-yard pass on a deep route across the middle. Two plays later, after the offense had moved the ball into the red zone, Cutler signaled as if he was going to spike the ball but then took the snap and fired a fade pass to White. The second-year receiver went up and over CB Tracy Porter for the touchdown. It was, by far, White's best snap of the off-season and gave us a small glimpse at his potential as a red-zone target.
-Speaking of Porter, he had a very solid practice. During red zone drills, Cutler threw a fade to Jeffery in the back corner of the end zone. Jeffery made a play on the ball but Porter, who was giving up roughly five inches, was able to get a hand on the pass and knock it away. It was a solid pass breakup that saved a touchdown.
-With Larsen sitting out, rookie Cody Whitehair worked at left guard with the first team.
Late in practice, Whitehair manned up on NT Eddie Goldman on an off-tackle run. Goldman put his hand into Whitehair's chest then used his lower body to drive forward and bury Whitehair on the turf. It was an impressive play from Goldman, giving Whitehair his "welcome to the NFL" moment.
-FB Paul Lasike was working exclusively with the first team today and appears to be the front runner at fullback, assuming the club keeps a fullback. Lasike was used extensively during goal-line and red zone sessions.
-With Fuller out, Bryce Callahan took over at the boundary corner position in base sets. In nickel sets, Callahan slid inside to the slot and Jacoby Glenn lined up out wide.
-During 11-on-11s, TE Gannon Sinclair ran a shallow route into the right flat. QB Brian Hoyer tossed the pass Sinclair's way but rookie OLB Leonard Floyd was right there to disrupt the play. Floyd may be thin but his speed and athleticism, as well as his experience in coverage, is going to make him a multi-faceted asset on passing downs.
-CB Taveze Calhoun had arguably the best performance of the day. On one of the early snaps in team drills, he had a solid PBU against WR Kieren Duncan. Calhoun broke hard on an underneath in route, reached around the receiver and knocked the pass away.
Later, Calhoun anticipated a bubble screen, broke forward into the passing lane and intercepted the pass. He then went untouched to the end zone for a pick-six. This elicited a loud round of cheers from his defensive teammates and coaches. Calhoun is an undrafted free agent who is buried on the depth chart but plays like these will surely catch the eye of the coaching staff.
-DE Cornelius Washington had two batted passes during a three-play stretch during team drills. After each batted pass, he received love from the coaching staff. Like I said during OTAs, don't sleep on Washington, who has been working with the second team all off-season.
-OT Nate Chandler plays with attitude. Working at RT with the second team, I witnessed him get into two separate pushing matches, once with Cornelius Washington and the other with Leonard Floyd. That type of nastiness, if harnessed properly, could have value for the Bears as the club's swing tackle.
-First-team goal line defensive line: Willie Young, Will Sutton, Akiem Hick, Eddie Goldman, Mitch Unrein, Lamarr Houston.
-The second-team linebackers today were a rotation of Jonathan Anderson, Lamin Barrow and Jon Timu. Fourth-round rookie Nick Kwiatkoski, who worked with the second team during OTAs, played with the third team today.
-C Hroniss Grasu had three separate bad snaps in shotgun formation today. All three would have resulted in a significant loss of yards for the offense.
-I've been impressed with ILB Jerrell Freeman the past month and he again had a strong showing today. With no pads and no hitting, it's hard to gauge linebackers but Freeman is around the ball on almost every snap. His diagnostic and read-and-react abilities are off the charts.
-Both Patrick O'Donnell and Ben LeCompte were wildly inconsistent punting today. Inconsistency has been O'Donnell's biggest issue the past two seasons, which is why LeCompte is in camp. Yet LeCompte isn't going to wrestle away the starting gig if he's just as unreliable.
-OLB Lamarr Houston took a pair of snaps in the stand-up rover role again today. A staple of Vic Fangio's defense, Houston is being deployed as a versatile pass rusher in nickel sets.
-The Bears had four players in for tryouts today: TEs Tony Moeaki, TE Ryan Taylor, FB Darrel Young and DL Marquis Jackson.