The Chicago Bears conducted the first practice of 2016 Training Camp this morning. The weather was hot and sticky, with temeperatures hovering in the upper 80s and humidity making it feel much worse. The lack of any breeze was disheartening for fans and beat reporters alike.
The crowd at Olivet Nazarene University was scarce to start practice but the stands filled by mid-session. Based on my five previous training camps, I'd guess about 5,000 were on hand today. That number will surely spike this weekend, with the pads coming on Friday.
Today's practice was not padded, with players working in shells.
-OLB Leonard Floyd was carted off the field about an hour into practice. John Fox said after practice that Floyd's early exit was due to illness.
"He’s been sick the last couple days," said Fox. "He’s a tough kid, just didn’t make it through. He’ll be fine."
Floyd said he has a stomach bug and that the trainers pulled him off the practice field.
“I’m feeling good right now," Floyd said about an hour after practice. "What happened today was I’ve been a little under the weather the past couple of days and the trainers knew that. They told me to go out and give it a shot today and then they shut me down. I really was begging them to let me go back out there. They told me to shut it down. I’m basically just trying to get back healthy and get back out there.”
Floyd expects to be back on the field tomorrow.
"Definitely a go for tomorrow," he said.
-TE Khari Lee suffered an AC shoulder sprain, while OT Nick Becton and OLB Roy Robertson-Harris could not finish due to illness.
-As I was leaving lunch today, Kyle Long pulled up on a golf cart and stepped out with a walking boot on his left foot. Fox did not mention Long's injury following practice but it's reportedly a calf injury. No word yet on how long he'll be out, if at all.
Day 1 Notebook
-Rookie Cody Whitehair has retained the starting left guard spot. Ted Larsen worked at LG with the first team during OTAs but was injured during veteran minicamp, which thrust Whitehair into the starting role. Apparently, it's now Whitehair's job to lose.
-During positional drills, quarterbacks and running backs worked on handoffs. Basic stuff.
Notable was the order in which the backs took handoffs, which reveals the pecking order of Chicago's backfield on the first day of camp. First team: RB Jeremy Langford and FB Paul Lasike. Second team: RB Jacquizz Rodgers and FB Joe Sommers. Third team: RB Ka'Deem Carey. Fourth team: Senorise Perry. Fifth team: Jordan Howard.
Clearly Langford is going to get first crack at the starting gig and Rodgers will be a key piece in the backfield rotation, particularly on third downs. It's also clear that Howard is going to have to earn his way up each rung of the depth chart.
-Cornerbacks and wide receivers engaged in one-on-one drills early in practice.
Rookie CB Deiondre Hall matched up with WR Marc Mariani. Hall absolutely swallowed up Mariani at the line of scrimmage, outmuscling him throughout the chuck zone. Mariani was finally able to break inside on a slant pattern but Hall used his 34-inch arms to easily reach in front and knock the pass away.
CB Brandon Boykin, whom the team signed as a free agent yesterday, had a strong snap against WR Eddie Royal. Boykin played press man and got a good chuck on Royal as he broke inside on a slant. With the pass in the air, Boykin cut in front of the receiver and made a diving play on the ball. He got two hands on the pass but he couldn't secure the interception when he hit the ground. Watch for Boykin to challenge Bryce Callahan for the team's starting nickel spot.
-WR Cameron Meredith had a good first practice. He made at least three plays in which he elevated to beat the defender for a 50/50 pass.
On one of the catches, he ran a deep out route and QB Brian Hoyer put the pass behind him. Meredith turned his body and snatched the pass out of the air. Later, he adjusted to a 25-yard back shoulder throw, using his height and length to secure the pass near the sideline.
Meredith has elite NFL receiver size (6-3, 207) and he's already shown improvement over last season. Don't be surprised if he ends up the primary backup to Alshon Jeffery and Kevin White come the regular season.
-The play of the day came from Jeffery on a deep ball from Jay Cutler down the left sideline. CB Kyle Fuller was right in Jeffery's hip but Fuller never turned to find the ball.
Jeffery turned and adjusted to the pass, then grabbed Fuller with one hand by the head and threw him into the dirt. Jeffery made the grab and then stared down Fuller as he made the slow turn up the field for the easy touchdown.
Jeffery's stare down elicited the ire of receivers coach Curtis Johnson, who is by far the most vocal coach on the Bears' staff.
This play showed me two things. First, Jeffery is going to have an unbelievable season in 2016, assuming he can stay healthy. He's entering a contract year and he looks hungry. In one-on-one situations, he was unstoppable today. After getting tossed to the ground, Fuller stood up and looked back as if to say "what just hit me?" As long as he can stay on the field, I'm convinced this will be the best season of Alshon's career.
The second is that Fuller is still having the same issues he's had throughout his short career. Every cornerback in the league is going to struggle to defend the long ball against Jeffery but Fuller had no idea where the ball was, which has been his biggest problem in man coverage. Clearly there is still more work to do with Fuller.
-Later in practice, a Cutler pass intended for Jeffery on a slant pattern was tipped at the line of scrimmage. The ball went up into the air and Jeffery out-leaped both CB Tracy Porter and S Adrian Amos, hauled in the ball, then took off untouched for a touchdown.
It's worth noting that Porter struggled all day with Jeffery as well.
-One one pass rush snap, DL Ego Ferguson hurdled over a downed offensive lineman. It was an athletic play from at 300-pound defensive lineman.
Ferguson, who worked with the second team today, later tore past G Ted Larsen using a rip move and took down the running back for a loss. No one is talking about Ego because he only played four games last year but he showed today that he's ready to bounce back.
-During 11-on-11 drills, the offense ran a stretch run right, in the direction of DE Mitch Unrein. Whitehair was tasked with sealing Unrein inside but the Unrein straight powered Whitehair into the backfield. Unrein pushed the rookie three yards deep then dumped the running back for what would have been a five-yard loss.
This isn't the first time I've seen Whitehair get abused at the point of attack, so he clearly needs to start playing with more physicality and power.
Like Ferguson, little attention has been given to Unrein, who is a solid 5-technique run defender. In base 3-4 sets, he's going to have a lot of value for Chicago's defense this season.
-The most impressive defender today was OLB Lamarr Houston. I saw at least four plays that would have resulted in an easy sack for Houston. Yet he was also a beast off the edge against the run.
Late in practice, Houston took reps with the third team. He was working with the first team all day but the absence of both Floyd and Robertson-Harris left the Bears short of bodies at OLB, so Houston filled in with the third team.
Against LT Adrian Bellard, Houston was downright filthy. He was just a force for which Bellard had no answer. On consecutive snaps, Houston ripped around the edge to seal the edge and drop a run play for a five-yard loss, then used a speed and rip move to easily turn the corner for a sack, then used a counter move to shut down an inside run.
Houston was barely used in training camp last year, as he was recovering from a torn ACL. Now fully healthy, it's clear Houston is in line for a career year.
-During 7-on-7 drills, Jeffery and Kevin White lined up in a two-man bunch formation off the right side. They weren't lined up properly and Jeffery had to literally drag White a few yards to the outside.
Once lined up properly, Jeffery ran a quick drag route, which pulled both inside linebackers toward the line of scrimmage. At the same time, White ran an intermediate cross route. With the inside linebackers focusing on Jeffery, White was wide open. Cutler fired a missile that was three yards too high but White elevated and easily hauled in the pass.
This snap gives a clear picture of the many potential ways Bears coordinator Dowell Loggains can utilize the Jeffery/White combination. Used properly, those two can feed off each other every week.
-During 7-on-7 drills, TE Zach Miller ran a go route up the right hash. ILB Jerrell Freeman turned and ran stride for stride with Miller for 30 yards.
I've been talking about Freeman's prowess in coverage since OTAs but it's worth repeating. He's not just a downhill linebacker whose only value is on run downs. He's a valuable three-down ILB.
-FB Paul Lasike was heavily used during run drills. If he can put some defenders on their butt during the preseason games, Lasike is going to make the 53-man roster.
-TE Greg Scruggs is a converted defensive tackle who is looking to make the team as the club's blocking tight end. That's not going well.
Today, Sam Acho absolutely manhandled Scruggs at the point of attack, stacking the hole and shedding with ease. Acho would have made the tackle on an off-tackle run for a two-yard loss.
-Lamin Barrow and Jonathan Anderson were the second-team inside linebackers. Nick Kwiatkoski and John Timu worked with the third team.
-During 11-on-11 run drills, Houston was able to string out a stretch run by RB Jordan Howard. Houston squared up Howard, who made a quick cut inside. Houston shot inside and Howard quickly cut back outside, leaving the defender in his wake.
Howard is a bruising runner but he has very light feet.