Smith takes the reigns

Lovie Smith has been a head coach for little more than two months. While he's been busy assembling a coaching staff, evaluating talent on the current roster and pursuing free agents, his tenure truly begins with his first mini-camp.

This is the first of two of mini-camps before the draft, both of which will be mostly introductory to implement the new systems that Smith has installed.

"We wanted to open up the competition, we wanted to show the guys exactly how the practice would go. I think we were able to do that," Smith said. "We have a long ways to go; of course we know that. But it was just good to get a chance to see the guys."

The Bears began their voluntary off-season workout program on Monday, but the vast majority of players are going out of their way to partake because they don't want to get on the wrong side of their new coach.

"When you have change, most of the guys are going to show you their best face and that's what I've gotten," Smith said. "The players have been great since Day 1. They're anxious to get a 7-9 bad taste out of their mouths and we can get an early start."

The Bears spent a total of five hours inside the Walter Payton Center turf on Friday, which is longer than any day of work in the Dick Jauron era. A Smith practice philosophy includes the defense going after any ball that is on the ground whether it comes on a fumble or an incompletion. The idea is to get the defensive used making plays with the ball in their hands.

Rex Tucker, who has missed the majority of the past two seasons because of injury, is impressed with the program that Smith has been able to implement in a short amount of time.

"It's been fantastic, I mean Coach Smith obviously is a top-notch coach," Tucker said. "This is our first day of practice, it's mini-camp and the amount (of plays) that (have been installed) right now is just tremendous."

Under Smith the Bears are putting an emphasis on improving overall team speed, but particularly on the defensive line. Michael Haynes and Alex Brown have spent the past month trying to shed pounds.

Haynes admits he's never had to drop weight in the past and has struggled to get results thus far. So far he's lost 8-9 pounds and is currently at 280 pounds. The previous coaching staff had asked him to add weight, so now he's losing anything he put on since coming to the NFL. He's also noticed that shedding weight and building strength does not go hand in hand.

"It's kind of weird because I'm trying to lose weight, trying to stay in shape and get stronger at the same time. So everything you do is fighting against the other," Haynes said.

Still Haynes sees the light at the end of the tunnel. The recent release of Phillip Daniels has paved the way for him to move into the starting lineup. After playing a limited role in his rookie season, Haynes is ready for more.

"That's even more of a reason for me to drop the weight and pretty much do what I'm told because they're trusting you to start," Haynes said.

Olin Kreutz is the only player not to attend the mini-camp, but has been excused for personal reasons. Mike Green and Marc Colombo sat out because of injuries, while Rex Grossman said his middle finger on his throwing hand is not bothering him but it will need to get stronger.

Ian Gold watched part of the Bears morning practice. Despite the fact that Gold is coming off a severe knee injury that could force him to miss the start of the season, the Bears are interested in adding the linebacker.

"We're trying to improve the team any way we can," Smith said. "Ian has been a great player in the league. As a linebacker coach at Tampa, I really liked him an awful lot. I've watched his career. He's one of the better linebackers in the league I think. Would we like to have him be a part of this crew? Yes, we would, and that has nothing to do with the guys we have. We like our players. We're just trying to improve all the positions and he would improve us."

A Pro Bowler on special teams in 2001, Gold also started for two seasons at weakside linebacker before suffering an ACL injury that cut his 2003 campaign short. The possible addition would mean Lance Briggs would stay at the strongside, because at 6-feet, 223 pounds Gold is well suited to play the weakside in Lovie Smith's scheme.

The Bears signed QB Zak Kustok and DL Dan Rumishek to two-year contracts today. Terms of the deals were not disclosed.

Kustok signed with the Miami Dolphins as an undrafted free agent out of Northwestern on April 25, 2002, was waived Aug. 26, 2002 before signing with the Green Bay Packers on Feb. 7, 2003. The 6-1, 215 pounder was waived by the Packers on June 17, 2003 and was out of football during the 2003 season.

Rumishek, a 6-3 1/2, 285 pounder out of Michigan, signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers as an undrafted free agent following the 2003 NFL Draft (5/2/03) and was placed on the waived/injured list (ankle) Aug. 11, 2003. The Addison, Ill., native was moved to Injured Reserve (8/26/03) then waived (10/13/03).

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