Let's get physical

LAKE FOREST -- Toward the end of the morning Saturday session players were in a jovial mood on the field. However all kidding stopped when Marty Booker went down following a jarring hit by Todd Johnson.

Booker, who limped noticeably on Friday, got the wind knocked out of him when he went up for a Jonathan Quinn pass over the middle. Johnson drilled Booker and both players went to the ground, but the receiver definitely got the worst of the hit.

"They're just trying to hurt me. I don't know what it is. My whole body's hurting," Booker said. "I'm just trying to get through this and make sure I'm healthy for the other mini-camps and training camp. I thought you take it easy on the vets but it's a different demeanor around here. They don't care so you just got to fight back. I can get aggressive too. It goes both ways."

Head coach Lovie Smith said he doesn't mind the physical play among teammates, which is a far cry from the Dick Jauron era when practices were considered non-contact.

"Things like that are going to happen," Smith said. "Two guys going for the ball. They both got up. No that didn't bother me at all, really. We hope nothing serious happens, but it's a contact sport. Things are going to happen like that. We want them going fast. When guys sometimes go a little harder than they should we'll tell about it then. Overall that is the tempo we want to have."

The idea of aggressiveness is refreshing to the players that have been marred in losing the past two seasons. The coaching staff has quickly breathed life back into a team that

"Close to the end of last year, everybody's demeanor was let's just hurry up and get this over with and right now that we have a fresh start and the new coaching staff brings excitement to this team," Booker said. "Everybody's geared up and ready to go and ready for a change. They're stressing tempo, tempo, tempo and play fast. That's what we're trying to do and establish some good things here."

Johnson, a fourth-round pick in 2003, missed the regular season because of a broken jaw. While Bobby Gray and Mike Green are competing for the strong safety role, Johnson is a dark horse candidate that could emerge if proves he can hit the opponents as hard as he hit Booker. He returned a Desmond Clark fumble for a touchdown during a live ball drill, which is also something new that Smith and his staff have brought to Halas Hall.

"Lovie believes in it, I believe in it, it's the emphasis. All of our defensive coaches believe in it," said defensive coordinator Ron Rivera. "Hey, get used to scooping the ball up and get used to scoring. They instilled it when they were down in St. Louis, we instilled it when we were in Philadelphia, we're instilling it here."

Under Smith the Rams forced an NFL high 46 turnovers, while the Bears had just the fewest in the NFC with 20. So there is proof that adapting to Smith's philosophy can bear fruit.

"Turnovers win ball games," said safety Mike Brown, who dropped an interception and proceeded to do 10 pushups. "Any ball that's on the ground, any ball that's in the air we're trying to return for a score. That's the philosophy and we're trying to work hard every day at it."

Bobby Wade sat out practice on Saturday because of a calf injury. T Marc Colombo, TE Robert Johnson and safety Mike Green missed the entire mini-camp because of injuries.

The Bears conclude their three-day mini-camp Saturday and will continue with their off-season workout program. The next mini-camp is scheduled for April 16-18 with a third to take place following the draft April 30-May 2.


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