Mini Camp Report: Friday

The rookies got a chance to strut their stuff at their mini camp two weeks ago, but now it's time for the veterans to start rounding into shape again. The Bears have endured a lot of changes and a fair share of controversy this offseason, but the preparation for a run at Super Bowl XLII starts now. BearReport.com had a front-row seat at Halas Hall and got to see all the action up close.

  • As expected, Lance Briggs is nowhere to be found. Head coach Lovie Smith said he talked to Briggs the other day and wasn't exactly surprised by his non-appearance this weekend. Smith stands by the fact that his Pro Bowl weakside linebacker will eventually cave and wear a Bears uniform this season simply because NFL history is on his side. "History tells me that guys will occasionally miss mini camp," he said in the media room after practice. "History will tell you that they're sometimes late for training camp. Some maybe miss training camp. History tells me that players don't miss an entire football season."

  • On the injury front, several players will not be able to participate in drills this weekend. Defensive tackle Tommie Harris is making progress after last season's torn hamstring, but he'll have to wait until training camp before he can get back out on the field. Somewhat unexpectedly, both cornerback Charles Tillman and offensive tackle John Tait are also being held out of mini camp. Tillman had a minor procedure on his back not too long ago and isn't quite ready yet, and Tait had an operation on his ankle that will prevent him from suiting up. Safety Brandon McGowan is still dealing with last year's Achilles' tear, so he better heal up in a hurry considering all the competition out there at the safety position. Safety Mike Brown, on the other hand, was back in action – almost exclusively back at free safety, by the way – and looked to be his rambunctious self again.

  • Three members of the 2007 draft class are also absent from Lake Forest this weekend, however, it was not because of injuries. Tight end Greg Olsen and running back Garrett Wolfe were ordered to Los Angeles by the NFL for a trading card photo shoot, and linebacker Michael Okwo is taking classes at Stanford in order to finish up his degree. At least they got a chance to show what they can do a little bit at rookie mini camp, although Coach Smith admitted after practice that it would have been nice to have them here now.

  • In the personal hygiene department, quarterback Kyle Orton has apparently found his razor this offseason and finally shaved away that hideous beard he was sporting last year. Perhaps he's come to grips with the fact that he has to get serious about football again because undrafted free agent Chris Leak looked pretty good at rookie training camp, plus J.T. O'Sullivan is the highest-rated passer in NFL Europa right now. Seriously, Orton appeared to be auditioning for a role as one of the cavement from those Geico commercials for a while there.

  • Needless to say, the biggest news of the week revolves around Devin Hester being moved from defense to offense this coming season. He worked exclusively with the wide receivers on Friday, although there has been some speculation that he could line up in the backfield as a running back from time to time. I watched him very closely the entire practice, and although he needs a little work in terms of his route-running, he caught everything thrown his way and showcased his explosive speed on more than one occasion. When asked why the move was made, Coach Smith had the line of the day: "He didn't get a chance to do that Chunky [soup] commercial based on backpedaling."

  • All-Pro kicker Robbie Gould is back to his playful self, spending half of practice fielding punts and making threats to tight end Desmond Clark that he would have lit him up if he were in coverage. The specialists are usually done with their practice routine before the other players even hit the field, so they're always looking for new ways to entertain themselves. Gould is just a fun-loving guy and finds new ways to make himself laugh every day.

  • The defensive backfield could have a decidedly different look in 2007, highlighted by the fact that Brown appears to be moving back to free safety as mentioned earlier. Chris Harris is running with the first team at strong safety, while new acquisition Adam Archuleta is a part of the second unit. As expected, Danieal Manning is spending most of his time at cornerback after starting 17 games at free safety as a rookie, but he plays some safety as well and could be used in somewhat of a utility role. He also has the defensive gem of the day with an interception of quarterback Rex Grossman on a post route intended for wide receiver Bernard Berrian. Ricky Manning Jr. is starting at left corner in place of Tillman, which means that Harris takes his place in the nickel package.

  • There may be three punters on the roster right now, but veteran Brad Maynard is already in midseason form. He has been booming the ball all day long, while fresh face Filip Filipovic is wildly inconsistent to say the least. I saw enough of Joel Stelly this past training camp to know that he is also all over the place, so Maynard is enjoying Brian Urlacher-like job security these days.

  • At the linebacker position, Urlacher is obviously the man in the middle and currently being flanked by returning starter Hunter Hillenmeyer on the strong side and second-year pro Jamar Williams on the weak side. The coaching staff has been speaking highly of Williams the entire offseason, so he'll be first in line to replace Briggs ahead of the rookie Okwo. On the second unit, Rod Wilson is the Mike, Brendon Ayanbadejo is the Sam, and Darrell McClover is the Will. Veteran Leon Joe appears to be getting most of his snaps at weakside `backer as well, but I think his spot on this roster is in serious jeopardy. He's been a good special teams player in the past, but that might not be enough to save his hide.

  • If you want a sneak peek at what offensive coordinator Ron Turner has up his sleeve this season, I just saw one play that might interest you. Hester is split out wide to the right in a normal pro set and goes in motion before the snap. He comes flying toward the backfield for what appears to be an end-around, but Grossman simply fakes the exchange because he had already handed the ball off to Cedric Benson up the middle. The linebackers freeze just a little bit because of the threat of Hester, and Benson capitalizes with a vicious side step at the line of scrimmage and explodes through the secondary for a big-gainer. The fake end-around wouldn't have been that big a deal had it been Berrian or Bradley, but Hester's presence creates a palpable fear factor for opposing defenses.

Chris Harris (46) gets loose before practice with the rest of the defensive backs

RB Cedric Benson
On his reaction to Thomas Jones being traded in the offseason:
"I mean, it was kind of expected. I wasn't unaware that it would happen. Didn't know for sure if it would or not, but I figured it might. It really didn't mean too much to me because I believe had I not got hurt last season, things would have been a little different in camp."

QB Rex Grossman
On the overall performance of the offense the first day of mini camp:
"We did pretty well, and I think that's [an] indication that we had a lot of veteran guys that have been in this system and they're developing and growing into it, so there's not a whole lot of learning process. We've been working hard all offseason timing up the routes and things, so we're exciting about our first day and next year."

WR Devin Hester
On the difference between catching a pass and catching a punt:
"Catching a pass is easier than catching a punt. It's the hang time of the ball. The ball is just coming straight to you [on a pass]. I say playing in Chicago, you have that time of the season where there's a lot of wind. A lot of time when the ball is hanging up there playing with the wind, so I say catching the ball from a quarterback is easier."

DT Tank Johnson
On his meeting with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell on Wednesday:
"I think the most important thing about my meeting with Mr. Goodell was for him to get to know my personality, and in the process, me get to understand his intentions. And I feel like he and I had a very, very good conversation, and he got to know what type of man I am and some of my values, and I got to know his expecatations and his direction he wants to take this league in."

Head coach Lovie Smith
On whether Daniel Manning will be moved permanently from safety to corner:
"Permanent? I wouldn't say permanent right now. Danieal is a versatile athlete. He can do a lot of things. Right now as much as anything in the offseason, you want to take a look at players at different positions. He could easily be our most skilled defensive back, so we just want to look at him at a couple of different spots and go from there. He did a good job at the corner position. Of course, we know he is an excellent safety."

John Crist is the Publisher of Bear Report and Editor in Chief of BearReport.com. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.

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