Training Camp Report: Day 8

The passing offense has been a highlight of training camp thus far, but that came to a screeching halt on Friday night. Under the lights at Ward Field, Rex Grossman, Brian Griese, and Kyle Orton all had a rough day in the air as the defense stepped up and made all the plays. BearReport.com had a front-row seat for all the action at Olivet Nazarene University and filed this report.

BLIPS, BLURBS & BLASTS
It was another two-a-day on Friday, although the morning mini-practice is moved up and cut short because temperatures are expected to reach 90 degrees once again in Bourbonnais. The list of players missing the morning session is quite lengthy: linebacker Lance Briggs, offensive tackle John Tait, linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer, receiver Muhsin Muhammad, defensive end Dan Bazuin, receiver Devin Hester, defensive end Alex Brown, safety Mike Brown, tight end Fontel Mines, fullback Jon Goldsberry, tailback Garrett Wolfe, and defensive tackle Antonio Garay. Wolfe and Garay break off by themselves and do some light drills while special teams practice is going on, so both of them seem closer to full strength. Hillenmeyer is simply under the weather today and will most likely be back on Saturday. Briggs, Tait, Hester, and both Browns take part in the evening practice and appear to be just fine ...

For the first time, NFL referees are on hand during practice making a few calls on the field and chatting with players about some of the rules changes. Cornerbacks Charles Tillman and Nathan Vasher spend a little extra time with one official trying to decipher what exactly they can get away with when covering a receiver downfield. Tillman in particular is very interested in what this referee has to say, probably because he's one of the bigger corners in the league and needs to use his size and strength to get the job done ...

It's possible that the Danieal Manning experiment at cornerback could be over for the time being. With both Tillman and Vasher now signed to long-term contracts, there is little need to teach Manning how to play the position because the team theoretically won't be looking for someone to take over in the starting lineup there any time soon. The trade of Chris Harris to Carolina on Thursday further cemented Manning as the No. 3 safety in the rotation behind Mike Brown and Adam Archuleta, but he's too good of an athlete to sit on the sideline and will get his share of playing time ...

With Hillenmeyer missing both practices on Saturday, rookie Michael Okwo is getting a long look with the first team on the strong side. Okwo was originally drafted because he had the look of a prototypical Cover 2 weakside linebacker, but the team is already set there with Briggs as the starter and Jamar Williams waiting in the wings. Okwo made just about every tackle if you look at film of Stanford's defense last season, but head coach Lovie Smith reiterated after practice that Hillenmeyer is his starter at strongside no matter what. Still, it's interesting to note that Williams and Brendon Ayanbadejo get pretty much all of their action with the twos today. Perhaps Okwo is just getting an extended look so the coaching staff can see what they have ...

Mark Bradley really looked good the first few days of camp and was perhaps the best receiver on the field, but Bernard Berrian has stepped up his game the last several practices and is staking his claim as the top target in this passing attack. Not only has he been blowing by every cornerback on the roster with relative ease on deep passes, but he's also cutting on a dime and has no problem making tough catches over the middle in traffic. He rips one away from middle linebacker Brian Urlacher halfway through practice tonight that leaves the All-Pro with a dumbfounded look on his face ...

Hester's hamstring must be feeling better because he just ran a blur of an out-and-up pattern and got Manning to bite from his safety position. Tillman, however, isn't fooled and never lets Hester get behind him. Quarterback Rex Grossman overthrows the pass, where Tillman is waiting for it and comes up with a tumbling interception 60 yards down the field ...

Kyle Orton takes over under center, but the results are pretty much the same for the offense. Rookie safety Kevin Payne makes his biggest play of training camp so far stepping in front of Orton's sideline throw and coming up with an interception of his own. Payne will now get more of a chance to play with the second unit on defense since Harris was shipped off to Carolina, but special teams coach Dave Toub has been raving about his play on the coverage units already ...

Grossman is back in the huddle with the first-team offense, but Friday night does not appear to be his night. Trying to hit Berrian on a deep-in route over the middle, Mike Brown picks him off and sprints all the way to the end zone for six points to the delight of the thousands of fans on hand this evening. Brown has taken a little time off during camp to make sure that he is properly rested, but he looks like his old self on the field more often that not and just needs to stay healthy in order to regain his Pro-Bowl form ...

If you need some more evidence that Mike Brown looks like his old self again, he just showed it right there. Receiver Rashied Davis fakes out Tillman with a double move down the right sideline, and Grossman takes advantage by delivering a perfect strike for a long-gainer. Brown proceeds to pop Davis pretty good shortly after he makes the catch, knocking him to the ground and taking out a little frustration in the process ...

Friday night's practice concludes with the two-minute drill, one try each for both the first- and second-team offense. Grossman can't get anything started and actually turns the ball over on downs. Backup Brian Griese has the second unit on the move, mostly because receiver Mike Hass is once again finding a way to get open and catching everything in his zip code. But on the final snap of the evening, linebacker Rod Wilson steps in front of Griese's attempt over the middle and intercepts yet another pass for the defense. That's a total of five INTs on the night, including a dubious hat trick for Grossman.

DT Tommie Harris (Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

NOTABLE QUOTABLES
Head coach Lovie Smith
On what he's seen out of receiver Mike Hass so far in training camp:
"Mike's a good player. He had a great college career. He can catch the football, knows how to run the routes. He's been around here a long time. He's getting an opportunity. When you have player go down like [Muhsin Muhammad] you give some other young players an opportunity, and Mike's making the most of it."

On the progress Brandon McGowan is making at safety coming back from injury:
"A good player. He's getting a chance to play with talent, and we expect him to make plays. Brandon has been a good football player when he's been healthy, so that allowed us a chance to really let Chris [Harris] go to Carolina based on the play of the safeties."

On rookie Michael Okwo starting in place of Hunter Hillenmeyer tonight:
"Mike is exactly what we're looking for at linebacker. Good ability, good hips, good quickness, good speed. When a player like Hunter has to take a little bit of time off, it's good to see him play. He had a chance to play with the ones today, and I thought he did a good job tonight. And he's done a good job in camp catching up. He missed most of the OTAs, and he's catching up quickly."

John Crist is the Editor in Chief of BearReport.com and a member of the Professional Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.

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