Training Camp Report: Day 21

It was the final prime time training camp practice for the Bears on Thursday night, and the stars came out to shine at Ward Field. Rex Grossman completed not one but two long bombs, Brian Urlacher put his coverage skills on display, and Devin Hester was his usual sensational self. BearReport.com had a front-row seat for all the action at Olivet Nazarene University and filed this report.

BLIPS, BLURBS & BLASTS
The Bears have been remarkably healthy throughout training camp, but four players are sitting out Thursday night's workout: offensive tackle Fred Miller, offensive guard Ruben Brown, cornerback Trumaine McBride, and receiver Mark Bradley. Miller and Brown are just being given a veteran's day off, while McBride has been bothered by a sore toe and Bradley's left knee is still giving him problems. Fullback Jason McKie sits out the second half of practice, which means Obafemi Ayanbadejo gets a lot of time with the first team ...

The playbook has been gently opening wider and wider over the course of the last few weeks, but there's a call we've never seen before. As the first-team offense is running plays at about three-quarter speed against a shadow defense, quarterback Rex Grossman fakes a handoff to tailback Cedric Benson up the middle before giving the ball to receiver Bernard Berrian on an end-around. Fellow receiver Devin Hester then takes a handoff from Berrian to complete the end-around-reverse, which could either go for a 10-yard loss or a 50-yard touchdown depending on whether or not the opposing defensive ends hold their containment ...

Speaking of Hester, the capacity crowd in attendance simply goes bananas every time he gets anywhere near the football. This is especially true on special teams. During kick return drills, Hester fields the ball near his own goal line and weaves his way through the entire coverage unit before putting a juke on kicker Nick Novak on his way to the end zone. The fans go berserk as No. 23 makes it look so easy, but don't they realize that the coverage team is not really making an effort to stop him? They apparently feel that he can take it to the house every single time, but anyone who's expecting Hester to have another six touchdowns in the return game is simply being unreasonable. He had a season for the ages in 2006, so let's not lose our heads here ...

There's a young man on the sideline watching practice tonight as an invited guest of someone, and he can't be more than seven or eight years old. Right after positional drills are over, quarterback Kyle Orton comes over to introduce himself to the boy and his father. Shortly thereafter, fellow quarterback Brian Griese does the same. You should have seen the look on this kid's face. I'm around professional football players on a daily basis and have learned over the years that they're just regular people like you and I, but it was sort of sweet to see how this youngster reacted when he got a chance to shake hands with two of his heroes ...

Now in the not-so-sweet category, I happen to be standing next to Novak's family during the first half of practice. Now since Novak has absolutely no chance to make this team with Robbie Gould coming off an All-Pro season, Team Novak has to be hoping for some sort of miracle right about now – or a little help from Tanya Harding apparently. At one point, Grandma Novak says aloud, "We need Gould to step in a hole." And she wasn't kidding. Be sure to keep your lead pipes under lock and key ...

Offensive tackle Steven Vieira, who just got to Bourbonnais on Wednesday after seventh-round pick Aaron Brant was waived/injured, isn't making a good first impression. He is guilty of a false start in 9-on-9 drills, something that will not endear himself to his new coaching staff very quickly. This team is probably only going to keep eight offensive linemen, so the best he can hope for legitimately is a shot at the practice squad ...

Grossman really seems to be whipping the ball all over the field tonight, even more than usual. He's having a pretty good night in 7-on-7 action, and almost all of his incompletions are the result of great plays by the defense. The former Gator hits on 7-of-11, including a gorgeous throw to receiver Mike Hass on a skinny post from the left and a bomb to Hester down the left sideline that had to have traveled 65 yards in the air. Hester gets behind both cornerback Nathan Vasher and safety Mike Brown to make the catch right about the goal line, then promptly spins the ball in the end zone to the delight of everyone in the stands. He wasn't even really open on the play, but he was fast enough to cruise by two Pro-Bowl defenders and Grossman's pass was nothing short of perfect ...

However, the defense also has its share of highlights during 7-on-7. Safety Adam Archuleta may not be a great player in coverage, but he makes a good play right there by ripping a pass away from tight end Greg Olsen on a drag route over the middle to force an incompletion. Linebacker Brian Urlacher can cover the middle of the field better than anyone at his position, as evidenced by a leaping deflection of a throw down the seam to Berrian. On the very next snap, linebacker Lance Briggs comes from behind to knock down a dump pass that McKie has in his grasp only for a moment. There is a ton of energy on both sides of the ball tonight, much more than the last two practices or so ...

Grossman and the starting offense will have one chance to put points on the board in the two-minute drill. Starting at about his own 35-yard line, Grossman doesn't get overly greedy and simply takes what the defense gives him: a drag to tight end Desmond Clark over the middle, Clark again on a hook, Clark a third time on a hitch, tailback Adrian Peterson on a hook out of the backfield in the shotgun. With the ball at the enemy's 36-yard line and only 18 seconds left on the game clock, Grossman finds receiver Rashied Davis on a touch pass down the left sideline for a gain of about 30 yards. Gould trots onto the field to attempt a chip-shot game-winning field goal. It's good – Bears win ...

Griese takes over under center for his crack at the two-minute offense, but the drive comes to a screeching half after just one snap. Linebacker Jamar Williams steps in front of a pass intended for Olsen in the right flat for an easy interception and a would-be touchdown of about 60 yards. Williams has had an excellent camp from start to finish, seeing lots of time at all three linebacker positions and leading the team with four INTs during live action. Griese, on the other hand, continues to complete passes to players wearing the wrong color jersey way too often. But remember he wasn't especially sharp in training camp last year, yet he played lights-out in the preseason.

FYI: Friday's practice will be the last of training camp for fans and media, although the team will have a walk-through on Saturday ahead of Monday night's exhibition game against the Indianapolis Colts.

(Bob Levey/Getty Images)

NOTABLE QUOTABLES
Head coach Lovie Smith
On if the players start to get anxious toward the end of camp:
"Oh, they know exactly how many days we have down in Bourbonnais, and we're all excited about ending camp. We've been down here a long time, but we still have work to do. And they came out tonight and followed through, and I thought this was one of our better practices."

On Rex Grossman completing deep balls to Devin Hester and Bernard Berrian:
"Well, that's what the fans love. They love to see us throw the ball deep. I like seeing the ball thrown deep. On the other side, of course, defensively we can't give up those type of deep plays. But Bernard and Devin Hester are going to score a lot of points as I see it this year. Both are definitely deep threats that can do a lot with the football."

On if it's harder to keep the players focused this late in camp:
"Well, I'm going to say that every day. You want the players to come out and be disciplined, take care of your responsibility. But it's harder sometimes when you know that there's only a few days left. But when you're a veteran team and you know you have a job to do, you're supposed to come out here even with a couple days left. And that's exactly what the players did."

On if he has had any pleasant surprises during camp so far:
"Well, we expected to have a good camp. I know we have good players. We're a good football team. We had the core of our team back. I'll just say it's always good to see some of the players you don't know about, and I'm talking more about the rookies. And it's been fun to watch them grow, and we have a few of them that could help us this year."

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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