OTAs Report: May 20

If you're a fan of the Chicago Bears, a new era has begun. While it was only the first day of OTAs, Jay Cutler looked like the real deal at quarterback and is going to be really exciting in the Windy City this season. Bear Report had a front-row seat for all of the action and made these observations ...

Pick Six
Backup quarterbacks Caleb Hanie and Brett Basanez are good kids and good caddies, to borrow a line from Lou in Caddyshack, but Wednesday's workout was all about the Chicago media getting to see Jay Cutler operate under center in a Bears uniform for the first time. What you notice about Cutler right away is the moxie he exudes in his body language – he's good and he knows it, which isn't necessarily a bad thing at the game's most important position. What you also notice is the fact that he's not totally comfortable with the offense, as he and his receivers got mixed up on routes on more than one occasion and he took his sweet time making up his mind where to go with the ball on a few others. As for the numbers, the former first-round draft pick was 8-of-12 during 7-on-7 drills and 12-of-17 in 11-on-11, and it's also clear the coaching staff is going to give him all the reps he can handle before heading to Bourbonnais for training camp. The football explodes out of his hand and tends to be tilted downward throughout its flight pattern, especially on intermediate-range throws. ...

There was a lot of news to share in the secondary, especially with Charles Tillman and Trumaine McBride both unable to participate at full speed as they recover from last year's injuries. Nathan Vasher started with the first team at his usual right cornerback position, which was to be expected, but he was joined in the starting lineup on the other side by Zack Bowman, who was supposedly in line to get some snaps at safety. Instead, it was Corey Graham seeing time at safety with the second team alongside free-agent signee Josh Bullocks. Kevin Payne started at strong safety with the first team, while Craig Steltz was the starting free safety. Danieal Manning was running with the ones and the twos at nickel back, as it appears his career in Chicago at safety has officially drawn to a close. ...

The Bears made a minor splash last week with the addition of free-agent tight end Michael Gaines, a blocking specialist most recently of the NFC North rival Lions. Gaines isn't going to catch very many passes if he makes the team, especially with Desmond Clark and Greg Olsen ahead of him on the depth chart, but he should make 2008 fifth-round pick Kellen Davis quite uncomfortable around Halas Hall. Davis was not able to develop into the short-yardage and goal-line option offensive coordinator Ron Turner was looking for after losing veteran John Gilmore in free agency a year ago, even though the former Michigan State Spartan is nearly 6-7 and a sturdy 262 pounds. At 6-4 and 277, Gaines is a little shorter and stockier than the other tight ends on the roster, and it's possible he could even line up at fullback from time to time. But if Chicago decides to keep four running backs yet again this year, it will be that much harder to find room for a fourth tight end on the 53-man roster. ...

In addition to his duties at nickel back, Manning is once again the primary kick returner – he should be since he led the NFL in kick-return average and also scored a TD after taking over for Devin Hester midway through 2008. Manning was backed up on the first team by Garrett Wolfe, with a pair of rookies, third-rounder Juaquin Iglesias and fifth-rounder Johnny Knox, sharing return responsibilities with the second and third team. Look for the return game to be even more wide open this season, as the league has done away with wedge blocking for the return team and, therefore, wedge busting for the coverage team. Your standard middle wedge, return right, and return left will most likely feature more zone-blocking assignments than in years past. It's all in an effort to keep the players safe in the wake of the Kevin Everett injury two years ago, but it should also make special teams more exciting as a result. ...

As far as the receiving corps is concerned, Hester and second-year pro Earl Bennett got the majority of the reps with the first team, although Olsen was also operating in a wideout-type capacity frequently. Rashied Davis was back in his role as the slot guy in three-wide sets, where he has experienced most of his success on Sunday, but he was splitting out wide from time to time with the second unit. While annual training camp hero Brandon Rideau got some snaps with the first-team offense, rookies Iglesias and Knox worked with the second team exclusively. During positional drills, Cutler played pitch-and-catch with Hester and Bennett more often than not. But when it was time for 7-on-7 or 11-on-11, Cutler was looking Olsen's way with regularity. ...

There is no reason to suggest that the Midway Monsters won't have one of the better special-teams units in all of football again. Manning can be explosive returning kickoffs, helping tremendously in the field-position game. Hester may not be six points waiting to happen returning punts anymore, but he's still got the intimidation factor working for him even after a subpar 2008. Wolfe and Adrian Peterson justify their roster spots by being demons on punt and kick coverage, where they are ably assisted by the likes Davis, Graham, and Jamar Williams. And then Robbie Gould displayed some serious leg strength Wednesday, splitting the uprights with room to spare from 53 and 58 yards while narrowly missing from 63 – wind-aided, of course.


Cutler displayed rare arm strength and Pro Bowl moxie on his first day of OTAs as a Bear.
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Injury Report
Several players did not participate fully in Wednesday's workout for one reason or another, mostly because they're still returning to full strength after offseason surgical procedures. Clark, Tommie Harris, Marcus Harrison, and Hunter Hillenmeyer were nothing more than observers, while McBride and Tillman did some minor position work but skipped out on full-squad activities. There were no new injuries to report from the practice field.

Stud of the Day
Far from a household name, undrafted rookie free agent Woodny Turenne had a very good day in coverage form his right corner position. The one-time Louisville Cardinal came up with one of the two interceptions recorded by the defense, picking off Hanie near the sideline on a throw intended for Iglesias. Later, Turenne was credited with a pass defensed by getting his hands on a ball delivered by Basanez.

Dud of the Day
Seventh-round draft pick Derek Kinder wasn't nearly as impressive as either Iglesias or Knox during rookie minicamp a few weeks ago, and the former Pittsburgh Panther was even more out of place during OTAs with the veterans on the field. Kinder dropped three balls in a relatively short period of time during positional drills – he was the only pass catcher to have more than one. The organization gave up on a seventh-round receiver pretty quickly last year, Marcus Monk from Arkansas, so Kinder better step it up a notch in a hurry.

Quote to Note
"Similar. Really similar. I think Lovie [Smith] and Mike [Shanahan] both kind of have similar coaching styles. They kind of let the players dictate a lot of things. You've obviously got to come out and get your work done. But he's not going to grind you in May and June, which makes a lot of sense." – QB Jay Cutler on the similarities and differences in OTA workouts between Denver and Chicago.


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John Crist is the Publisher of Bear Report 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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