If you simply look at the raw numbers, it appears that Jay Cutler was razor sharp with his passes Wednesday. The Pro Bowler was 10-of-12 in 7-on-7 drills and 15-of-18 in 11-on-11 action, but most of his completions were of the checkdown variety and he kept patting the football waiting to make a decision over and over again – those are sacks in the NFL. His highlight of the day was a long strike down the seam to Greg Olsen, as Cutler waggled back to his left after a play-action fake and found his tight end wide open in the middle of the field. Backup Caleb Hanie was 12-of-17 on the afternoon, although a long completion was taken away from him when rookie Juaquin Iglesias out-jumped Zack Bowman on a fade route near the goal line but couldn't keep both feet in bounds. Third stringer Brett Basanez had a nice practice with a 9-of-11 stat line, including a deep crossing pattern to rookie Johnny Knox after scrambling to his right out of the pocket. ...
Charles Tillman had been limited to positional drills during the offseason program thus far, but he was back at his usual left cornerback position Wednesday and looks like the player Bears fans have come to know over the years. On the very first play of 11-on-11 practice, Kevin Jones caught an innocent swing pass out of the backfield from Cutler. However, Tillman closed on the play in a hurry and stripped the ball away from Jones, with Lance Briggs scooping it up and heading in the other direction immediately. The Chicago defensive coaches preach turnovers as much as any staff in the league, and Tillman follows through with that approach as well as any defender on the team. With Tillman back in the starting lineup opposite Nathan Vasher, Bowman dropped to the second unit opposite Trumaine McBride. ...
Brandon Rideau is still yet to catch a professional pass even though he's bounced around the NFL a bit since 2005, and this is the third year in a row he's been working with the first-team offense during the offseason with the Bears. An annual crowd pleaser at training camp and the leading receiver in the league last year during the preseason, something always seems to happen to the former Kansas Jayhawk that precludes him from making an impact on Sunday – be it injuries, ineffectiveness, or some other unknown cause. One thing he must do to secure a roster spot in '09 is prove he can get the job done on special teams, which hasn't always been the case in the past. On Wednesday, he was getting some work as a gunner on the punt team, although both Bowman and Corey Graham appear to be more instinctive downing the ball inside the 10-yard line. But Rideau is still working with the ones on offense and looks like he belongs. ...
The Monsters of the Midway are going to do everything they can to get Graham on the field consistently this coming season, and they're doing more than simply moving him from cornerback to safety. With Danieal Manning taking a veteran's day Wednesday, Graham was used as the nickel corner on both the first- and second-string defense. He is certainly big and strong enough to play in that spot, unlike Vasher, McBride, or rookie D.J. Moore. But expect Manning to be the man in that highly-specialized role again in 2009, in addition to his duties as the return man on kickoffs. Craig Steltz batted down a deep curl from Hanie intended for Devin Aromashodu in the two-minute drill, but aside from that, he hasn't made too many plays at free safety – Graham could be the starter there before it's all said and done. ...
Maybe free-agent addition Frank Omiyale hasn't overtaken Josh Beekman for the job at left guard just yet, as it was Omiyale working with the second team Wednesday while Beekman lined up with the starters. Olin Kreutz didn't do very much and only took a few snaps, but this time it was Dan Buenning spelling him at center and Beekman working exclusively at guard. Just last week, Omiyale got all the first-team reps at left guard and Beekman was getting most of his work in at center. No matter who ends up starting in Week 1, the offensive line as a whole should be better than it was a season ago, when the likes of John St. Clair and John Tait did an admirable job for a while but tired down the stretch. Compared to Orlando Pace and Chris Williams, neither St. Clair nor Tait should be missed. ...
It may have been because both Hunter Hillenmeyer and Nick Roach were watching from the sideline, but Pisa Tinoisamoa was running with the first team at strong-side linebacker. After leading St. Louis in tackles this past season but being released in a salary-cap move by new head coach Steve Spagnuolo, Tinoisamoa is expected to win the job occupied initially by Hillenmeyer and then by Roach in 2008 – the former Ram spoke last week about appreciating the fact that the starting gig wouldn't be handed to him. But there was much bigger news in the linebacking corps Wednesday, as former Defensive Player of the Year Brian Urlacher was nowhere to be found. Because head coach Lovie Smith won't address the media again until after next week's final workout of OTAs, no reason was given for Urlacher's absence. Jamar Williams got all the reps in the middle between Tinoisamoa and Briggs.
Tillman was back on the practice field Wednesday and up to his old tricks at corner again.
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Matt Forte is being held out of practice until his tweaked left hamstring is 100 percent, although he was on the field throughout stretching exercises and catching passes from running backs coach Tim Spencer. Tommie Harris went on another mini rant following practice when a certain radio program questioned Tuesday whether or not the Bears should pick up his option next year, but he's only adding fuel to his own fire by not doing any full-team work yet again Wednesday. Israel Idonije was the starter at three-technique tackle. A few of the veterans were taking the afternoon off for one reason or another – even free-agent signees Josh Bullocks and Glenn Earl. Joey LaRocque was also a spectator.
Stud of the Day
It only took one day for Tillman to establish himself once again as the best corner in the Windy City. All that talk this offseason about him moving to safety one day is proving to be a bunch of hot air. It might happen down the road if he loses a step or two, but right now he's a pretty reliable guy in coverage and knows how to force turnovers. His strip of Jones during Wednesday's workout was the latest example. Tillman possesses Pro Bowl ability but gets banged up a lot because his style is so physical.
Dud of the Day
It's a good thing Michael Gaines was signed in free agency because of his blocking. Because if general manager Jerry Angelo thinks the former Lion is a pass-catching threat, he's sorely mistaken. Gaines dropped a ball he should have caught from Hanie running down the seam in 7-on-7 action. "Running" is a term that must be used very loosely, as the 6-4, 277-pounder lumbers through his patterns and doesn't look nearly as smooth as the other tight ends on the roster. We'll have to wait until Bourbonnais to see if his blocking is as good as advertised.
Quote to Note
"You have to learn as a player how to separate the fans from the media, and that's the biggest thing. And all media are not jerks, and that's what we've got to all understand. But there's some guys out there who just talk and then never show up, or say 'I didn't say that' or off-the-record type of stuff. But everything is clear. All I have to do is play well, and then everything else is silent. The back-and-forth talk is not going to help." – DT Tommie Harris reacting to some criticism he heard on the radio recently.
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.