Even though it was the hottest day of the year in Chicago and quite muggy for a noon practice, the Monsters of the Midway were thrilled to be back at Soldier Field for the first time since this past December for Family Day.
Before an impressive crowd of 27,793, coach Lovie Smith put his team through an abbreviated practice session because of the scorching temperatures outside, doing everything from positional drills to special teams and 7-on-7 to 11-on-11. This was also the first time new quarterback Jay Cutler got introduced to the Soldier Field faithful, as the rocket-armed signal caller jogged through the tunnel last and was greeted with the biggest cheer of the day. "Cuts Like a Knife" by Bryan Adams blared over the speaker system.
At this time next week, Chicago will be in Buffalo getting ready for the first preseason game against former Bears coach Dick Jauron and the Bills.
"Any time you get a chance to come down to Soldier Field and practice is good for our team," Smith said. "It's a little different than being down in Bourbonnais. I thought we were able to get some good work done. I thought it was big for Jay to get down here and see exactly what it feels like to play on his home turf. … It's just another step as we get prepared for this season, especially getting ready for Buffalo."
Cutler completed 21 of 27 passes on the day, only 7 of 11 in 7-on-7 action but an impressive 14 of 16 in 11-on-11 work. Brandon Rideau continues to be Cutler's favorite target lately down the field, reeling in yet another deep ball along the right sideline after three long-distance receptions Friday afternoon in Bourbonnais. During the two-minute drill, Cutler hit Devin Hester on a fade route down the right sideline for a big gainer, completed back-to-back check-down passes to Greg Olsen and Matt Forte and then settled for a 48-yard field goal from Robbie Gould.
While many of the experts wonder whether or not the Midway Monsters have enough firepower on offense to help ensure Cutler's success, the former Bronco likes what he sees in camp so far.
"I think we got a lot of things accomplished as far as this week," said Cutler. "We put in probably 90-95 percent of the offense. The receivers played well. We had some guys step up in that department. I think the O-line is coming together. They're jelling, so we're heading in the right direction."
Defensively, questions continue to linger with regard to Tommie Harris, who did not participate Saturday and also sat out Friday's workout in Bourbonnais. But the linebackers are terrific, with free agent addition Pisa Tinoisamoa expected to join Pro Bowlers Lance Briggs and Brian Urlacher in the starting lineup. And even though there have been some injuries at cornerback that challenged the depth chart, the safety position may be better than expected.
Smith will be the one calling the signals this season, taking away those duties from defensive coordinator – at least in name – Bob Babich.
"We like our defensive line," Smith said. "We have good players there. We should be able to get a good rotation. We're as strong at linebacker as we've ever been. Our secondary needs to pick it up. We like our play from our safeties. Our corner play has to pick it up a little bit with two of our top guys (Charles Tillman and Zack Bowman) down."
There have been some pleasant surprises thus far in Bourbonnais on both sides of the football. Rideau has made a splash and should be a big part of the offense even though he's never made an NFL catch. Cutler said he likes what Devin Aromashodu brings to the table, too. In the secondary, Bowman looks like a breakout star at corner and could move former Pro Bowler Nathan Vasher to the bench assuming Tillman returns from back surgery good as new.
Bowman suited up Saturday after missing the last few days with a strained hamstring, although he didn't get any reps in either 7-on-7 or 11-on-11.
"He's getting better," said Smith when asked about Bowman. "I think you saw him on the sideline getting a little bit of work. We'll just bring him along. We'll take our time, of course, with the hamstring, but with some time he should be back."
Following their eighth consecutive workout in full pads, the Bears have earned a day of rest Sunday before picking it up again Monday back in Bourbonnais.
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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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