Training Camp Report: Day 14

With the preseason opener scheduled for Saturday in Buffalo, Thursday's action was little more than a half-speed walkthrough. Instead of a daily practice recap, let's make some general conclusions so far. Bear Report had a front-row seat at Chicago Bears training camp and made these observations ...

Pick Six
After being subjected to a lesser-of-two-evils quarterback battle between Kyle Orton and Rex Grossman this past year, Bears fans have every reason to be excited about the Jay Cutler experience based on what we've witnessed first hand in Bourbonnais. While he's not a big fan of interviews or autographs, he has a cannon for a right arm, is much more accurate than most people realize and can move quite well both in and out of the pocket. Assuming offensive coordinator Ron Turner caters to Cutler's many strengths when calling the plays, the Bears are going to score more points this season and take some of the pressure off the defense and special teams. As far as the backups are concerned, the coaching staff continues to express confidence in Caleb Hanie even though he's been average at best so far. Brett Basanez didn't look like much of an NFL passer during OTAs, but he's improved over the course of the last week and appears to have secured a roster spot. ...

Without Charles Tillman and Zack Bowman at the two cornerback positions, the coverage in the secondary simply isn't going to be all it can be. Yes, Nathan Vasher is as healthy as he's ever been and wants to get back to being the player that was voted to the Pro Bowl in 2005, but he hasn't made many plays defensively and still may be in jeopardy of losing his starting job to Bowman once the second-year pro returns from his strained hamstring. Corey Graham seems to have regressed to some degree after being jerked around from corner to safety to nickel throughout the offseason, and undrafted free agent Woodny Turenne has unquestionably outplayed fourth rounder D.J. Moore almost every day. ...

The receiving corps was a major question mark before the Bears arrived at Olivet Nazarene University, and deservedly so, but both Devin Hester and Earl Bennett look comfortable in the starting lineup and have performed well more often than not in workouts. Since there isn't a big wideout on the roster with a lot of game experience at this point, Brandon Rideau and Devin Aromashodu have each made a run at regular playing time and seem to have earned Cutler's trust already. Between rookies Juaquin Iglesias and Johnny Knox, it was Knox who was impressive the first week but Iglesias who has opened more eyes the second week. ...

Although Nick Roach has gotten his share of first-team reps and Jamar Williams is apparently still in the running, Pisa Tinoisamoa will eventually be the starter at strong-side linebacker and should be a noticeable upgrade over what Roach and Hunter Hillenmeyer did a season ago. Hillenmeyer isn't a lock to make the 53-man roster by any stretch of the imagination, although he's been helped by the fact that fifth-round draft pick Marcus Freeman has done almost nothing to get noticed thus far. Lance Briggs has made the last four Pro Bowls and looks to be on his way to a fifth, and Brian Urlacher is moving around better than he has in quite some time and might be primed for a bounce-back performance. ...

Hester might not be the punt returner very long.
Getty Images: Jonathan Daniel

Many experts assumed Josh Beekman was a candidate to be moved out of the starting lineup at left guard in favor of free agent signee Frank Omiyale, but apparently Omiyale's transition inside isn't going as smoothly as the franchise had hoped and Beekman may stay atop the depth chart. Future Hall of Fame left tackle Orlando Pace, like Urlacher, says he is healthier than he's been in a while and appears to have plenty of gas in the tank, while Chris Williams seems to be fitting in reasonably well at right tackle. Kevin Shaffer, yet another free agent pickup, can play either tackle spot and will be one of the more experienced backups in the league this season. ...

As far as special teams are concerned, it may be time to worry about speedster Danieal Manning having too much on his plate right now, as he's the free safety, nickel back and kickoff returner but probably won't play Saturday because of a recurring hamstring issue. Hester hasn't been overly enthusiastic when talking about being the punt returner in addition to his duties as the No. 1 receiver, so don't be shocked if he's pulled from special teams altogether if he struggles as badly as he did early on last year. The three specialists, Pro Bowl kicker Robbie Gould, veteran punter Brad Maynard and steady long snapper Patrick Mannelly, are still as reliable as any trio in football, although Mannelly is dealing with a bum hip and will likely step aside in favor of recent addition J.J. Milan for the preseason opener.

Injury Report
Tillman put on a helmet for the first time Thursday and did some backpedaling drills on the sideline, but he's still a way's away from getting back on the field. Bowman was seen having his right hamstring wrapped, so he's no threat to suit up Saturday against the Bills either. Manning needs to return to action quickly because he's spinning so many plates this season. Mannelly's injury isn't considered serious, and he can snap the ball between his legs in his sleep by now anyway. Greg Olsen surprisingly didn't participate, as he's now dealing with a bruised hip after falling on it the day before – he may be an observer in Buffalo, too.

Stud of the Day
Thursday's award winner needs to have an asterisk next to his name since even 11-on-11 drills were only run at about three-quarters speed, but Moore did pick off two passes and got his hands on a third.

Dud of the Day
While Maynard said casually that catching a snap from Milan is a lot different than being on the receiving end from Mannelly, mostly because the newcomer's spiral isn't as tight, it shouldn't make any discernable difference Saturday on special teams.

Quote to Note
"Looking forward to it. Just like I'm talking about with the players, it's a little different calling it out here. We're going to be pretty basic, though. You guys know our track record as far as preseason games. We're going to be as basic as possible, let our guys play. Hopefully they don't do a lot of thinking, they're just able to react and show us what they can do." – Coach Lovie Smith on calling the defense Saturday for the first time since 2003.

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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 and become a Chicago Bears insider.

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