What We Learned: Veteran Minicamp

The Chicago Bears got a lot work done last weekend at Halas Hall, practicing five times in just three days in an effort to help digest Mike Martz's offense. What did we learn? Start with these five observations:

1. Martz's reputation appears to be 100 percent accurate
Former Bears offensive coordinator Ron Turner took a lot of heat his second time around in Chicago, mostly because his scheme lacked creativity and he was at times predictable on game day, but that will not be the case in 2010 with Mike Martz on the headset. It was incredible to witness how much Martz is asking the players to digest thus far, especially from a formation standpoint – skill-position guys are moving around all over the place and there is motion on seemingly every play – and how the receivers are running routes. We saw half a dozen different types of screens, shovel passes to both backs and wideouts and even some option stuff most offenses don't dare try because of the speed of NFL defenses.

One of the main reasons coach Lovie Smith called for five practices in just three days was to work on Martz's system as much as possible, and while the early results are promising, the danger is players being asked to do too much and they end up thinking instead of reacting on game day.

2. Peppers can't help but make the defense a lot better
General manager Jerry Angelo made headlines on the first day of free agency by signing Julius Peppers, Chester Taylor and Brandon Manumaleuna, and Peppers certainly looked to be the prize of the free-agent class throughout minicamp at Halas Hall. He's a beast of a man at 6-7 and 280 pounds, and it's remarkable to see how agile he is at that size and the quickness with which he executes his pass rush from either side of the line. Former Pro Bowlers like Brian Urlacher and Tommie Harris obviously knew Peppers was a good one and welcomed him with open arms, but it's fair to say they had no idea just how good he looks in person – not to mention the fact that he works as hard as a rookie simply hoping to secure a roster spot.

While Peppers wants to move back and forth between right and left end during the regular season, even though he flip-flopped liberally over the weekend, Smith said he still plans to have starting "right" and "left" ends by Week 1.

3. None of the draft picks stood out alongside the veterans
Angelo knew it was going to be very difficult to find impact rookies with no selections before No. 75 overall in Round 3, and it was apparent throughout minicamp that there was no first or second rounder on the field. While fans are hoping third-round pick Major Wright can step in and start at free safety, he didn't get one rep with the starters and was forced to sit and watch Danieal Manning and Chris Harris – Manning at strong and Harris at free, somewhat surprisingly – be the last line of defense. Even if fourth-round pick Corey Wootton impresses early, it's hard to imagine he'll crack the defensive end rotation any time soon since Smith tends to go with three on game day, and Peppers, Mark Anderson and Israel Idonije are the top three right now.


WR Devin Hester
AP Images: Nam Y. Huh

Fifth rounder Joshua Moore is destined for a year of special teams, sixth rounder Dan LeFevour has a clipboard and hat with his name on them and seventh rounder J'Marcus Webb should consider it an accomplishment if he makes the 53-man roster.

4. The receiving corps may indeed be the strength of this offense
Besides Devin Hester, the Bears don't feature a stable of nationally-recognized names catching passes from Jay Cutler, and Hester became a star in this league because of his ability as a return man, not as a wide receiver. However, Hester, Devin Aromashodu and Johnny Knox were all fantastic during minicamp, with Hester set to be the starting flanker (Z), Knox the starting split end (X) and Aromashodu the versatile No. 3 capable of playing just about anywhere. And that doesn't even include Earl Bennett, who enjoyed a solid 2009 as a possession target – he seems to be pegged as the slot receiver (Y) – but is still coming back from a minor knee scope and didn't do much over the weekend.

Additionally, contrary to popular belief, Martz does have some room for the tight end in his offense, as both Greg Olsen and Desmond Clark were targeted quite often.

5. Corner on solid ground, safety still a question mark
The coaching staff is clearly on the Zack Bowman bandwagon and believes he's going to be a premier cover corner one of these days, as evidenced by his move to the left side and veteran Charles Tillman now over on the right. Tillman was forced to take a bunch of snaps with the second stringers because he skipped some of the voluntary workouts, giving way to free-agent signee Tim Jennings, but he's going to be in the starting lineup as usual and may not have to worry about being matched up against the opponent's best receiver anymore. But the depth chart at safety is still up for grabs, as neither Manning nor Harris stood out with the first team, and we're waiting to see if Wright is a legitimate threat to challenge for a starting role.

Minicamp proved just how bad the Bears were at both safety positions a year ago, with Kevin Payne shipped out of town last month for a conditional seventh-round draft pick and Al Afalava at best the No. 5 safety on the squad right now behind Manning, Harris, Wright and Craig Steltz – he may not even be ahead of Josh Bullocks.


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John Crist is the Publisher of BearReport.com, a Heisman Trophy voter 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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