After seven consecutive days of training camp – nine workouts total – on the campus of Olivet Nazarene University, the Monsters of the Midway headed back to Chicago on Friday for the annual Family Night practice along the shores of Lake Michigan.
"It's one thing to practice down in Bourbonnais, which is good, but when you play here at Soldier Field, it's always good to let the players come up and get a chance to play on their home turf," said coach Lovie Smith. "The fans were great tonight, I think over 26,000. Hopefully, they'll be proud of the football team that we're going to put out there this year."
26,371 fans, to be exact, filled the stadium to see the Bears go through a two-hour practice, including stretching, individual drills, special-teams work, 7-on-7 action and, finally, full-squad 11-on-11.
"Tonight is always a big night for us," Smith said. "About a week into camp, a break from the routine down there, but it's different when you come under the lights here and you play on your home turf."
Smith and Co. will get a chance to see how far they've come on Saturday, Aug. 14, when they travel to San Diego for the preseason opener against the Chargers.
"We're making progress," he said. "We're not there yet, but it's one day at a time. The Chargers are coming up. We have most of our situations in, and from here, we should just see daily improvement."
One of the biggest concerns looming over training camp thus far is the relationship between quarterback Jay Cutler and new offensive coordinator Mike Martz, as Cutler is playing in his third different system in three years and Martz demands an awful lot from the game's most important position.
"Coming along well," said Smith. "We should be able to score points this year. Jay has a strong arm. He's got a lot of good weapons. I like what the receivers have done. I like what the tight ends have done."
While some pigskin pundits around the country feel Chicago is lacking in the receiving corps, with no clear-cut No. 1 target, Devin Hester, Johnny Knox and Devin Aromashodu all appear to be adjusting to Martz's pass-happy scheme, with Aromashodu in particular looking sharp Friday.
"He's a good football player," Smith said of Aromashodu, who caught 22 passes for 282 yards and four touchdowns in the final four games of 2009. "He finished up the season like that last year. We're expecting bigger things from him this year."
Another note from Friday was a little shuffling in the middle of the offensive line, with right guard Roberto Garza moving to the left side and Lance Louis getting most of the reps at right guard, although both players said new offensive line coach Mike Tice simply wanted to mix it up and try some different combinations up front.
"He's one of the guys that's competing," Smith said of Louis, a second-year pro from San Diego State. "We like what he did in the offseason. A lot of ability, good speed, knee bender, can play with power – he'll get an opportunity. He's looked good in some of these drills. Again, it will be good to get him into that first preseason game and see where he is."
The Midway Monsters have been dealing with some injuries lately in training camp, especially in the secondary, but veteran safety Chris Harris managed to suit up Friday after missing several days with a back issue.
"Chris is a big part of what we need to do around here," said Smith. "Good for him. He's been close. We know he's a good football player, but we wanted him to see him in some action. I thought he did fairly well tonight."
After a well-deserved day off Saturday, their first since reporting to Bourbonnais on Thursday, Jul. 29, the Bears head back to ONU on Sunday for a 7:00 p.m. practice.
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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.
Smith and Co. Back at Soldier Field
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