The Monsters of the Midway have one more walk-through to participate in Friday, but Thursday was the final workout of training camp open to fans and media.
Coming off last Saturday's 25-10 defeat at San Diego in the preseason opener, coach Lovie Smith has been forced to deal with a slew of minor injuries that have his team thin at a few positions. Quarterback in particular, as second stringer Caleb Hanie went down with an AC joint sprain in his throwing shoulder against the Chargers and is expected to be sidelined for the rest of the exhibition slate. Safety is also a concern, with third-year pro Craig Steltz (ankle) and rookie Major Wright (finger) both exiting that game and unable to practice ever since – Wright actually had surgery Tuesday and hasn't been given a timetable for his return.
General manager Jerry Angelo did his best to plug those two holes Wednesday by signing quarterback Matt Gutierrez and safety Aaron Webster, although neither is expected to threaten for a spot on the 53-man roster.
While he looks forward to making the trip to Olivet Nazarene University every summer, Smith sounds like a man anxious to sleep in his own bed again.
"You're excited every year you come down [to training camp]," Smith said. "We knew we had a lot of work to do putting in a new offense, new coordinators, new coaches, some new players. But in these three weeks we've been here, we've made a lot of progress. It's showing up on the practice field right now. We're excited about having a chance to play our home opener down at Soldier Field."
The Raiders are up next on the preseason schedule for the Bears, and despite the injuries that have often seen double-digit players held out of practice in Bourbonnais, Smith indicated it will be business as usual Saturday along Lake Michigan.
"We're in decent shape," he said. "We have a couple of guys down, but we're in decent shape. We plan on playing our starters a little bit longer this week, getting into our normal routine of the second game of the preseason."
The new coordinators Smith mentioned are Mike Martz on offense and Rod Marinelli on defense, and while Marinelli is simply another disciple of Tony Dungy's Cover 2, Martz's scheme represents a seismic shift in the way the Midway Monsters have gone about scoring points – perhaps more so than ever in their 91-year history.
Former offensive coordinator Ron Turner ran a West Coast system reminiscent of what Bill Walsh made popular in the 1980s with the 49ers. Martz, on the other hand, derives his attack from the envelope-pushing passing game Don Coryell put together in the 1970s with the Chargers. Former Rams receiver Isaac Bruce, who has been in camp with the Bears as a guest coach, said it took him two and a half years working with Martz in St. Louis before he truly knew what he needed to know.
Nevertheless, Smith doesn't feel this particular training camp involved more "teaching" of his players than it had in the past.
"Every camp is a teaching camp," he said. "I think this is one of the more physical camps we've had. We've gotten a lot of good work in, good contact. We have installed a lot, but we have great teachers on here and there was a lot of teaching going on."
Neither the running game nor the pass rush was very effective in the Chargers game, and both were areas of concern in 2009, but Smith believes every aspect of his team has improved since he arrived at ONU back on July 29.
"I think all areas have made progress," he said. "You start off your first day of contact, and you see some things we need to do. I know we're a better football team now than the first day we played, but it's all a part of us... everything we're doing [is] getting ready for Detroit [in Week 1]. This next step is important. We should see a big improvement from our first game against San Diego last week. But, yes, all areas are better now."
Getting back to Gutierrez, the fourth-year signal caller took some reps in team drills for the first time Thursday and, as expected, appeared to be a bit rusty.
The 6-4, 230-pounder wasn't bashful with his first pass, launching a fly pattern deep down the right sideline, although it was overthrown and intercepted by cornerback Zack Bowman. He also fumbled three snaps over the course of the workout. Wearing No. 8, Gutierrez resembled failed former first-round pick Rex Grossman on one of his down days.
Always a glass-half-full kind of guy, Smith accentuated the positive with Gutierrez but acknowledged that he has a long way to go.
"I thought he threw some good passes today," said Smith. "There's a learning curve. He has a lot to pick up as far as our offense is concerned. He's a quarterback with a strong arm. He's got good size, smart guy. He needs reps right now."
Ready or not, Gutierrez might play in the second half against Oakland, as Jay Cutler only took eight snaps in the first exhibition game and sixth-round pick Dan LeFevour looked like a rookie, completing just 2 of 10 passes.
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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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