6 things to watch for in Bears' OTA
Here are six things to keep an eye on as the Bears report for Organized Team Activities:
Installation of the offense
Even though the Bears already have spent plenty of time and effort learning their new offense, these 14 organized team activities allow players and coaches to continue ironing out the kinks before reporting to training camp at the end of July.
"We're going to try and get our entire system in, as much as possible, before we go on the real break of the summer," Bears head coach Lovie Smith said at the conclusion of last month's minicamp.
Training camp is about repetition, fine tuning and staying healthy. That's why teams stress offseason participation in voluntary workouts, minicamps and OTAs. When players report to camp, they better know what's going on. Time is always of the essence, and the Bears don't want to waste it during practice running busted plays or stopping to show players where to line up. It's imperative for players to have a fundamental understanding of their responsibilities by the end of June.
Development of the receivers
The voice of receivers coach Darryl Drake boomed over the practice field during the first two days of May's minicamp, with his words becoming more and more complimentary toward the group as the weekend continued. From Day 1 to the end of minicamp, the receivers seemed to improve with each practice session.
Those strides need to continue at OTAs.
Offensive coordinator Mike Martz said at minicamp that Devin Hester and Johnny Knox are entrenched as the starters outside. Both showcased improved route running and tremendous speed at minicamp, but they also dropped a few passes that appeared to be routine balls. Hester and Knox need to eliminate those minor lapses in concentration to develop into dependable targets.
Outside of the starters, Devin Aromashodu needs to build upon his strong minicamp performance, which drew praise from Martz. After scoring four touchdowns during the last four games of 2009, Aromashodu could be poised for of a breakout season.
Projected No. 4 receiver Earl Bennett missed time at minicamp after undergoing a minor offseason knee procedure. So he's in somewhat of a catch-up mode. Juaquin Iglesias, a third-round pick in 2009, and Rashied Davis appear to be in a battle for the No. 5 spot. Both showed flashes at minicamp, but Martz indicated he'd like for the backups to know multiple spots, which could go a long way in determining winners of the reserve jobs.
By the end of minicamp in May, the Bears receivers appeared to have gained a better feel for Martz's timing-based offense. By the end of OTAs, the receivers will have likely improved at some of the subtleties in the scheme such as sight adjustment, which would give the group some momentum and confidence headed into training camp.
Clarity at left guard
Johan Asiata, Kevin Shaffer and Lance Louis all took repetitions with the first team at minicamp in May with offensive line coach Mike Tice singling out Asiata and Louis for their performances.
"Johan Asiata and Lance Louis have really stepped it up as young players, and showed me they have the ability and the maturity to play at this level sooner than later," Tice said.
The question now seems to be who emerges as the favorite to win the position. At minicamp, it appeared Asiata, Louis and Shaffer received nearly equal repetitions with the first team. So at OTAs, it'll be interesting to see whether Tice splits up the reps differently, giving more or less based on one or more of the candidates moving ahead of the others.
Tice said he made the decision to ramp up Asiata's repetitions after seeing how the second-year pro performed once he started working against the defense. But Tice also expressed enthusiasm about the development of Louis, in addition to saying he'd also like to get rookie tackle J'Marcus Webb some reps at left guard.
"Lance has had a good camp," Tice said after minicamp. "He's certainly very powerful, a very good athlete; very thick, very strong. He only had a couple of bad plays every practice."
Having started four games at left guard in 2009, Josh Beekman also figures into the equation at left guard. Beekman didn't get to work at that spot at minicamp because he played center with the starting group, replacing Olin Kreutz.
Although Shaffer, an eight-year veteran, took reps with the first team at left guard, he seems to be better suited for a backup role partially because of his versatility. Based on how the situation has progressed, it's likely the club could be using Shaffer as insurance in the event that none of the younger candidates at the position develop quickly enough for the Bears to feel comfortable with any of them as the Week 1 starter.
At some point soon, the Bears need to identify the top candidates and prepare them to play. The Bears can't give each candidate an equal number of repetitions if they expect the eventual starter to be prepared for Week 1.
Chemistry in the secondary
Working against Martz's high-powered attack exposed what appear to be some minor chemistry issues in Chicago's revamped secondary, which features Danieal Manning and Chris Harris as the starting safeties and Zackary Bowman and Charles Tillman at the corners.
The issues seemed to stem from unfamiliarity among the group, which welcomed back Harris in April. Minicamp marked the first time all offseason the club practiced publicly with the current starting group. The starting free safety, Harris, hadn't played for the Bears since the 2006-07 season, but he said he remembers the majority of the club's defense and has picked up the concepts quickly.
The secondary as a whole made its fair share of plays at minicamp, but the frequency of over-the-top completions was concerning.
Tillman, who shuffled between the second and first teams at minicamp, seemed to struggle the most. At the end of most segments at practice -- such as seven-on-seven drills or team drills -- Tillman jogged over to the sidelines to speak to assistant secondary coach Gill Byrd. Tillman seemed unclear about some of his assignments, likely because he skipped most of the club's voluntary workouts. Tillman's absence from those workouts also likely played a role in him spending time on the second team.
"There's no second or first team right now," Bears coach Lovie Smith said at the time. "There's a starting rotation you have based on who's here the most right now. When some of the players haven't been here the entire time, you don't know exactly what type of condition they're in. You have to get them out here and see."
Everyone should be present at OTAs this week, and it's important for this group -- which also features promising rookies Major Wright and Joshua Moore -- to improve its cohesiveness as the offseason comes to a close with OTAs.
The Bears ranked 22nd last season with 13 interceptions, and just one of those picks was registered by a safety. The club knows moving forward that those numbers need to change for the defense -- which considers forcing turnovers to be one of its top priorities -- to achieve the desired results.
Strongside linebacker battle
Unexpected hamstring tightness kept Nick Roach off the field during minicamp, denying the media a chance to watch one of the stars of the offseason workout program. Despite being a restricted free agent, Roach began his offseason program at Halas Hall the first week of March, nearly a full-month before the official start of voluntary workouts.
Roach's hard work and ability -- he finished tied with Tommie Harris for a team-high 10 tackles for a loss in 2009 -- makes him the leading candidate to start at strongside linebacker, even though the Bears re-signed Pisa Tinoisamoa.
"It might be kind of reversed [this summer]," Tinoisamoa said. "Last year, although Roach was the starter, people thought I would be given the first crack at the starting job. But now, it's kind of reversed. Nick is a very good player and I like him a lot. But that's not going to keep me from competing and doing what I need to do. I still consider myself a starter. So I think this will be a healthy battle that's going to make this team better."
If both players stay healthy, this should go down as the premiere battle of the summer. Either way, the Bears win because each is extremely versatile (Roach can play middle linebacker; Tinoisamoa can play on the weak side) and valuable on special teams.
Marcus Harrison return?
The former third-round selection dealt with some much publicized personal issues last summer that resulted in the nose tackle reporting to camp overweight. It'll be interesting to note Harrison's conditioning and appearance during OTAs, considering he missed the entire three-day minicamp last month due to illness. Although Anthony Adams has always been a model of consistency at the position, the defense needs Harrison to reach his full potential. Badly.
"He's a big, athletic man who can really move," Bears defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli said. "He did some nice things last year, and that next year doing the same thing again, he's going to take a step. It's a nice situation, we've got some inside players. To me, playing in the NFL, the key thing is being consistent because the season is so long. No ups and downs. We've got good talent and veteran players who've done it, and now it's about doing it at a high level consistently over the year. That's our challenge."
Harrison finished the 2009 campaign with one sack and one tackle for a loss. That won't fly in 2010.