BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- The Bears severed ties with him in March, but Nathan-Vasher love continues to run deep among his former teammates.
A former Pro Bowler and one of the most popular players in the locker room, Vasher spent six years in Chicago, before injuries derailed his tenure resulting in the club cutting him. Granted a fresh start with San Diego -- the Bears’ opponent in Saturday’s preseason opener -- Vasher is poised to face his former teammates.
“He did a lot of things for us here. I’ll say Nate will always be a lifetime friend,” Bears coach Lovie Smith said. “It doesn’t surprise me [he’s off to a good start in San Diego]. Sometimes, a change of scenery is good. Nate left here excited about having the opportunity to play there. We’ll be pulling for Nate in every game this year except this weekend.”
A former fourth-round pick from Texas, Vasher worked with current Chargers coaches Ron Rivera and Steven Wilks during their tenures in Chicago. Vasher picked off 13 passes over his first two seasons, before injuries limited him to 12 games in 2007 and 2008.
Vasher eventually lost his starting job to Zack Bowman. Vasher started two games for the Bears last season.
“We had a great relationship. Vasher is one of the guys that I really looked up to,” Bowman said. “I'm kind of happy for his situation out in San Diego, I know he needed a fresh start and I'm glad he got it with the Chargers. I hear he's doing really good and could start. I'm really proud of him and have nothing but the upmost respect for that guy. There was no animosity between me and Nate. On the day that coach came up and told me that I was going to be starting, Nate came up to me and told me just to go out there and play. He helped me out a lot in my development into the NFL. There was never any beef; we all took care of each other in the secondary."
Bears safety Chris Harris spoke to Vasher on Wednesday, and admits it’ll be awkward seeing his former teammate in a different uniform.
“He’s almost like a brother to me,” Harris said. “We just kind of clicked when I first got here my rookie year. It’ll be a little weird seeing Nate in a different color uniform, but it’ll be a lot of fun at the same time.”
Vasher will likely play plenty of snaps Saturday against his former teammates. Subbing in on the San Diego’s first-team defense for Antoine Cason, Vasher has taken several first-team repetitions this week. Chargers coach Norv Turner raved about Vasher’s consistency.
“I think he’s doing outstanding,” Turner told the team’s official Web site. “He’s got a good understanding of what we’re doing. I’m excited to watch him play in these preseason games.”
Camp battle focus: offensive line
Roberto Garza hasn’t started a game at left guard since 2004. But that’s where he’ll be Saturday in San Diego when the Bears starting offense trots onto the field.
The Bears continue to experiment with different combinations along the offensive line. Unfortunately for Garza, who has started 64 consecutive games at right guard, offensive line coach Mike Tice seems to like the current setup -- which features Garza at left guard and Lance Louis at right guard -- the most.
Garza admits the transition can be confusing at times.
“It’s just making sure you flip the plays over. For so long I've been doing everything on the right side, so now it's a matter of, ‘OK, I'm on the left side, I don't do this on this side,’” Garza said. “Just getting used to that, but that's coming with the more practice reps we get. We're getting a lot of practice right now, so that's the time to get comfortable and get confident.”
Tice and offensive coordinator Mike Martz seem pleased with the current starting five up front, which includes Olin Kreutz at center, Garza at left guard and Chris Williams at left tackle, with Louis and Frank Omiyale at the right guard and tackle spots.
Ideally, the staff would like to take the current group of starters into the season. But Tice admitted the club could go back to “Square 1” if one of the linemen doesn’t perform as expected.
Temperature: 95 degrees
Heat index: 102 degrees
The Bears practiced in shells for the second straight day, which made Thursday look more like a glorified walk-through session than a full training camp practice.
Craig Steltz took much of the first team reps at safety alongside Chris Harris, while Danieal Manning continues to ease his way back from a hamstring injury. Major Wright worked primarily with the second team.
Brian Iwuh continues to run on the side in front of the Bears training staff. The linebacker and special teams standout is on the mend after a knee injury and ankle sprain.
Bears linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer returned to practice after missing a few days with an ankle injury.
Tight end Brandon Manumaleuna was held out for a third consecutive day.