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Practice report: New arrival Barber sets tone

BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- Ratification of the new collective bargaining agreement allowed Chicago’s group of unrestricted free agent acquisitions to finally join their teammates Thursday night on the practice fields at Olivet Nazarene University.

Here’s a look at how the new additions performed during the session.:

Roy Williams: Williams worked with the first team through the majority of practice alongside Devin Hester. Williams ran crisp routes, displayed soft hands, and appeared to be faster than most expected. Williams slipped a couple of times early in practice. But in one-on-one drills Williams caught a slant route over Charles Tillman in one of the more physical matchups of the drill.

Williams also dropped a pass in 7-on-7 drills, but appeared to play better as the workout progressed.

Toward the end of practice, Williams tweaked a calf muscle, but it didn’t appear to be serious.

“I’m just getting old,” Williams joked.

Interestingly, though, Williams and Johnny Knox play the same position. Williams took the majority of the first-team reps throughout the practice, while Knox spent some time with the second group. Bears coach Lovie Smith said not to read too much into different lineups on the field at training camp, but the Williams-Knox situation is worth keeping an eye on.

Marion Barber: A fresh-legged Barber lived up to the “Marion the Barbarian” moniker during 9-on-7 drills, and even Smith said the running back “set the tone” with his physical play. During individual running back plays, Barber drew loud crowd reaction by a display of brute strength when he nearly toppled over a blocking sled during a step-and-punch drill.

Barber followed that by arguably the most exciting play of practice. On an off-tackle handoff, Barber barreled into a crowd, broke out, and clubbed Winston Venable out of the way before spinning the ball on the ground at the end of the run. The run prompted cheers from the crowd, as safety Chris Harris jokingly crawled on his knee towards Marion after the run. Smith, meanwhile, giddily ran back toward the huddle laughing at the end of the play.

It wasn’t all positive for Barber, however. Darting through the secondary on a run up the middle, Barber had the ball poked loose by a safety with the defense recovering.

Sam Hurd: Made a couple of acrobatic catches during the individual period, but also did pushups on occasion after dropping a couple of passes. Hurd received some reps with the starters during 7 on 7 and team drills. Lined up against Tim Jennings during 1 on 1s, Hurd watched a couple of balls thrown fairly high sail through his hands. During team drills, another high pass slipped through his hands with Craig Steltz coming up with the interception. Like Williams, Hurd seemed to improve as the practice progressed.

Chris Spencer: Received most of his action during the early 9-on-7 period, and displayed the athleticism he’s been touted for. Spencer’s propensity for nastiness had been scrutinized prior to his arrival, but the center looked tenacious on a few running plays during inside drills. Offensive-line coach Mike Tice said the plan was to gradually ease in Spencer, who spent Thursday night working with the second team.

Vernon Gholston: Gholston’s first night drew praise from Smith, who raved about the defensive end’s quickness. Gholston chased down Kahlil Bell on an outside run during 9-on-7 drills, and stopped the running back for a loss. But Barber ruined Gholston’s good play by smashing into the defensive end and knocking him back, before the running back broke through a pile of would-be tacklers. During one-on-ones between the offensive and defensive linemen, Gholston seemed to get the best of tackle Frank Omiyale throughout the drill.

Amobi Okoye: No surprises from Okoye, who similar to Gholston, put his quickness on display while working with both the starters and second team. Bears guard/center Roberto Garza struggled some plays to contain Okoye, who constantly seemed to get decent penetration during individual matchups between the offensive and defensive lines.

Matt Spaeth: Spaeth caught a pass later in practice during team drills, but obviously, that’s not why the Bears signed him. The team acquired him to block, and that’s exactly what he did on a running play during team drills. The tight end pancaked rookie Chris Conte, knocking the safety flat on his back.

Adam Podlesh: The new punter actually spent time covering kickoffs on the scout team as the Bears worked on their kickoff returns. The team didn’t spend time punting, so Podlesh didn’t get a chance to showcase his punting leg.