Chicago Bears: Training camp
It’s easy to see why. For a fan base accustomed to hard-nosed defense and shaky-at-best offense, Trestman flipped the script in 2013, taking Chicago’s attack to new heights with a major assist from general manager Phil Emery’s shrewd personnel moves.
The Bears broke record after record on offense last season, and the defense stumbled to historic lows.
If Trestman and Emery could basically work a miracle on offense in just one season, why can’t they do it on the other side of the ball in 2014?
“[I] feel very good about the competitive depth and the fights for positions that we're going to have,” Emery said. “Out of the three camps, I would say this camp has the best competitive level among the roster from 1 to 90.”
Emery achieved that by loading up on defenders: acquiring a mix of players poised to hit the sweet spot of their careers in Lamarr Houston and Willie YoungJared Allen, and drafting potential stars such as first-round pick Kyle Fuller. The Bears bolstered those moves with an overhaul of the scheme and additions to the defensive coaching staff.
“We started [with], ‘What could we do to get this team better?’” Trestman said. “I sat down with Phil [Emery], and we began to lay out a road map together on how we were going to rebuild this football team, and here we are at a stage where I don’t think there’s a player in our meeting room who doesn’t feel like there’s hope and high expectations. Now, it’s time to go to work.”
1. Jay Cutler’s grasp of the offense is firmer in Year 2 of Trestman’s system, and his performance this year at camp is significantly different from in 2013. Offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer said Cutler is his own problem solver and is making on-field adjustments so instinctively that he doesn’t need guidance from the staff. In his first camp under Trestman, Cutler misfired routinely, and there were concerns about whether he’d be effective in the regular season. After one particularly bad session in 2013, Trestman gathered Cutler and the other quarterbacks in the middle of the field in what could be described as a turning point. That’s not happening this year at camp as Cutler has become a bona fide field general.
2. Brandon Marshall is Brandon Marshall. He wasn’t at camp in 2013. He was coming off hip surgery that hindered his season preparation. Fully healthy now with an offseason to condition, Marshall is ready to go -- and with full comprehension of the offensive system. Throw in Alshon Jeffery’s ascension and you have the makings of something lethal on offense. The duo has certainly looked that way at camp as both routinely make so many eye-popping plays that Cutler could almost throw it up blindly and one of them would come down with the ball.
3. There’s a nastiness on defense and intense focus reminiscent of the units put on the field in Smith’s heyday. Practicing against one of the best offenses in the league, the defense should be losing more than it does at training camp. But this group routinely bests the offense, with dominating play by the front seven as a hallmark. Chalk it up to a combination of personnel additions and a culture shift brought about by an overhaul of the scheme and the acquisition of no-nonsense, get-in-your-face coaches such as Paul Pasqualoni, Reggie Herring and Clint Hurtt.
1. The defensive line makes plays at training camp. The corners and linebackers make plays. But you rarely see the safeties making an impact. That could be a result of a lack of chemistry because, with both spots up for grabs, the Bears are using several combinations at the position involving players such as Ryan Mundy, rookie Brock Vereen, Danny McCray, Adrian Wilson and M.D. Jennings. Horrid play at this position in 2013 contributed significantly to the defense’s demise, and we haven’t seen many indications at camp that the Bears will turn that around in 2014.
2. Protecting Cutler could become an issue if some of the injuries suffered by the team's offensive linemen linger. Guard Kyle Long (ankle) and tackle Jordan Mills (foot) missed the preseason opener, and the latter was seen wearing a walking boot when the club returned to training camp after that game. Reserve center Brian de la Puente is expected to miss time to a knee injury, and reserve guard/tackle Eben Britton still hasn’t returned from a strained hamstring suffered earlier at camp.
3. Cutler hasn’t played an entire 16-game season since 2009. So naturally, you’d think at some point in 2014 the Bears will have to turn to the backup quarterback. The problem is the candidates vying for the No. 2 job -- Jordan Palmer and Jimmy Clausen -- have done little to inspire confidence the way Josh McCown did last year at training camp. For the most part, Palmer and Clausen have been merely average at camp, misfiring on occasion and making mistakes typical of players acclimating themselves to a scheme. The duo needs to pick it up or the Bears could wind up looking outside the current roster for a suitable No. 2.
- Chris Conte says he’s the best athlete in Chicago’s secondary. He needs to prove it, which he'll finally have a chance to do now that he's off the physically unable to perform list. Conte certainly possesses the athleticism to be a playmaker on the back end, provided he regains his confidence. But time is running out for Conte to make a real push for one of the two open jobs at safety. What Conte has going for him right now is that none of the safeties vying for the starting jobs is making plays at camp.
- The Bears hired martial arts expert Joe Kim to teach the defensive linemen hand fighting techniques as part of the scheme overhaul that requires the front four players to be technicians with their hands. It’ll be interesting to see how the results manifest themselves on the field. Every day after practice at camp, several defensive linemen -- and even some defensive backs -- work intricate hand fighting moves with Kim for several minutes. The players say the moves become almost natural once routinely put into practice on the field. We’ll see whether Kim’s assistance plays a role in the front four anchoring a run defense that finished last in 2013.
- Zach Miller and Matthew Mulligan are pushing Dante Rosario hard for the No. 2 job at tight end. Miller is more of a move tight end, and Mulligan is a classic in-line blocker who shows some impressive skills as a receiver. The two have received extra reps because of Martellus Bennett's suspension.
He missed tackles, struggled to shed blocks, and took bad pursuit angles. But those struggles weren’t exclusive to McClellin, though, as pretty much every player at the position experienced an up-and-down evening. McClellin just happens to fall under the microscope more often because of his first-round pedigree.
"It’s one of those things where he’s working at it," defensive coordinator Mel Tucker said. "We see him do it at practice. He looks very instinctive at practice. We saw him make sudden movements and quick decisions in the game. I think he’s already doing that to a certain extent. We just have to get better."
Perhaps the most important component of that process is placing McClellin into as many live-game situations as possible so he can become more comfortable playing the position. Believe it or not, against Philadelphia, the Bears drew a difficult assignment given the first-team defense faced the Eagles’ potent no-huddle offense, which features plenty of zone-read concepts, in a situation in which the club hadn’t game-planned for the opposition.
Such a scenario makes for a chaotic opening few series, but once the defense settled in, McClellin started to improve, and he finished the game with two stops. The truth is the staff isn’t looking for McClellin to light it up immediately, because it knows firsthand the challenge the linebacker is facing in making the transition from defensive end.
What the staff hopes to see from McClellin are gradual steps toward becoming the starter on the strong side.
"The bottom line is that Shea has shown enough out here to believe he has linebacker instincts," linebackers coach Reggie Herring said. "I think he’s gonna be fine," Herring added. "He’s committed. He works hard. To be honest with you, there are times out there when he moves better than all of them. He changes directions, instincts, breaking on the ball, it’s a process. Y’all be patient. We’ll know after the first game, second game, where we’re at with him. Right now, he’s on schedule. He needs to play more games. He needs more at-bats, and I really believe that he’ll come and be a solid player for us. That’s my prediction."
The question now is when Bennett will be allowed to rejoin his teammates.
If Bennett remains a no-show when the team returns to camp, it would seem to indicate the transgressions the tight end is being punished for are deeper than we’ve all speculated. Multiple sources believed Bennett’s suspension was a result of an accumulation of incidents, with his fight with rookie Kyle Fuller being simply the latest.
Putting it lightly, the two sources described the tight end as difficult. But would Emery and Trestman potentially sacrifice the cohesiveness of the offense this season to make a point? That’s not to say Bennett shouldn’t be disciplined. He should be. But the Bears also need to be mindful that Bennett’s punishment -- depending on how this plays out -- could wind up turning into a negative situation if not handled properly.
The bottom line is the Bears need Bennett back in the fold as quickly as possible as they work to improve on what last year was one of the best offenses in the NFL.
The preseason opener against the Eagles would have been a good time to bring back Bennett, even if the club’s intention was that he didn’t participate in the game.
- In game situations, quarterbacks around the league often view pictures in between series of the defenses they faced while they were out on the field. Well, the Bears plan to phase out the picture printouts and instead have them uploaded this season to Microsoft Surface tablets. The Bears tested out the tablets in between different portions of practice, with coaches and quarterbacks coming to the bench to view the pictures on the gadgets. The Bears plan to use both paper printouts and the tablets until they can eventually rely solely on the mobile computer technology.
- The Bears held their annual Family Fest practice at Soldier Field, with notable veterans such as Jared Allen and Jeremiah Ratliff not participating as coach Marc Trestman gave both a day off to rest. Other non-participants included safeties Chris Conte (shoulder) and Craig Steltz (groin) along with guard Eben Britton (hamstring), and cornerback Tim Jennings (quadriceps). Trestman excused running back Shaun Draughn from the workout to deal with a personal matter.
- During Family Fest, the players are introduced by the public address announcer by position before the workout, and they run out of a smoke-filled tunnel as fireworks go off as they enter the field. As the offensive players were announced, they ran out of the tunnel individually. When the defensive players were announced, each position group came out of the tunnel simultaneously, as somewhat of a display of solidarity.
- The Bears started off practice with Danny McCray and Adrian Wilson as the first-team safeties, with Ryan Mundy and rookie Brock Vereen working with the No. 2’s. But throughout the workout, the Bears used several combinations at the position. At one point, Wilson and M.D. Jennings lined up with the first team. Later on, Wilson and Mundy lined up with the starters. "We’re still in the process of moving people around," Trestman said.
- Mundy unleashed the biggest lick of the day when he smacked tight end Dante Rosario on a seam route to jar the ball loose. Later in the session though, Eric Weems beat Mundy down the seam for a touchdown in the red zone, causing a brief scuffle between the two that also involved Marquess Wilson. Trestman spoke to Mundy on the sideline shortly after the minor dustup.
- The offense bested the defense after being dominated the day before at training camp. The group scored a few touchdowns on routes down the seams and on slants. Undrafted rookie safety Marcus Trice provided one of the few highlights for the defense when he broke on intermediate throw from David Fales for an interception.
The Chicago Bears obviously view Wilson differently. In fact, Wilson is very much in contention for one of Chicago’s two starting safety jobs, which are currently up for grabs.
The 6-foot-3, 230-pound Wilson caught the eye of the team’s personnel men with a strong workout in June, and one source within the organization believes if the veteran remains healthy, he could give Chicago’s secondary the intimidating presence it has lacked at the safety position in recent seasons. None of the contenders currently on the roster are as physical as Wilson, according to the source.
However, Wilson, a five-time Pro Bowler, missed all of the 2013 season due to injury. It was reported that Wilson suffered a torn Achilles, but the safety posted on Twitter recently that he was dealing with Haglund’s deformity, which is a bony enlargement on the back of the hell that rubs against and irritates the Achilles.
In 181 career games, Wilson has racked up 978 tackles, 25.5 sacks, 27 interceptions, 106 pass breakups, and 13 forced fumbles in addition to recovering nine fumbles.
“We brought Adrian in for a workout. It was obvious he still has a very good burst,” Bears general manager Phil Emery said. “In terms of how he moved around, the burst he displayed, the hand and ball skills, there [was] no reason not to sign him, to put him in the competitive mix. The position is wide open. If Adrian Wilson walks in here and he’s in football shape and, like the rest of them, stays healthy, he can claim the job. But he’s gonna have a fight on his hands.”
The Bears lost last season's starter at strong safety, Major Wright, to Tampa Bay during free agency, and free safety Chris Conte will begin training camp on the active physically unable to perform list after undergoing offseason shoulder surgery. The Bears signed veterans Ryan Mundy, M.D. Jennings, and Danny McCray during the early portion of free agency before bringing aboard Wilson late.
Mundy took the majority of repetitions with the starters at strong safety during organized team activities and minicamps. But in Chicago’s defense, the safety “positions are essentially interchangeable,” according to Trestman, which means that Wilson could wind up playing either spot for the Bears, as could Mundy and the other candidates.
“We want to find the best two guys,” Trestman said. “In other words, if Ryan and Adrian are both at the strong safety position on Friday, that doesn’t mean Ryan can’t go to free [safety] on Saturday and Adrian can’t be at strong safety. I’m not trying to get into how we’re going to start this thing. I’m just saying we’re going to move these guys around and try to find the best two guys that can play every down.”
He took repetitions with the starters during organized team activities and minicamp, but at this point it’s unknown whether Brock Vereen is capable of consistently performing at the level required of a first teamer.
That’s why Bears coach Marc Trestman cautioned against heaping too much praise on Vereen, a fourth-round pick out of Minnesota.
“The simple fact we’ve rotated him with the 1’s is a clear indication we think he can compete, but we’re not going to anoint him yet,” Trestman said. “There’s no reason to think he can’t put himself in position to compete for one of those jobs, but it’s way, way too early.”
Besides that, Vereen needs to beat out some veterans to hold onto the starting job. The Bears signed M.D. Jennings and Danny McCray in free agency among others, but it appears Vereen’s chief competition for the starting gig will be Chris Conte, who has missed most of the team’s on-field work this offseason after undergoing offseason shoulder surgery.
While likely it’s unknown whether Conte will start training camp on the physically unable to perform list. If he does, Vereen needs to take full advantage of the veteran’s absence to secure the starting job.
“I told Chris I can’t wait to get him out there. He said he can’t wait to get out there, and that’s where we are,” said Bears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker. “Whenever he’s available, we’ll start working him in, get him up to speed and get him the reps.”
In the meantime, Vereen wants to pick up the concepts of Chicago’s defense as quickly as possible. The staff’s approach should help. The Bears plan to reinstall the defense at training camp, according to Tucker, while adding “some things as we go that we didn’t cover in OTAs and the coaching sessions.”
“One of the first things our coaches said is, ‘You’re gonna make a mistake, but make it fast,” Vereen said. “I’m just trying to show my speed, and hopefully, that I can pick up the concepts quick.”
If that happens, it should make for an interesting competition at the free-safety position.
“He’s smart, he plays fast,” Tucker said. “He does not make a lot of mistakes. We’ll see how it goes. We have competition there. There’s nothing set in stone. We’ll just continue to monitor him and the rest of the guys, and we’ll end up with a good group I think.”
For fans wishing to attend, parking is free and the gates at training camp open at 9 a.m. for morning practices and 2:30 p.m. for afternoon workouts. The team portions of the sessions will start at approximately 10 a.m., the team announced.
During the first week of camp, the Bears practice Jul. 25-28 before taking Jul. 29 off and resuming workouts on Jul. 30 and Jul. 31. This year marks the 13th consecutive season the Bears have held training camp at ONU.
Here’s a quick look at the first week of the schedule. The entire schedule can be found here:
Thursday, Jul. 24: Players report, no practice.
Friday, Jul. 25: 9 a.m. practice (no pads).
Sat. Jul. 26: 9 a.m. practice (no pads).
Sun. Jul. 27: 9 a.m. practice.
Mon. Jul. 28: 9 a.m. practice.
Tues. Jul. 29: no practice.
Wednesday, Jul. 30: 9 a.m. practice.
Thursday, Jul. 31: 9 a.m. practice.
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Asked what it would take for a rookie to impress him at training camp, Emery stressed the importance of silence and humility.
"(It's) kind of like Brian Urlacher said: ‘Be quiet, be humble.' Work. Work," Emery said. "Find a way to contribute to the team whether that's on special teams, or as a role player as a pass rusher; whether that's a role player or a first- and second-down player. Whatever that role is, being a great practice player, being a guy that busts everybody else's but -- work ethic, attitude -- and showing us those skills that we drafted and that they contribute towards our goals in a positive way."
Sure, that's quite a mouthful from Emery. But they're definitely words rookies and on-the-bubble players need to remember in the coming days as most of the training camp battles begin to unfold.
The team undergoes physicals and conditioning tests on Wednesday before it goes into full action Thursday night at 2:30 p.m. The first workout will be without pads.
"We want to win championships now. We want to make progress towards our goals now," Emery said. "That's where I'm at with a sense of urgency and I believe that's where our team is. I liked how our team looked in OTAs. I like the talent base of our football team. But we've got to earn our place, though. That'll come starting Wednesday."
Here is their complete training camp schedule:
Saturday, July 30: 2:30 p.m. practice (no pads)
Sunday, July 31: Noon practice (no pads)
Monday, Aug. 1: 7 p.m. practice
Tuesday, Aug. 2: 2:30 p.m. practice
Wednesday, Aug. 3: 7:00 p.m. practice
Thursday, Aug. 4: Off day
Friday, Aug. 5: 7 p.m. practice (Soldier Field)
Saturday, Aug. 6: 2:30 p.m. practice
Sunday, Aug. 7: 7 p.m. practice
Monday, Aug. 8: 2:30 p.m. practice
Tuesday, Aug. 9: 7 p.m. practice
Wednesday, Aug. 10: 2:30 p.m. practice
Thursday, Aug. 11: Off day
Saturday, Aug. 13: Bears vs. Bills
Sunday, Aug. 14: Off day
Monday, Aug. 15: 2:30 p.m. practice
Tuesday, Aug. 16: 7 p.m. practice
Wednesday, Aug. 17: 2:30 p.m. practice
Thursday, Aug. 18: 7 p.m. practice
Friday, Aug. 19: 1:30 p.m. practice
Saturday, Aug. 20: Break camp
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Pointing out the fluidity of the situation, a team spokesman on Monday said the club hasn't made contingency plans to move camp from Olivet Nazarene University to another location if the lockout extends to a time where the Bears' presence on campus would affect the students.
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The first practice is expected to be held on July 23.
The Bears are scheduled to open the preseason by facing the St. Louis Rams in the Hall of Fame game in Canton, Ohio on Aug. 7, therefore requiring the organization to report to camp a week earlier than usual.
This marks the 10th consecutive year the Bears have held training camp at Olivet Nazarene. The club recently signed an extension to keep the team training in Bourbonnais through at least 2012, with a team option for 2013.