BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- The first practice of the Chicago Bears' training camp was about a new offense and a revamped defense. It was about new beginnings and last chances. Most of all, however, it was about Desmond Clark.
That's right. The veteran tight end was the standout player of the two-hour affair, beginning with a spectacular one-handed catch during individual drills and extending into 11-on-11 drills in which he caught everything thrown his way. I was busy tracking another portion of practice -- more on that in a bit -- but conservatively speaking, I would say Clark caught at least eight downfield passes from quarterbacks Jay Cutler and Caleb Hanie.
Clark said afterwards that he couldn't remember a practice in his 12-year-career that included so many downfield receptions. Not only did it come in an offense that has historically ignored tight ends, but it came for a player whose position on the team appears far from secure.
If I were a conspiracy theorist, I would wonder if new coordinator Mike Martz intentionally orchestrated the practice to send a public message after months of discussion of tight end's role in his offense -- past, present and future. But I'm not. So I won't. I'm sure he didn't. No way.
"Hopefully we just keep it going," Clark said. "Not only me, but hopefully all the tight ends can make plays down the field. Hopefully it can build the confidence of our offense that we can make those plays down the field all season."
During most of practice, the Bears used two tight ends with their first-team group: Greg Olsen and newcomer Brandon Manumaleuna. Clark remains a strong locker room presence, however, and after Friday's showing, I think it's pretty clear he can still get it done on the field as well.
Some other observations from Day 1 at Olivet Nazarene University:
I tracked the first 29 plays that featured Cutler during team drills, be it 7-on-7 or 11-on-11. I wanted to see who Cutler might be favoring, if anyone, at the start of camp. By my count, Cutler threw more passes to receiver Johnny Knox (nine) than anyone else. I saw one interception, by cornerback Zack Bowman on a lazy pass down the right sideline for receiver Earl Bennett. I don't think we should draw any conclusions yet, other than the fact that coaches entered training camp hoping Knox would grow into a featured role. No surprise there.
I almost didn't recognize defensive lineman Israel Idonije, who has lost 20-plus pounds in order to focus his energies at defensive end. Idonije is about 265 pounds, which when spread over his 6-foot-6 frame, actually makes him look thin. He worked with the second team behind starting defensive ends Julius Peppers and Mark Anderson.
For what it's worth, reserve quarterback Mike Teel has a nice arm -- one that appeared stronger than rookie Dan LeFevour's on Friday. Don't tell that to any of the legions of LeFevour fans in Illinois, however.
Players were in shorts and shells Friday, but they will be in full pads for Saturday night's practice, coach Lovie Smith said.
The weather couldn't have been more perfect for a training camp practice. Temperatures were in the low 70's, clouds kept the sun away and we had only the briefest of rain showers.