NFC North: Alshon Jeffery
That’s not the way to think regarding a player of Tillman’s ilk. But reality is reality.
Tillman, meanwhile, was playing on a one-year contract worth $3.25 million, and he signed that late after free agency proved fruitless.
Moving forward, the Bears can't afford to pay starter's money to three corners, especially with Jay Cutler's monstrous salary and potential extensions coming down the pipe for several players such as Brian de la Puente and Alshon Jeffery, just to name a couple.
Tillman certainly deserves to finish his career in Chicago. But with the corner set to turn 34 before the start of the 2015 season, it’s unlikely the Bears bring him back at a salary he wouldn’t find to be a slap in the face.
When Tillman hits free agency, he likely won’t be looking to break the bank. But he’ll definitely feel he’s worth more than a veteran minimum type of deal, which is probably what the Bears will offer given Tillman’s age, recent injury history, and the emergence of Fuller, who picked off a pair of passes Sunday in the club’s win at San Francisco. Besides that, if the Bears did decide to bring back Tillman for another season, would it be as a starter? Would he feel comfortable taking on the role as the nickel corner?
It’s sad to be pondering all this with emotions still raw, fewer than 24 hours after Tillman’s latest setback.
But that’s the reality we’re faced with; one in which special players such as Tillman always leave on someone else’s terms.
“He’s one of our leaders on this team, and much needed,” receiver Brandon Marshall said during his radio show Monday on ESPN Chicago 1000. “It’s sad for the city, it’s sad for our team, it’s sad for him.”
It truly is.
Tillman was correct in saying it’s not the end of the road, because it isn’t. Once Tillman rehabs from this injury, he’ll still be a player capable of starting and playing at a high level in the NFL.
But the problem is this team, even before Tillman’s injury, has already moved on. If Brian Urlacher and Devin Hester have taught us anything, it’s the fact the Bears -- like every other team in the NFL -- always moves on.
Sources confirmed the Bears waived quarterback David Fales and released veteran cornerback Kelvin Hayden and veteran fullback Tony Fiammetta.
The Bears announced following Friday’s practice that Fales (shoulder) and Fiammetta (hamstring) had been officially ruled out for Week 2.
Hayden was a healthy inactive in Chicago's 23-20 overtime loss to the Buffalo Bills in the season opener.
The expectation is the Bears will look to fill some of the open roster spots off the practice squad. With Brandon Marshall (ankle) and Alshon Jeffery (hamstring) questionable, and Josh Morgan (groin) doubtful, the Bears could choose to promote one, or more, of their current practice squad wide receivers: Josh Bellamy, Greg Herd, Chris Williams and Rashad Ross. Practice squad center/guard Taylor Boggs is a candidate to help with depth on the offensive line after starters Roberto Garza (high-ankle sprain) and Matt Slauson (high-ankle sprain) were both declared out for the 49ers game.
1. 53-man roster mostly set before game: The Bears offered up a fairly complete picture of the final roster when they decided to sit numerous reserve players like: Josh Morgan, Ka’Deem Carey, Brock Vereen and Michael Spurlock. Unless the Bears find better alternatives over the weekend; all four appear to be in decent shape as the final cut date looms on Saturday. However, the decision to rest Carey and Vereen is somewhat curious. Outside of their draft status as fourth-round picks, neither did much to stand out over the summer. And no, Shea McClellin was never going to be cut. The Bears have not abandoned hope of salvaging the career of the former first-round draft choice.
2. David Fales knows the offense: Fales lacks ideal arm strength, but he does come across as a smart quarterback who understands where the ball is supposed to go. He did a decent job under intense pressure, and showed serious courage by throwing the ball deep on several occasions. The Bears are probably better off keeping only two quarterbacks on the active roster, but Fales showed enough smarts in the preseason to warrant a spot on the practice squad, if he clears waivers as expected.
3. Santonio Holmes can help Bears: Holmes proved he still has some juice left when he broke a tackle to score a 32-yard touchdown, followed by a 30-yard punt return. Granted, Holmes accomplished this against Cleveland backups, but he made the most of the opportunities presented to him. Holmes has too much experience to let walk away. Josh Bellamy had himself a solid first half with two catches for 43 yards in the opening quarter, but Holmes seems a smart choice to be the No. 4 wideout behind Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery and Morgan, with Spurlock also in the mix. We’ll see how/if Marquess Wilson’s injury complicates the situation when it boils down to determining the 53.
4. FirstEnergy video screens a nice touch: The Browns installed two giant video screens in the upper decks behind each end zone, a move that greatly enhances the in-stadium experience in Cleveland. The Bears need to strongly consider adding similar technology at Soldier Field, because the current video setup is below average for a stadium built in the last 11 years. The fans would love it. And it opens up tons of marketing and sales opportunities for the club. That’s a win-win for everybody involved.
5. Browns took it seriously: Cleveland needed starting quarterback Brian Hoyer to orchestrate a touchdown drive. The Browns are desperate for good vibes heading into Week 1. We all know Cleveland will probably stink again, but this is a franchise that is trying to sell hope to its tortured fan base. They call this place the “Factory of Sadness” for a reason. But the home fans actually seemed upbeat after the first 30 minutes, especially when Johnny Manziel fired a touchdown pass. Mission accomplished for the Browns.
Forte finished last season ranked third in the NFL in total yards from scrimmage (1,933 yards) on the way to being named to his second Pro Bowl. Forte rushed for 1,339 yards, carrying the ball on 71.5 percent of the team’s rushes, which ranked as highest in the league, according to ESPN Stats and Information.
Since 2008, Forte ranks third in the NFL in yards from scrimmage (9,585), behind Chris Johnson and Adrian Peterson.
Forte ranked one spot ahead of San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers and one slot behind Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
None of Chicago’s defenders made Wednesday’s offering in the #NFLRank project.
So was Jeffery's production in 2013, allowing him to come in at No. 31 on this year's NFLRank project in which ESPN ranked the league's top 100 players on offense and defense. In all, 23 players on offense made their debuts on this year's NFLRank project.
After a difficult rookie season in which he suffered a broken hand right hand, in addition to being sidelined with an arthroscopic knee surgery, Jeffery produced a gem in 2013, catching 89 passes for 1,421 yards and seven touchdowns, combining with Brandon Marshall for 2,716 yards and 19 TDs.
"I think part of it is the chemistry he has with this team," Bears coach Marc Trestman said. "His work ethic hasn't changed. That's a sign to be able to stack a good year on a good year. He's done it for one year. He knows he's got to prove himself. He's got to stack years and years together to be a great player like Brandon has. If you could see him work here on a daily basis, he's doing all the right things to put another good year together."
Jeffery was one of two receivers in 2013 to produce two 200-yard games (Gordon was the other), and the only one to put together a 200-yard game on the road (a single-game franchise record 249 yards against the Vikings in Week 13). Jeffery attributes the bump in production from his rookie season to 2013 simply to learning the intricacies of the offense.
Jeffery also spent the majority of the offseason training with Marshall in Florida.
"My first year here, I would say it was just a learning process. It was about learning and knowing the NFL," Jeffery said. "Just staying on the field [in 2013] and staying healthy helped last year. But like I said, it was a big learning curve from my first year to my second year."
Potentially on the verge of stardom, Jeffery prefers not to look too far ahead. Asked where he sees himself in three years, Jeffery said, "Ask me that question three years from now, but I'd say the sky is the limit."
That certainly seems to be the case with Jeffery and the rest of the Bears coming off a 2013 season in which offense set multiple franchise records. Interestingly, Jeffery is the only player in Bears' history to produce two 200-yard receiving games, and is one of eight players in NFL history to accomplish that feat in the same season.
Over his first two years, Jeffery has caught 113 passes for 1,788 yards and 10 touchdowns.
"My mentality when that ball goes up in the air is it's my ball," Jeffery said. "I've got to make the play."
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.
- While the Bears actively monitor the waiver wire and scan the list of available free-agent wide receivers in the aftermath of Marquess Wilson’s fractured clavicle, Tuesday’s practice allowed the team to try out several different receiver combinations. Minus Wilson and veteran Brandon Marshall (coaches' decision), the Bears trotted out a three-wide receiver set to begin 11-on-11 drills that featured Alshon Jeffery, Eric Weems and Chris Williams. Weems, a former Pro Bowl return man in Atlanta, figures to be a lock to make the team based on his familiarity with the offense and immense value on special teams, but the remaining roster spots are wide open. According to quarterback Jay Cutler: “Eric Weems has had a great camp, but so have a number of other guys. Right now it’s too early to peg anybody. We’ll just see how it plays out.” Cutler later added the Bears expect Wilson back on the field in 2014 after he underwent surgery on Tuesday morning. But with no timetable set for Wilson’s return, the Bears do need to find a reliable option in the slot to bridge the gap over the first couple weeks of the regular season, at the bare minimum.
- Cornerback Isaiah Frey suffered a right hamstring injury at practice and had to be carted back to the locker room. The Bears’ 2013 starting nickelback, Frey is facing an uphill battle to make the team with veterans Charles Tillman, Tim Jennings, Kelvin Hayden and Sherrick McManis, plus rookie first-round draft choice Kyle Fuller ahead of Frey on the depth chart. Frey told reporters he plans to vigorously attack the required rehabilitation program, but stressed the importance of resisting the urge to return too soon from a pulled hamstring injury, since those types of injuries tend to linger.
- Starting right tackle Jordan Mills hurt his foot at the tail end of Tuesday’s practice. Mills stayed and watched the final drill before walking off the field under his own power. Mills suffered a foot injury during pregame warm-ups in last year’s regular-season finale versus the Green Bay Packers that required offseason surgery. The Bears did not reveal the severity of the injury, but Mills seemed to be in good spirits when he arrived at lunch later in the afternoon.
- Adrian Wilson and Ryan Mundy again took first-team reps at safety.
- Jennings (quadriceps) and guard Eben Britton (hamstring) were held out of practice, but linebacker Lance Briggs fully participated after a knee injury kept him off the field for final portion of Monday’s session. Defensive end Jared Allen was excused from another practice due to personal reasons, while running back Shaun Draughn went through an entire practice following a couple of personal days away from the team.
- The Bears' next scheduled practice is Wednesday at 9 a.m. CT.
His Washington State University record 3,207 receiving yards came in only 33 games (27 starts). Wilson fell to the seventh round of the 2013 NFL draft because of questions surrounding his maturity and character after a fallout with WSU head coach Mike Leach that culminated with Wilson leaving the team nine games into his junior year.
"Marquess Wilson has really good talent," Emery said on July 23. "Now we're going to see if Marquess puts it all together."
Wilson did seem on the verge of putting it all together before fracturing his clavicle during practice on Monday. He routinely made difficult catches over the first eight practices, displaying arguably the best route-running footwork of any of the wide receivers in camp. That's a heavy compliment, considering the Bears have a pair of Pro Bowl wideouts on the roster ahead of Wilson on the depth chart (Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery).
Wilson also appeared to carry himself with a sense of humble confidence off the field. Interviews with the media are tricky. A reporter can never truly know a player based on large group question and answer sessions, but Wilson sure sounded thoughtful and intelligent when discussing his role on the team whenever the media stopped him at the ONU campus.
Now the injury.
When an accomplished veteran NFL player goes down for an extended period of time, he has the benefit of being able to draw from past successes and accomplishments to keep his confidence level high over the course of the recovery process.
Wilson doesn't have that luxury.
That's why it's imperative that veteran leaders such as Marshall continue to work with and encourage Wilson for the next several months. The worst thing for Wilson is to become out-of-sight, out-of-mind; a condition that is known to affect some injured NFL players that are sidelined indefinitely.
On the surface, Marshall seems to have gone out of his way to help mentor Wilson; inviting the young wide receiver to join a large group of Bears' starters who trained in South Florida in the offseason, and even including Wilson and Jeffery in a national NFL Network piece hosted by Hall of Famer Michael Irvin to help boost the younger wideouts' images across the country.
With the proper support system in place, Wilson has a good shot of carving out a solid niche for himself in the offense once the clavicle fracture heals.
Don't rule out Wilson from still making the kind of contributions expected from him this year, albeit in a shortened season.
- The Bears cut practice 30 minutes short, and perhaps that spurred extra effort from the players on Friday as it was easily the club’s most spirited workout of training camp. The defense outplayed the offense by far, and at the end of a tight red zone drill, Bears coach Marc Trestman made sure to congratulate the unit for its strong performance. The defense fit well against the run, but on passing downs the front four pressured Jay Cutler on numerous occasions, forcing him to throw the ball away multiple times. “Today in the tight red zone, the defense amped it up,” Trestman said. “We had some contested throws, knockdowns, some real good plays defensively.”
- Veteran defensive end Trevor Scott hasn’t received much publicity throughout camp, but he’s proven deserving over the first several days of camp. In addition to size and physicality, Scott showcases a plethora of pass-rushing moves on a day-to-day basis that could make him a contributor to the rotation up front. One staffer called Scott “the real deal so far” at camp. A seventh-year veteran, Scott played four years in Oakland before joining the New England Patriots and later Tampa Bay. He’s logged 16.5 sacks over six NFL seasons.
- One good way to get an idea of how the 53-man roster will shake out is to pay attention to special teams as this is the facet of the game that often determines some of the final spots. The first-team kickoff return unit on Friday consisted of Danny McCray, Jonathan Bostic, Jordan Senn, Khaseem Greene, Brock Vereen, Tony Fiammetta, Scott, Matthew Mulligan, Dante Rosario, Josh Bellamy and Eric Weems.
- Some of the stars from inside drills pitting offensive linemen against defensive linemen in one-on-one matchups included David Bass, Nate Collins, Will Sutton, and Ego Ferguson. Despite Sutton’s reputation as a finesse rusher, he bull-rushed Ryan Groy to get into the backfield. Ferguson, meanwhile, appears to possess plenty of strength, but enhances it by rushing with solid leverage.
- Veteran linebacker Lance Briggs broke up two Cutler passes during team drills. Briggs’ second breakup resulted in a McCray interception. The INT represented the first all training camp by a safety working with the first-team defense.
- The Bears held out Charles Tillman and Alshon Jeffery from practice with Trestman calling their inactivity a “coach’s decision.” Chris Conte (shoulder), Craig Steltz (groin) and Kyle Long remain out. Long will return to the practice field Saturday at Soldier Field. Center Roberto Garza was also excused from practice for personal reasons.
- Chicago holds its annual Family Fest workout Saturday at 6:45 p.m. CT at Soldier Field.
It's you against the receiver, mano a mano. Just you, him and the ball.
"If you get beat in the drill, you stay in there until you figure out what you did wrong and you make it right," said Sullivan, the overseer at Sullivan PROformance training center in Phoenix. "I don't care who you are.
For three-and-a-half weeks last month before House returned for the start of his fourth NFL training camp with the Green Bay Packers, he worked out with Revis and nearly a dozen other college and NFL players under the guidance of Sullivan, who has been Revis' personal cornerback coach the last eight offseasons.
After training with Revis & Co., House has gotten it right on the Packers' practice field more often than not.
Take the two-minute drill during the Packers' training camp practice Wednesday. It was second-and-goal at the 1-yard line, and quarterback Aaron Rodgers made one of his favorite throws, the back-shoulder fade, to wide receiver Jordy Nelson.
House was there to break up the pass, but he might not have made the play two or three years ago.
"Two or three years ago? No," House said. “But now I'm a lot more confident, playing with a lot more swagger, I guess you could say, so it makes things a lot easier."
Confidence can be found in any number of places, but House found it on Revis Island.
"For me, he was just so patient," House said when asked what he learned from working out with Revis. "Just how patient and how balanced he was and how controlled he was. His confidence level is top-notch. I guess you could say kind of like how you see [Rodgers play quarterback], so smooth, and he makes everything look so easy. That's how Revis was."
The time with Revis and Sullivan might end up being a defining moment in House’s career.
"If he doesn't have his best year as a pro," Sullivan said in a phone interview, "I'd be surprised."
That does not mean House will become a Revis clone. In fact, Sullivan believes in teaching techniques designed to help a player excel in whatever scheme his respective team runs.
"It's not the 'Shutdown U' program where it's my way or the highway," Sullivan said. "It's my job to learn what is it that the Green Bay Packers are asking from House and what are the techniques that make him successful."
And House, according to Sullivan, soaked it up.
"I started calling him 'The Computer,'" Sullivan said. "I said, 'You're like a human computer because you process information very, very well.'"
This is not the first time House has started fast in training camp. A 2011 fourth-round draft pick, he was on his way to winning a starting job in his second season until he sustained a shoulder injury in the preseason opener at San Diego. He missed the rest of the preseason and the first six games of the regular season. By then, Sam Shields had taken hold of the job and has never relinquished it.
So far in camp, the 6-foot-1, 195-pound House has worked regularly as the No. 3 cornerback on the outside. Because he has not yet become versed in playing in the slot -- something he plans to work on with Sullivan in the future -- he's not an option as a nickelback or dime back. But his long, physical style lends itself well to covering the bigger outside receivers the Packers typically face in the NFC North, such as Detroit’s Calvin Johnson and Chicago's duo of Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery.
"Davon House is clearly having his best year here as a pro -- just what he's done in the offseason, some of the things he's focused on, things he knew he could improve on," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "You saw that since April. He's a big, long, strong corner. He does a lot of good things. I love that whole secondary, just our depth, competition. And I think Davon is off to an excellent start."
With House in the final year of his rookie contract, it's time for him to carry that to the regular season. If he does, he could be in line for a starting job next year if the Packers decide not to re-sign veteran Tramon Williams.
However, cornerback might be the deepest position on the roster with Williams, Shields, House, Casey Hayward, Jarrett Bush and rookie Demetri Goodson.
"So how do I get on the field?" House said. "Make plays. Catch picks. Should've done it last year."
Now, thanks in part to Sullivan and Revis, he believes he can.
- Safety Adrian Wilson seems to be gaining a level of comfort in Chicago’s scheme, which in turn has resulted in the veteran playing somewhat faster. But don’t be fooled by Wilson’s seemingly average workout pace as some within the organization believe he’s “practicing like a veteran,” meaning he’s expending as little energy as possible just to make it through camp and into the preseason games. For Wilson, the exhibition games are where he’ll make his mark, and that’s when people within the organization expect the safety to go full bore. Considering he’s currently in a backup role, expect Wilson to receive significant snaps late into the games against mostly backups, and he’ll need to play well -- nearly dominate -- before the staff feels comfortable enough to put him into the mix for one of the starting jobs. The coaching staff hopes Wilson pans out because if he does, it gives the Bears an intimidating force on the back end they haven’t had in several years.
- The Bears pumped in the music as usual for the individual portions of practice, but when the team simulated some live situations, staffers piped in crowd noise through the public address system. The extra noise didn’t seem to affect execution on either side of the ball.
- Strangely, Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, and Matt Forte seemed to drop more passes in one day Thursday than they had throughout all of training camp. Jeffery and Forte each dropped two passes with the former making up for it by hauling in a long ball late in practice between two defenders. Chris Williams, a candidate to become the club’s primary punt returner and a backup receiver, muffed a punt and also dropped a pass.
- Despite Marshall's drop, he made perhaps the catch of the day in a goal-line drill. With Demontre Hurst draped all over him, Marshall made a spinning one-handed grab for a touchdown. Marshall receives points for difficulty on this one as he caught the touchdown with his left hand.
- Just before the start of practice, the Bears announced they signed offensive lineman Graham Pocic to a one-year contract and waived receiver Terrence Tolliver with an injury settlement. Pocic signed with the St. Louis Rams in 2013 as an undrafted free agent out of the University of Illinois.
- Non-participants at practice Thursday included safeties Craig Steltz (groin) and Chris Conte (shoulder) along with guards Kyle Long and Eben Britton (hamstring). Long has been cleared to return to practice, but won’t be back in pads until the club’s night workout Saturday at Soldier Field. Britton wasn’t on the field with teammates as he spent all of the practice rehabilitating inside with athletic trainers.
- Jermon Bushrod, Stephen Paea, Austen Lane, and Jordan Mills were the stars of one-on-one drills featuring offensive linemen against defensive linemen. Paea made the most impressive move of the day, using a swim move to blow past Roberto Garza in just one step.
- The Bears practice again Friday at 9 a.m. CST.
- Expectations are sky high for a Bears offense that ranked No. 2 in the NFL last year in points scored (27.8 per game) and No. 5 in passing yards (267.6 per game), but the opening four days of practice have produced a mixed bag of results from a unit that is expected to return all 11 starters. Monday’s performance was no different. At certain points of the session, quarterback Jay Cutler ran the offensive scheme to perfection, firing completions to wide receivers Brandon Marshall and Marquess Wilson and tight end Martellus Bennett that went for huge gains. On the flip side, Cutler badly underthrew Marshall on a deep route into double coverage that should’ve been intercepted by Bears defenders who were stationed in the area. Veteran cornerback Kelvin Hayden later picked off a deflected Cutler pass in full-team 11-on-11, Hayden’s third interception since the start of camp. There were also batted-down balls at the line of scrimmage and botched snaps from the center to the quarterback that resulted in Cutler describing the offense as “good and bad.” Cutler continued: “That is to be expected taking the time off in July. We’re getting better and better. There’s been some sloppy stuff out there. We’ve got to clean it up. I think the guys are doing a really good job of just recognizing the plays and getting lined up and knowing the concepts and knowing the checks and everything. So if we just clean up some of the little things as we go, we’ll be all right.”
- The Bears desperately need their top three draft choices to step in and make immediate contributions on defense. First-round pick cornerback Kyle Fuller looks the part and continues to receive extensive reps on the first team in base and nickel with Tim Jennings temporarily sidelined due to a sore groin. Third-round choice Will Sutton got thrown into the fire on Monday at three-technique defensive tackle as the coaching staff decided to give Jeremiah Ratliff a veteran’s day off. Sutton appeared to hold up OK versus the heightened competition. Rookie nose tackle Ego Ferguson flashes the ability to get up-field in one-on-one individual pass-rush drills, but Ferguson has ended up on the ground on at least three separate occasions since the pads came on. Ferguson needs to find the perfect combination of speed and balance to ensure he doesn’t take himself out of the play when games begin for real next month.
- Fans chanted “Mega-Punt” whenever first-year punter Pat O'Donnell connected with the football on Sunday. Not to be outdone, punter Tress Way won the matchup between the two aspiring kickers on Monday. As a sixth-round draft choice, O'Donnell is considered the favorite to win the job, but Way has proved to those in the organization that he is an NFL-caliber punter. Even if Way is eventually released, he can still make it in the league. Former Bears “camp legs” have found gainful employment in the league: Spencer Lanning (Cleveland Browns) and Ryan Quigley (New York Jets).
- Most of the wideouts competing for the final roster spots have done little to distinguish themselves. The two exceptions are Eric Weems and Chris Williams. Not only are Weems and Williams natural fits in the return game, they have managed to catch the football in camp. The other reserve receivers have been plagued by drops.
- Pro Bowl right guard Kyle Long (viral infection) visited doctors on Monday, but the team cannot say if Long will be back on the field when it returns to work on Wednesday. With Long out, the Bears have worked various combinations at guard, with Eben Britton, Michael Ola and Brian de la Puente all seeing time with the starters.
- Wide receiver Alshon Jeffery (sore foot), receiver Terrence Toliver (toe), safety Chris Conte (PUP) and safety Craig Steltz (PUP) were all spectators on Monday.
- The Bears are off on Tuesday. The next practice is scheduled for Wednesday at 9 a.m. CT.
“I expect to hear from [Long] and the doctors today, and we’ll get a better idea where he is at,” Bears head coach Marc Trestman said.
The No. 20 overall pick of the 2013 NFL draft, Long started just five games at Oregon before making the jump to the NFL, where he became a permanent fixture in the Bears’ starting lineup last season at right guard, helping the offensive line achieve its lowest sack total (30) since 2008.
But there is legitimate concern whenever an NFL player misses an extended period of training camp.
“Any player, no matter how long they’ve played the game, needs to practice and needs to work,” Trestman said. “It doesn’t matter who they are or at what level they play at. Kyle is missing time and there is nothing we can do about it. When he gets back here, he is going to have to get back into it and make up for some lost time.”
With Long sidelined, the Bears have experimented with different combinations at guard, including Eben Britton, Michael Ola and Brian de la Puente. Ola and de la Puente finished practice on Monday at guard with the starters in a two-minute drill after left guard Matt Slauson sat out the final period for undisclosed reasons.
“It’s been beneficial that we’ve been able to get some of these other guys in there,” Bears offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer said. “We’ve been able to look closer at our rotation, but we hope to get Kyle back as soon as possible.”
In other Bears injury news, cornerback Tim Jennings (quad) was sidelined for a third consecutive day, Pro Bowl wide receiver Alshon Jeffery sat out due to a sore foot and wideout Terrence Toliver is still out because of a bad toe. Veteran defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff was given Monday off by the coaching staff.
Fuller intercepted six balls and broke up 34 passes in 50 games at Virginia Tech. That propensity for getting a hand on the football in pass coverage was one of the traits that attracted the Bears to Fuller in the pre-draft process.
“It was a good start for Kyle,” Bears head coach Marc Trestman said. “That was a tremendous play he made in the first series of the day. The second one [interception] we had [the receiver run] the wrong route but he [Fuller] was in the right place and made the play. That’s a good thing. He was around the football. That’s a good start for him today.”
Fuller spent the entire offseason program working on the Bears’ first-team nickel unit at cornerback opposite Charles Tillman, with Tim Jennings generally bumping inside to cover the slot. That personal grouping did not change on Friday, raising expectations that Fuller will be asked to contribute immediately in the regular season, if he avoids injury in the preseason.
“I had a good start, but I definitely have a lot of work to do,” Fuller said. “I definitely enjoy coming out here and competing with guys like Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery every day. They are making me better.
“I just try and come out here every day and show the coaches what I can do. My goal is to just get better, and whatever happens, happens.”
The NFC North features a mix of veteran quarterbacks and a rookie in Minnesota who might be in line for significant playing time this season.
Will Teddy Bridgewater put up the most impressive numbers among rookie quarterbacks?
Will Matthew Stafford be directing the most explosive offense in the division now that the Detroit Lions have added weapons?
Will rising star Alshon Jeffery emerge as the Bears' No. 1 target, supplanting Brandon Marshall?
And could the Packers withstand another injury to Aaron Rodgers, as they did last season while winning the division?
These are the questions our NFC North reporters tackle in the latest version of 4 Downs.
Of the three QBs taken in the first round of this year's draft, Teddy Bridgewater will put up the most impressive numbers.
Michael Rothstein: Fact, although not because Bridgewater will be the best quarterback of the first-rounders. Simply, he is going to end up playing more than either Johnny Manziel or Blake Bortles this season, so he will have more opportunity. Plus, Minnesota is going to be down in a lot of games this season, so the Vikings are going to have to throw more in the second halves of games. He'll end up having nice numbers, but the number that matters -- the record -- will be ugly.
Rob Demovsky: Fiction, unless Matt Cassel goes down with an injury. There is more pressure on the Browns to play Johnny Manziel right away than there is on the Vikings to play Bridgewater. The same could be said of the Jaguars and Blake Bortles. All three of the first-round quarterbacks have journeyman veterans starting in front of them, so it all depends on which one flames out or gets hurt first. Cassel seems the least likely to do either.
Ben Goessling: I'm going to say fiction, simply because I think he'll have more work to do to get on the field than Johnny Manziel. The Vikings have Matt Cassel and have been giving him many of the first-team snaps during organized team activities and minicamp. So unless Bridgewater is so good that he takes the job away from Cassel in training camp, I think it will be a while before he is on the field in regular-season games. Now, he might be more efficient once he gets in there -- he has certainly looked sharp during the Vikings' offseason program -- but he might not put up many numbers until late in the season, if at all.
@GoesslingESPN True, and it won't be close. Like asking which will have the more pleasant winter: North Dakota, Manitoba, or Hawaii?— Steven Macks (@semacks) June 17, 2014
The Lions will have the most explosive offense in the NFC North this season.
Michael Rothstein: Fact. There are a bunch of good offenses in the NFC North this season, although none improved on paper as much as the Lions. Detroit still has Calvin Johnson, Reggie Bush and Joique Bell as targets for Matthew Stafford. The Lions added Golden Tate, which is an upgrade from Nate Burleson. They also held on to Joseph Fauria and re-signed Brandon Pettigrew, along with drafting Eric Ebron in the first round. While Ebron's hands are in question, his athleticism and ability to get open down the field are not. As long as Stafford and Johnson stay healthy, there is no reason Detroit should not be a top-10 offense again. They should inch ahead of Green Bay and Chicago, both of which had top-10 offenses as well in 2013.
Michael C. Wright: Fiction. It's fact if "implosive" is the word used. Just kidding. But the Lions in the past relied too much on Matthew Stafford forcing the ball to Calvin Johnson, which often led to turnovers and quick three-and-outs. And although the offense features multiple weapons, it's easy to see why the club has operated this way. Megatron is the best in the game. He is going to make plays other receivers can't make. But, to me, it's expected that a team operating a new scheme will experience its fair share of growing pains. I see that happening with the Lions in 2014. I know Stafford has put up big numbers in the past, but I see his inconsistency holding this offense back this season if he doesn't take a big step in his development.
Rob Demovsky: Fiction, unless Aaron Rodgers and Jay Cutler get hurt again. Do you trust Matthew Stafford more than Rodgers or Cutler for a full 16-game season? At this point, the Bears might have the most explosive offense. They have the best 1-2 receiver punch with Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, and the Packers have the best quarterback. Not only do the Lions not have the most explosive offense in the division, they might not even be No. 2.
Ben Goessling: Fiction. They have the talent to have it, but how often do the Lions turn talent and potential into actual results? Give me the Bears, with Alshon Jeffery, Brandon Marshall and Matt Forte, or the Packers, now that Aaron Rodgers will be healthy and have a full season with running back Eddie Lacy. I like what Golden Tate gives the Lions opposite Calvin Johnson, and Eric Ebron fits nicely into their scheme, but I think they have the third-best quarterback in the division.
@mikerothstein If Stafford plays the way he can play then fact. Good O-Line, balance runners, best WR and other WR/TE opt— Tom (@tomarmetta) June 16, 2014
Alshon Jeffery, not Brandon Marshall, will be Chicago's go-to receiver in 2014.
Michael Rothstein: Fiction. Jeffery might have had more yards last season, but opponents also are going to be more aware of the former South Carolina receiver this season from the get-go. While his numbers were gaudy a season ago, 467 of his 1,421 yards came in two games. Marshall had a little more consistency last season than Jeffery and was a more consistent target. The real reason Jeffery won't be considered Chicago's go-to receiver next season is that the Bears won't have one on a consistent basis. It will likely change based on matchups, because they are the best receiver duo in the division.
Michael C. Wright: Fiction. As long as Jay Cutler is quarterbacking the Chicago Bears, Marshall always will be the go-to receiver. And why not? Marshall is one of the league's best, even when teams focus on stopping him with double teams. Besides that, Marshall, in my opinion, is poised for a big season because he has spent this entire offseason actually training instead of rehabbing an injury. In 2013, it took Marshall, who was coming off hip surgery, about half the season to finally find his groove; yet he still finished with a team-high 100 grabs for 1,295 yards. Last season, Jeffery was probably the beneficiary of extra coverage devoted to a hobbled Marshall. Because of the damage Jeffery did last season, he will start to see more coverage, which should free up Marshall to continue to do his thing. Besides, Marshall was the fifth-most targeted receiver in the NFL last season. Marshall's 163 targets ranked even more than Calvin Johnson, who had 156 passes thrown his way.
Rob Demovsky: Fact, if we're talking about making big plays. Marshall still might end up having more receptions like he did last season; he's Cutler's security blanket. But even last season, Jeffery began to emerge as the bigger playmaker of the two. His 16.0-yard average per catch was 11th best in the league among all receivers last season. He is a freak athlete with great size, making him a matchup nightmare.
Ben Goessling: Fact. Jeffery is six years younger than Marshall and probably is a better deep threat at this point in his career. I thought he was phenomenal last season, and, to me, he might be the second-best receiver in the division right now behind Calvin Johnson. If he is not there yet, he can ascend to that spot by the end of the season. Marshall is still a great receiver, but Jeffery seems ready to become the main man in Chicago's offense.
The Packers can win the division again even if Aaron Rodgers misses nearly half the season, like he did last season.
Michael Rothstein: Fiction. Not a chance. Chicago has improved defensively and should have a more potent offense in 2014, as well as a healthy Jay Cutler for the entire season. Detroit should have a more dynamic offense than in 2013, and the leadership within the Lions should keep the team from collapsing like they did in 2013. Minnesota is likely not a factor this season, but either Chicago or Detroit would take advantage of a Rodgers-less Green Bay team better than they did a year ago.
Michael C. Wright: Fiction. In the past, this would definitely be "fact" and it might still be now that the Packers have put together a nice ground game to complement their passing attack. But I just think the rest of the division is starting to catch up to the Packers in terms of overall talent. Every team in the division improved its talent. Detroit's offense should be above average at the very least, and its defense definitely will be better. The Bears will be potent on offense in Year 2 of Marc Trestman's system, and their defense should be improved, especially up front with that revamped line. Let's not forget that Rodgers' return (combined with a mental bust by Bears safety Chris Conte on the quarterback's game-winning bomb) is what won Green Bay the division title. The Packers appear to have put together a better backup plan than they had last season, but we all know how important Rodgers is to his team's success.
Rob Demovsky: Fiction. The Bears and Lions folded last season, which allowed the Packers to stay afloat until Rodgers returned for the regular-season finale in Chicago. Both teams have taken measures to ensure that won't happen again. The Bears beefed up their defense, and the Lions made a coaching change. That said, the Packers might be in better position to handle a Rodgers absence because they should have Matt Flynn as the backup from the get-go.
Ben Goessling: Fiction. The only reason the Packers won the division last season was because the other three teams were flawed enough not to take it from them. The Lions collapsed late in the season, the Bears lost four of their last six (including the season finale against Green Bay) and the Vikings blew five last-minute leads (including one against the Packers) to take themselves out of the race. Green Bay might be better prepared for a Rodgers injury now that they have gone through it with Matt Flynn and Scott Tolzien, but the Packers' offense is predicated on Rodgers making throws few others can make. You can't expect a team to survive the loss of an elite player like that again.
@RobDemovsky True. Defense will be much better this year & flynn/tolzien will have a full training camp to run offense.— Jules Parmentier (@JulesPthe5th) June 12, 2014