NFL Nation: NFL

Bears Camp Report: Day 3

July, 27, 2014
Jul 27
4:45
PM ET
BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Chicago Bears training camp:
  • Pop-pop-pop-pop, pop-pop-pop-pop. That’s what you hear every day after practice. The players resemble Kung-Fu fighters in football pads as they work hand-fighting drills with martial arts expert Joe Kim, who was brought on by the Bears as a consultant to work on skill development. Cornerback Charles Tillman took part in the drills one-on-one with Kim on Sunday and said afterward he’s expecting the hand-fighting drills to help him improve at jamming receivers and getting off blocks better.
  • While we’re on the subject of hand-fighting drills, Kim joined the team mostly to work with the defensive line, because under defensive coordinator Mel Tucker, the scheme is changing drastically this season. Last year, the Bears employed Lovie Smith’s system, which emphasized penetration along the defensive line. The players were used to simply shooting the gaps to stop the run on the way to the quarterback. That’s all changing in 2014. The coaching staff wants Chicago’s defensive linemen to be technicians with their hands so they can engage opposing offensive linemen, stack them at the line, shed, and run to the ball. In the previous scheme, Chicago’s defensive linemen simply didn’t know how to use their hands effectively. Many times when they penetrated, they overran the ball because more and more now, teams are employing zone schemes that allow backs to pick their holes instead of the old-school leads, counters, and powers. By becoming better at using their hands, the D-line can also keep opposing offensive linemen off the club’s rangy linebackers, which in turn allows them to run around and make plays. In fact, Tucker recently turned on film of Chicago’s defensive line during a meeting, and many of the players on the roster that were a part of last year’s team were shocked at how badly the group played. What Tucker pointed out, according to one player in that meeting, was that last year, the group didn’t know how to use its hands. The joke among defenders now is that if one of the team’s linebackers has scratches or paint from the opponent’s helmets on their own, the defensive line isn’t sufficiently doing its job to keep offensive linemen off the linebackers. The Bears are expecting higher tackle totals this year among the linebackers, and the defensive line will be largely responsible for that.
  • It’s no real secret, but a couple of players to watch on special teams are linebacker Jordan Senn and safety Danny McCray. The staff believes Senn is a better special teams player than former Bear Blake Costanzo. McCray, meanwhile, was the best player on special-teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis’ units with the Dallas Cowboys.
  • The workout Sunday marked the team’s first in full pads. Coming off a torn ACL in 2013, fifth-year veteran Nate Collins produced the best performance among the defensive linemen in one-on-one drills against the offensive linemen. “You watch the practice tape, he's running full speed all over the field and finishing,” Bears coach Marc Trestman said.
  • Rookie first-round pick Kyle Fuller continues to impress, and appeared to get the best of Pro Bowl receiver Alshon Jeffery during one-on-one drills. Jeffery caught an extremely limited number of passes in the drill against Fuller, and one of those completions likely would’ve resulted in offensive pass interference as the receiver slapped the defender in the head and pushed off to get open.
  • Cornerback Tim Jennings (quadriceps) returned to practice, but pulled himself out of action after the first play in one-on-one drills because the leg “didn’t feel right,” according to Trestman. He’s still day to day. Defensive end Willie Young (quadriceps) returned to practice, but receiver Terrence Toliver (toe) was held out of the workout along with safeties Craig Steltz (groin) and Chris Conte (shoulder). It’s believed the bulked-up Conte will return to practice in the next week or two after missing the entire offseason conditioning program and the early part of camp because of shoulder surgery. Even if Conte returns soon, he's not expected to play in the first preseason game.

Dolphins Camp Report: Day 3

July, 27, 2014
Jul 27
1:30
PM ET
DAVIE, Fla. – A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Miami Dolphins training camp:
  • It was the first day in pads, and I really liked what I saw from Dolphins rookie receiver Jarvis Landry, who had his best practice of training camp thus far. Landry, Miami’s second-round pick, had a plethora of quality catches in team drills. His two most impressive were a long touchdown down the seam from quarterback Ryan Tannehill and an impressive snag over the middle for a first down on a tough throw by backup quarterback Matt Moore. Landry isn’t the fastest receiver or the best athlete. But he is reliable, runs good routes and has great hands.
  • The play of the day goes to former first-round pick and backup defensive end Dion Jordan. He made a very athletic play Saturday during team drills to intercept a screen attempt from Tannehill and take it to the house. It was the type of flash the Dolphins hope to see more of from their 2013 No. 3 overall pick. But Miami will have to wait as Jordan was suspended four games for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing substances.
  • In fact, it was another so-so day for Tannehill, who continues to experience growing pains learning a new offense. Tannehill made some nice throws, such as his touchdown pass to Landry and a connection over the middle to receiver Mike Wallace for a 25-plus yard gain. But Tannehill also made some questionable decisions in team drills that would look bad in a game situation. Tannehill’s errant screen pass to Jordan was his worst play, but the quarterback also nearly threw another interception to cornerback Jamar Taylor and suffered at least two would-be sacks. At some point, things need to click for Tannehill, who enters an important third season.
  • On the injury front, Pro Bowl center Mike Pouncey (hip) and running back Knowshon Moreno (knee) worked on the side with trainers, as expected. Slot receiver Brandon Gibson took part in his first padded practice since last year’s knee surgery but he didn’t finish the session. His status will be monitored throughout camp.
  • Dolphins starting running back Lamar Miller had a good day with several nice runs. Miller looks like a decent fit for Miami’s new offense and has taken advantage of spread situations. The Dolphins asked Miller to get a little bigger in the offseason to help with durability and pass protection. “I want to say he weighed in at 221 or something like that,” Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin explained. “He looks good, he looks stronger than he’s ever been, and I don’t think he’s sacrificed any speed whatsoever.”

Up next, the Dolphins will have their first day off of training camp on Monday. Miami will next take the field on Tuesday.
DAVIE, Fla. -- The first week of training camp is a time of immense optimism in the NFL. Every team is undefeated and believes it is worthy of the playoffs. Teams highlight strengths, not weaknesses, until the games matter in the regular season.

The same goes for Miami Dolphins third-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who is thinking big this upcoming season. Tannehill has lofty goals for himself and the Dolphins in 2014.

"We want to play deep into January and February," Tannehill said. "And that’s our goal at this point, is to go out, win the division and then play the playoffs from there. There is a big season ahead of us and I think anything less than that is not up to our standards."

Tannehill must set the tone for Miami. The previously mild-mannered quarterback is starting to be more vocal and make his presence felt. Tannehill is showing more emotion. This summer he screamed at a pair of receivers for making mistakes in practice, which is something the Miami media hadn’t previously seen.

The Dolphins are learning a new offensive under first-year coordinator Bill Lazor. Tannehill has to be an extension of Lazor on the field.

“One thing he has been doing, I tell people all of the time that he’s been a lot more vocal, taking a lot more control over this offense and over the team in general,” Dolphins tight end Charles Clay said. “You can see it in times like that, but he’s maturing a lot.”

It’s also clear the Dolphins are 100 percent behind Tannehill. He is just 15-17 as a starter and Miami averaged just 19.8 points per game last season.

But Tannehill has received universal praise from his teammates, who believe Tannehill is due for a breakout season. The quickest way for Miami to improve is for Tannehill to take the next step. The Dolphins have talented pieces in other positions and consistent quarterback play would take the team to a new level.

“I definitely think he has it,” Dolphins receiver Mike Wallace said of Tannehill. “The thing I love about Ryan is his composure. I don’t think he ever gets rattled. I’ve never seen it, personally. He’s good at coming back like it [a mistake] never happened and that’s what we need from our quarterback.”
CINCINNATI -- For some, it's the most anticipated moment of training camp.

For others, it's a pain they would rather not endure.

Ahead of Sunday afternoon's Oklahoma drill, the first fully padded, live contact exercise of their training camp, the Cincinnati Bengals offered mixed reviews on the necessity of the task.

"[It's] overblown for me," defensive coordinator Paul Guenther said. "The faster that gets over with, the better for me. I'd just like to get to football."

The Oklahoma drill. Old-school football. The sport's roots. The most fundamental drill there is to determining how physical and overpowering a player actually can be. Regarded as a battle of will and determination, it has been viewed in some circles as a drill that shows how hard a player will fight to either finish off a tackle, break a tackle or to block in hopes of preventing a tackle.

Bush
Maualuga
Rey

The drill involves four players. Each is lined up within the narrow confines of a rectangle that's roughly 5 yards wide. One player is a defender. Another is a blocker. The third is a quarterback and the fourth is a running back. Quarterbacks, of course, do not get hit. They simply take a football, turn around and hand it off to the back who will try to follow a hole created by his blocker and slip away from the defender trying to tackle him in the small space.

It's a test to see how powerful the blocker and running back are, and how physical and savvy a defender can be.

"It's football," linebacker Vincent Rey said. "You come down, try to get on the block, get off the block and make the tackle.

"I like it."

In Cincinnati, the drill may take on a slightly different meaning than in other places, primarily because of the notoriety that has come to the Bengals' version of the drill, thanks to two showings of it on HBO's "Hard Knocks." Last summer, the drill was among the most entertaining parts of the first episode. Defensive linemen and offensive linemen were paired together. H-backs and fullbacks squared off with defensive ends and linebackers. Receivers and cornerbacks made contact, causing loud crunching noises to echo throughout the practice fields with the pop of their pads.

Last year's Oklahoma drill was so popular that dozens of fans walked up the walkway of a bridge that overlooks the practice fields and watched as the hitting commenced.

Rey is one of the few who like the drill. Fellow linebacker Rey Maualuga shares Guenther's sentiments on the exercise. He'd rather coaches used other things to test toughness, competition and team unity.

"If you don't make the tackle, does that make you less of a player?" Maualuga asked rhetorically. "Everyone is just worried about the initial contact. Everyone thinks of the Oklahoma drill as a smashmouth, downhill, who's going to get the upper hand kind of drill. You can dominate the blocker but not make the tackle. Does that mean you lost? I don't think so."

Maualuga, 27, also hit on the most concerning aspect of the drill for him: age.

"The older you get, you're just trying to get through it," he said.

Rookies have every reason to embrace the drill and enjoy it, he added. It's one of the first real tests they have to see where they stand. Otherwise, all others could do without it.

"[As a rookie] you want to impress your teammates," Maualuga said. "Since it will be Sunday, I'm assuming fans go to church and then come to practice, so there's going to be a bigger crowd. Everyone knows the Oklahoma drill's coming. People are going to talk: 'Oh, this guy lost. We thought he was going to win but he didn't.' It's a drill. It doesn't mean you're good or not good. It's just a chance for everyone to hit somebody."

As much as the competition and energy release can be good for certain players, the bottom line is the Bengals want to make sure they come out of the exercise healthy.

"We're trying to get out of that drill feeling good," Maualuga said. "That will probably be the first thing we do after stretching and individual drills. But we've still got four other periods we have to get through. What it will do is just set the tone for practice."

Bengals fans around Cincinnati eager to see the Oklahoma drill can show up at Paul Brown Stadium starting at 2:30 p.m. ET. Gates open at that time and practice begins 30 minutes later.

Bengals Camp Report: Day 3

July, 26, 2014
Jul 26
6:15
PM ET
CINCINNATI -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of the Cincinnati Bengals' training camp:
  • Offense was the big story for the Bengals through the first two days of training camp, but on Saturday, defense stole the headlines. Cornerbacks Adam Jones and Darqueze Dennard had a few key pass breakups and interceptions in a practice that hinged largely on third-down play. Jones rebounded after giving up a few receptions in one-on-one drills with receivers. By the end of the 11-on-11 portion of practice, he was stopping most everything that came his direction. Arguably his most noteworthy pass breakup occurred off a play-action fake from quarterback Andy Dalton. As Dalton threw off his back leg and hung a deep pass to A.J. Green, Jones turned and jumped in the path of the ball, knocking it down. Defensive coordinator Paul Guenther said Jones has played with good technique through the first three days. He added that veteran Terence Newman has as well. "It's good for our younger guys to see how they play and how they're out here competing every snap."
  • One of those younger players, the rookie Dennard, had the play of the day when he dove full length for a Dalton pass that flew wide of its mark. It was hard to tell whether Dalton threw the pass to the wrong spot or if the receiver ran the wrong route, but Dennard, playing in the familiar lockdown style that was his hallmark at Michigan State, saw the ball heading toward the sideline even as the receiver didn't. Players and fans both reacted favorably to the pickoff. "Saturday] was the first day we could play press-man on the receiver, and that's what he did at Michigan State, so he's back in his comfort zone doing what he does. He's just got to continue to get better and work on his technique, and going against good receivers every day will help him."
  • One of the cornerbacks who did not take part in the live offense vs. defense portions of the workout was Leon Hall. The veteran is still rebounding from an Achilles tear that ended his 2013 season in Week 7. It was out of an abundance of caution that the Bengals held him out of most of the practice, even though he still participated in position-specific drills early in the session. Although he's fully recovered from the serious injury, the staff still wants to ease him back into action.
  • Along with Hall, the Bengals are taking a similar slow approach with offensive linemen Clint Boling and Mike Pollak. The left guards are rotating days on and off for the foreseeable future. After Boling started at the position Thursday, Pollak took his share of snaps Friday. Keeping with the rotation, Boling claimed the starting reps at the spot Saturday. Both still dressed in the shoulder pads-and-shorts attire the rest of the team sported as the full-gear acclimation period begins to slow down. The team will be in full pads Sunday.
  • The Bengals had two injuries during Saturday's practice. Cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick pulled up, holding his right hamstring, after using good coverage to prevent Green from catching a pass from Dalton off a deep go route. Kirkpatrick was stretched out but didn't return to practice. Defensive tackle LaKendrick Ross had a minor injury as well, jogging off the field at one point for treatment. He ended up returning and finishing the practice.

Bears Camp Report: Day 2

July, 26, 2014
Jul 26
4:25
PM ET
BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Chicago Bears training camp.

" Day 1 of training camp Friday brought about a spirited workout that included a minor shoving match between Sherrick McManis and Eric Weems. On Saturday, the Bears experienced a full-blown dust-up that appeared to involve defensive end Lamarr Houston and right tackle Jordan Mills initially, and escalated to include defensive end Willie Young and Kyle Long, who still isn’t practicing because of a viral infection.

At first, Bears coach Marc Trestman joked “we’ve got to start charging” for people to watch, but took a more serious tone in pondering the implications such an event could have on the team. Trestman believes in simulating game situations whenever possible. So “if we’re practicing like it’s a game, we would have lost both players today,” he said.

Trestman also called the skirmishes “a disciplinary issue” in addition to “a major safety issue.” Interestingly, Mills and Houston were involved back in June in a similar incident during organized team activities.

" What should have been a touchdown to Martellus Bennett from Jay Cutler during a red-zone drill instead became a breakup by linebacker Jonathan Bostic.Bennett and Cutler refused to let it go. So after practice, the two stood in the end zone discussing ways they could be more effective in the red zone as the rest of the team walked off the field.

Bennett explained to ESPN.com that Cutler thought he fired the pass in the end zone high enough to get it past the outstretched arms of Bostic, and into the tight end’s hands. But at 6-foot-6, Bennett said, “What might be a high pass for someone else is different than my high,” meaning his catch radius is wider than most of the team’s targets.

“We’re just trying to take the thinking process out for both of us and make it more of a reaction thing; me reacting to his throws instead of him reacting to my body,” Bennett said.

Bennett hopes the 10 minutes spent in the end zone after practice Saturday will ensure touchdowns instead of incompletions once the season starts.

" The Bears held out Tim Jennings (quadriceps) from Saturday’s practice, and defensive end Willie Young left near the end of the workout after experiencing soreness in a quadriceps. Both are day to day. Other non-participants included safeties Craig Steltz (groin) and Chris Conte (shoulder) along with Long (viral infection).

" Despite repetitions typically being scarce for rookies, sixth-round pick David Fales received an extended period of snaps to run the offense during a team session. Although his delivery appears somewhat unconventional, it’s clear the quarterback knows where to go with the ball, makes quick decisions and doesn’t take risks. Fales was accurate on the majority of his throws, but most of his passes traveled fewer than 10 yards.

" Quarterbacks coach Matt Cavanaugh is splitting the reps between Jordan Palmer and Jimmy Clausen as the two compete for the No. 2 job behind Cutler. Clausen played most of the snaps with the second-team offense during the first half of practice, and the quarterback delivered several strikes while making virtually no mistakes. Palmer, meanwhile, struggled with accuracy working with the third team and threw an interception to linebacker Khaseem Greene. Palmer worked with the second team later in practice and improved significantly.“

"You shouldn’t draw any conclusions by who the guy [is] that goes in there after Jay’s in there,” Trestman said. “We’re just moving people around and giving each guy a chance to work with different people and different centers and so forth.”
BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- The Chicago Bears held out cornerback Tim Jennings from Saturday’s workout as a precautionary measure as the veteran suffered a strained quadriceps on Friday, while defensive end Willie Young left practice after experiencing what coach Marc Trestman called “a little bit of quad soreness.”

Trestman designated both as day to day, and their injuries aren’t considered serious.

“We want to monitor that and be sure we’re using common sense and caution there,” Trestman said.

Despite not practicing, Jennings spent a good portion of Saturday’s session working with martial arts expert and skill development coach Joe Kim on hand drills to improve the cornerback’s pass-rushing moves, as he anticipates blitzing some this upcoming season from the nickel corner spot.

Jennings said he didn’t expect to miss substantial time, saying, “It’s really not anything serious.”

Young participated for the majority of Saturday’s workout, but left after experiencing soreness approximately 30 minute before the end of the session. Veteran Trevor Scott took Young’s place in the rotation.

A Pro Bowler in each of the last two seasons, Jennings ranks No. 2 in the NFL in interceptions (13) over that span, second to only Seattle’s Richard Sherman. After using a first-round selection on cornerback Kyle Fuller, the club plans to play Jennings inside at nickel corner in sub packages. But in the team’s base defense, Jennings remains the starter opposite Charles Tillman.

Young joined the Bears in March from Detroit, signing a three-year deal worth $9 million. Young started in 15 games last season for the Lions, contributing 47 tackles and three sacks. Although Young isn’t a starter, he’s expected to play a significant role in Chicago’s efforts to ramp up the pass rush.

During the offseason, the Bears utilized some pass rushing packages that featured Young and Jared Allen on the outside, with defensive end Lamarr Houston and Jeremiah Ratliff playing inside at the tackle positions, and the club has continued to practice that look throughout training camp.
CINCINNATI -- Rey Maualuga had just gotten up from a 16-minute, 28-second interview with a trio of reporters when fellow Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Brandon Joiner approached with a question.

The 27-year-old Maualuga knew exactly what his younger teammate needed help with. He stopped his stride across the mostly empty locker room, bent his body into a defensive stance and started pointing and speaking linebacker jargon with Joiner who nodded eagerly along.

[+] EnlargeVontaze Burfict
AP Photo/Lenny IgnelziBengals linebacker Rey Maualuga is attempting to rebound after seeing his production slip in 2013.
It was the very type of teaching lesson Maualuga had detailed moments before when he gabbed with the reporters. Ahead of what could very well be his final training camp with the Bengals, the veteran defender made it clear that while he's going to fight hard for a spot on the 53-man roster, he's still going to give advice to any of the players he's competing against who want to listen.

"I'm just out there to teach," Maualuga said. "So I'm doing whatever I can do to help the younger guys know how to line up and help them out with their playbook. Because eventually, we've got 12 linebackers and we're not going to keep all 12. If I can help someone be the best player in this short amount of time to do their job, then I can feel good about that."

Among the hottest offseason Bengals topics this spring and summer have been questions revolving around Maualuga's status as the team's starting middle linebacker. Several of the weekend mailbags that appeared on ESPN.com's Bengals blog the past few months were filled with fan inquiries about Maualuga, and whether he could be replaced by Vincent Rey, a veteran backup who played well in relief of Maualuga when he was injured three games last year.

Rey's 30 tackles, three sacks and one interception in those three games caught the fans' attention. Calls for him to take over the first-string "Mike" linebacker duties began and haven't ceased since, even as Rey starts camp as one of the top backups at all three linebacker positions. Those calls came at the same time Maualuga's production was waning. He finished with 47 fewer tackles in 2013 than he had in 2012, and miscues like his ill-timed personal foul penalty in the opener at Chicago last year combined to put him on the fans' bad side. That penalty ended any hope the Bengals had at putting together a final-minute comeback drive that might have won the game.

As for Rey, the backup said he's not concerned so much with trying to be the starter at any of the spots he plays. He just wants to get on the field, whether that's from off the bench or as a starter in specific situations like third-down or goal-line defense, much like he was last year.

"The honest truth is that for me it's more about getting on the field," Rey said. "And the thing is, you never know when you'll get on the field. That's the tougher position for me. I embrace it. I never know. I may be on the field at this position, or that position. I'm going to be ready. Whenever my name's called, I'm going to be ready."

That was Maualuga's approach when he arrived as a second-round draft pick from Southern Cal in 2009. He just wanted to play and learn from the players above him.

At the time, that meant hanging on to former "Sam" linebacker Rashad Jeanty's every word. It meant listening to all of former "Mike" linebacker Dhani Jones' pearls of wisdom, like the following that remain at the forefront of his mind.

"Coach Zim [former defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer] asked Dhani, 'Why haven't you missed a practice since you've been here?'" Maualuga recounted. "He said, 'I'm afraid to lose my job.'"

After four seasons with the Bengals and six more in the NFL, Jones did in fact lose his job -- to Maualuga. When Maualuga opened the 2011 season at middle linebacker, he did so in place of the elder linebacker who wasn't re-signed after the 2010 season and soon after retired.

Reminded of how he became the Bengals' "Mike" linebacker, Maualuga paused and nervously grinned as the irony settled in.

"It's only due time until someone comes and takes my spot," he said. "I'm going to put up a fight, though."

He knows that fight might not be enough. Although there is much with respect to his position battle that he can control, the ultimate decision rests in the coaches' hands.

"My family's here. I want to be here," Maualuga said. "But there's a lot of great linebackers on this roster. We can't keep everybody.

"If I don't make it, I still know that I gave it my all and hopefully another team will be out there to pick me up."
DAVIE, Fla. -- Miami Dolphins defensive end Cameron Wake has three Pro Bowls on his resume and gaudy sack numbers. He's earned team MVP honors in Miami, as well as a pair of Defensive Player of the Year awards during his stint in the CFL.

But there is one thing the 32-year-old Wake is still chasing in his accomplished football career: a postseason appearance. Wake has never played a down in the NFL playoffs during his five-year NFL career. He arrived from the CFL to Miami in 2009, one year after the Dolphins last made the postseason. Since then, Miami has a record of 35-45 with zero winning seasons.

[+] EnlargeCameron Wake
AP PhotoThe Dolphins' Cameron Wake has notched 23.5 sacks in the past two seasons.
Wake doesn't want to be remembered as one of Miami's greatest players never to reach the postseason. As players get older, they get wiser and more reflective. Wake said he recently talked to his younger Dolphins teammates about urgency this year and having a win-now mentality.

"I’ve been here with great teams, great players, and I haven’t been to the playoffs once," Wake said disappointingly. “So I’m trying to profess how hard it is to win in this league. It takes so much -- that extra rep, that extra bench press, whatever it may be -- to make that happen.

“For me, as you know, it’s the thing that’s eluded me so far in my career. I’m trying to do everything I can personally and for the team to make that happen this year.”

Wake’s urgency was on display Saturday on the practice field. On a hot July practice, Wake had a strong day against Dolphins rookie right tackle Ja'Waun James.

Wake plowed through James in one-on-one drills and recorded a batted ball and a sack in team drills. Wake was a handful all practice for the rookie at a point in his career when Wake doesn't have to prove himself.

“He practices hard,” Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin said. “I think the one thing I really appreciate about Cam Wake is -- obviously you want the performance and production on game day – but he does a great job in practice.”

The Dolphins need another big season from Wake. This is a big year for many in the organization, and Miami needs a healthy and productive Wake to wreak havoc on quarterbacks and provide leadership on defense.

Wake plays a physically demanding position, but part of his success is due to good nutrition. Wake stays in optimum shape and closely monitors his diet. That’s partially led to Wake recording 23.5 sacks the past two seasons after the age of 30.

“I’ve never looked at a number,” Wake explained. “I never said I want to play 10 years. Is that 10 years from school, because I’ve been out of school 10 years? So it’s hard to put that number out there.

“I just want to play for as long as I can, be successful and help whatever team, whatever situation I’m in win. How many more years is that? Who knows?”
CINCINNATI -- The Lombardi Trophy has taken up residence in the Cincinnati Bengals' locker room during this training camp.

OK, let's rephrase that.

Printed on the fronts of T-shirts and plastered into an image that occasionally flashes on the television screens mounted atop the wall posts inside the Bengals' locker room, representations of the Lombardi Trophy have been visible. The actual trophy has never seen Paul Brown Stadium, although the Bengals hope to change that this year.

[+] EnlargeGeorge Iloka
AP Photo/Tom UhlmanGeorge Iloka, No. 43, said the Bengals' defense wants to stay aggressive but cut down on penalties.
In their quest to win the franchise's first Super Bowl this year, the theme for the Bengals' camp this summer is comprised of two words: "smart" and "fast." Printed on the T-shirts and emblazoned on the same image of the trophy that flashes on the TV screens are those words, along with a series of claw marks. When it comes to making Cincinnati's team this year, coaches want to stress the words "smart" and "fast."

On defense, they want to stress another one -- "bullies."

When I asked third-year safety George Iloka what the defense wanted to be known as this season, he brought up a statement defensive coordinator Paul Guenther made during a meeting at the start of training camp. Clearly, Iloka was paying attention.

"We want to be smart bullies," he said.

That philosophy fits with the overall theme of the camp, but what exactly is a smart bully?

"Our mentality is to go out there and play aggressive and physical, but we've got to be smart," Iloka said. "We've got to know when to take chances. We've got to know if it's third-and-1, we've got to know if it's fourth-and-1, we've got to know if we're backed up that they're going to try to give you a hard count. Little things like that. You don't want to be too aggressive where you're hurting yourself."

It's an important fact to stress because at times last season the Bengals did let their aggression get the best of them.

They ranked 11th in the league in defensive penalties last season, incurring 41 infractions. While that number might not be astronomically high, the yards they were penalized for in all three phases were. Flagged for 1,000 total yards, the Bengals ranked fifth in overall penalty yards in 2013. When it came specifically to the defense, the most egregious violations seemed to come at inopportune moments (is there really a good time to draw a penalty, though?).

Linebacker Rey Maualuga's body slam of a Bears offensive lineman just after a third-down stop late in the fourth quarter of the season opener was costly. Had Maualuga kept his wits and not thrown down the lineman, the Bengals' third-down stop would have led to a punt. Out of timeouts and with a little more than a minute left in a game in which they trailed by a field goal, the Bengals had just enough time to get a good return and set up a possible comeback that could have ended in a Week 1 win.

Instead, after Maualuga's 15-yard penalty, the Bears went through a series of kneeldowns the Bengals were helpless to prevent because they didn't have any timeouts. Cincinnati lost 24-21.

"You want to cut down on penalties. You want to cut down on mistakes. But it's not even those things," Iloka said. "Let's say it's third-and-4 and all week we've practiced that this team in this formation is going to run a seam route. Why are you going to be overaggressive and jump the out route? Just be a smart bully. You're smart, and when the time comes to make the hit ... you bully them and you make the play."

While Guenther didn't use the term "smart bullies" at a kickoff luncheon earlier this week in Cincinnati, he made it clear that he was looking for that kind of play as he begins his first year as a coordinator.

"I like how passionate they are, how smart they are and how flexible they can be," Guenther said. "I'm really hammering home being a smart football team."

Will being smart and fast bullies be enough for the Bengals to finally obtain their goal? Iloka thinks so; as long as he and his teammates avoid the complacency that can come with having a top-3 defense like they did last year.

"Until we're No. 1, there's always room for improvement," he said. "Since I've been here the defense has been one of the strong points of this team. We really emphasize it. We just want to go up. Obviously [ranking third] wasn't good enough because we didn't win the Super Bowl. The defense has room for improvement. Turnovers, third downs, you name it. We can always get better."
BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- While Jared Allen’s physical skill set made him an alluring offseason acquisition for Bears, it’s the intangibles that stood out in Day 1 of training camp, according to Bears coach Marc Trestman.

“I thought Jared set the tone defensively with Lamarr [Houston] and the guys up front, Jeremiah [Ratliff] up front, just in the start of practice,” Trestman said. “That was clear through his performance today that he not only started fast and finished strong.”

Chicago’s defense netted a Kyle Fuller interception early on in full team work Friday at Olivet Nazarene University, and the momentum from that play seemed to carry the unit through the duration of practice. Walking off the field just minutes after the workout, cornerback Tim Jennings felt “the defense came out with a lot of energy.”

[+] EnlargeJared Allen
Jerry Lai/USA Today SportsDefensive end Jared Allen's infectious personality has made an impression on the Bears.
Combined with veterans such as Charles Tillman, Lance Briggs, Jennings and Houston, perhaps Allen served as the catalyst. Of course, Allen won’t take credit. He knows his worth is proven by what’s done on the field, not rah-rah motivational speeches.

“You’re a leader by what you do. I’ve had success in this league, so for me, it’s nothing I want to say to a guy,” Allen said. “I’m going to encourage a guy. I’m going to help young guys out if they want it. But the way I’m going to lead is I’m going to show up to work and I’m going to put my best on the field, and I’m going to expect the guy next to me to be his best.”

Tillman, Briggs, and Jennings have taken a similar approach, making Allen seemingly a natural fit in Chicago’s revamped group chock-full of a mixture of young, ascending players combined with established veterans.

“There’s so much change,” Allen said. “Guys get to know each other from playing against each other and you have a mutual respect. So it’s not like I was totally new. I know Lance. I know Peanut. I know these guys, and as they get to see how I work, the young guys see that, and they see how the vets who have had success in this league collaborate and work together. So there’s not much that has to be said. You show up and go about your business, and you expect guys to do the same.”

Allen joined the Bears with Hall of Fame credentials as a five-time Pro Bowler, and member of the 100-sacks club, but Trestman believes the defensive end’s infectious personality could play into him positively affecting other players on Chicago’s defense, which hit historic lows last season, ranking last in the NFL against the run.

Obviously, the addition of Allen doesn’t automatically fix things. But his combination of skill and intangibles certainly helps.

“He’s a very likable guy in the locker room. He’s a fun guy to have a conversation with,” Trestman said. “We’re excited to have him with us. He’s been a tremendous addition in our locker room and we’re hopeful it’ll translate to the field and the games as well.”

The Bears worked a few packages during Friday’s workout which feature Allen, Willie Young, Ratliff and Houston all on the field at the same time. When the team runs its base defense, Allen and Houston are the starters at defensive end. But in some packages, Houston kicks inside to defensive tackle next to Ratliff, which should allow Young and Allen to better attack the edges.

As an 11-year veteran Allen knows to temper his excitement, because once the season kicks off, anything can happen. But having been a part of successful defenses in the past in Kansas City and Minnesota, Allen believes the Bears have the ingredients to put together something special.

“We’ve got quality vets, we’ve got Pro Bowl guys,” Allen said. “We’ve got guys who are right on that precipice of exploding. I’m excited to work with Willie and Jay Ratliff being healthy again, and Lamarr. We worked on some different packages and stuff today to get all four of us on the field. It's exciting to see the talent level we've got with Briggs behind us and Bostic. You can keep going. I'm excited to play with the DBs, honestly, to have some lockdown corners -- the young guy running there flying around and picking balls off today. So that's what's exciting about it. The fans and the media want to talk about what happened last year. I wasn't here. To me that doesn't matter. I know how things can change in one year. I honestly believe -- I've been a part of really good defenses -- we have those components. As long as guys continue to grow and develop and understand how each other work and the coaches continue to let us work within our scheme, I think we'll be fine.”

Bears Camp Report: Day 1

July, 25, 2014
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BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- Here is a quick recap of highlights from Chicago Bears training camp at Olivet Nazarene University:
  • Welcome-to-the-NFL moments generally aren’t favorable, but rookie first-round pick Kyle Fuller bucked that trend with a pair of interceptions during his first training camp workout.During the first session of full team work, Fuller broke on a pass from Jordan Palmer intended for Terrence Toliver, diving just before the ball arrived to make an interception worthy of a highlight reel. Later in the practice, Fuller picked off a throw by Jimmy Clausen on a play when Terrence Toliver ran the wrong route according to Bears coach Marc Trestman.“Just playing my technique and fundamentals, and when the ball is in the air [I’m] just trying to go in and make a play,” Fuller said of his first interception.Positivity didn’t rule the day for Fuller, however. Chris Williams pulled in a bomb from Palmer, who dropped the ball right in between the bracket coverage of Fuller and safety M.D. Jennings for a touchdown.
  • Trestman introduced one new wrinkle the fans and players could appreciate at practice, as the team pumped music over the loudspeakers during warm-ups and individual periods. Trestman pointed out that during pregame at stadiums, music blares over the loud speakers during warm-ups, and the coach wants to simulate real situations as much as possible.Perhaps more interesting is the eclectic selection that included songs from Bon Jovi, Guns & Roses, T.I., Bob Marley and AC/DC. Trestman said the players pick the music.“It translates to games because there’s music before games,” Trestman said. “I just wanted to bring just a little more energy to practice.”
  • Chicago’s revamped defense definitely came out of Day 1 as winners, compared to the offense. But let’s remember, it was only the first day. In addition to Fuller’s pair of interceptions, cornerback Sherrick McManis picked off a Jay Cutler pass, and later stripped Marquess Wilson near the sideline before recovering the loose ball.There were also several instances in which the rush affected the quarterbacks enough for them to abort plays. Cornelius Washington also batted down a Cutler pass.“We looked great, came out here, got a few turnovers,” cornerback Tim Jennings said. “Defense came out with a lot of energy. I know some of the offensive coaches wish they could’ve had some plays back. We’re not at all disappointed with this first day.”
  • Non-participants at practice included guard Kyle Long (viral infection), and safeties Craig Steltz (groin) and Chris Conte (shoulder). Conte started camp on the active physically unable to perform list. But the club decided late Thursday to add Steltz to the active PUP list and put Long on the active non-football injury list.Long is considered day to day, according to Trestman, who said, “We don’t anticipate it will be too long” before he’s released to practice.
  • Receiver Eric Weems and McManis became involved in a brief shoving match near the end of practice that was quickly broken up by teammates.

Mike Pouncey, Moreno on PUP

July, 25, 2014
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DAVIE, Fla. -- The Miami Dolphins opened training camp Friday by placing Pro Bowl center Mike Pouncey and running back Knowshon Moreno on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list.

Pouncey had major hip surgery this summer and reportedly could miss as much as eight weeks of the regular season. Moreno had a cleanup procedure on his knee and should return before the end of the preseason.

Both players are expected to eventually be key members of Miami's offense. Pouncey is arguably the Dolphins’ best offensive player. Moreno, who started last year for the Denver Broncos, signed a one-year contract to compete with incumbent starting tailback Lamar Miller.

The Dolphins opened training camp on Friday. Dolphins general manager Dennis Hickey also said everyone passed their conditioning tests.
BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- The body-language cops and critics knock Jay Cutler enough that new signees aren’t sure what to expect from the quarterback upon joining the Chicago Bears.

That’s partly why backup quarterback Jimmy Clausen expressed surprise Thursday about Cutler’s willingness to take on the role of mentor. After signing with the Bears on June 5, Clausen spent his first weekend as a Chicago Bear with Cutler learning the offense.

[+] EnlargeJimmy Clausen
AP Photo/Charles Rex ArbogastJimmy Clausen is looking to impress coach Marc Trestman enough to earn the Bears' No. 2 QB job.
“Just hearing different things around the league, ‘Jay’s this, Jay’s that, different guys are this or different guys are that,’" Clausen said. “But you’ve just got to get to know a person, a man on the team. He’s just like all the rest of the guys, just hungry to get out there each and every day, work hard, and win on Sundays.”

With Cutler’s help, Clausen put on enough of a show during veteran minicamp in June to convince the team’s brass to extend the audition to training camp. Now, Clausen finds himself in prime position to overtake Jordan Palmer to become the primary backup to Cutler.

“He helped me out a lot,” Clausen said of Cutler. “Obviously, you get a whole entire playbook, but a lot of the plays in the playbook aren’t necessarily the ones you run. So he kind of went through pretty much the whole entire playbook and said, ‘Hey, you need to know this, this, and this. He really helped me a lot.”

That assistance perhaps plays a role in intensifying the competition between Clausen and Palmer for the No. 2 job. Palmer originally signed with the Bears last August, was cut after training camp, and returned two months later to finish out the season with the team.

Early in the offseason, Bears coach Marc Trestman and general manager Phil Emery expressed confidence in going into the 2014 season with Palmer as the No. 2 quarterback. But the Bears drafted David Fales in the sixth round, and signed Clausen in June following a strong workout and personal interview session with the brass at Halas Hall.

“Right now, Jordan Palmer has the first shot at being No. 2,” Trestman said. “There’s three guys there up for the No. 2, but it’s going to start with Jordan, and we feel really good about Jimmy. We felt really good about David’s performance as well. We’re just going to work at it like that. We’re going to give Jordan the first shot. He’s been here the longest. Jimmy Clausen has the most experience, so we’re going to work to get him in there.”

Does Cutler have a preference? The quarterback certainly didn’t indicate as much Wednesday when he arrived at camp.

“Jordan, he’s been around a long time, his older brother, he’s been able to watch him a lot,” Cutler said. “Jimmy, he’s played in big games at Notre Dame and kind of [has] the pedigree. He’s a high-round pick, was in a tough position in Carolina. They’re both very hungry. They’ve both worked extremely hard this offseason putting in the time mentally.”

Clausen spent the past month going into camp, studying and training in Westlake Village, California, alongside players such as Clay Matthews, Aaron Rodgers and Colin Kaepernick.

“I think I’ve got a good grasp of it right now,” Clausen said. “It’s just taking what I’ve been studying onto the field and having it translate into practice each and every play. It’ll be interesting to get on the field and get going. I’m excited. Day 1 is tomorrow.”

Like Cutler, Clausen has dealt with scrutiny over the years regarding his attitude, and perceptions about his ego. He encourages those hurling the criticisms to do what he did in establishing a relationship with Cutler.

“Everybody has their own opinion, but until you get to know somebody, you can’t really make a judgment on the person,” Clausen said. “A lot of people say different things about me, or different guys on the team, or Jay, or whoever it may be. I think it’s unfair if you just make a judgment without knowing somebody, but that’s just how this world is today.”
BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- Surrounded by media outside the cafeteria at Olivet Nazarene University on an unseasonably cool July afternoon, Chicago Bears safety Adrian Wilson wanted to say what was truly on his mind.

Instead, he kept calm when asked Thursday how it felt to miss the entire 2013 season.

Wilson
“It was terrible,” Wilson said. “It was pretty bad. I really can’t describe it now because all of the cameras are in my face. The words I want to use aren’t words I can use on camera.”

But what the lenses might be able to catch once the team straps on the pads for workouts at training camp are flashes of sheer nastiness and physicality not seen in Chicago’s secondary since Mike Brown roamed it. Wilson says he’s ready. Bears general manager Phil Emery thinks he is, too.

But age (he’ll be 35 in October) and health remain concerns. Wilson missed all of 2013 after suffering an injury in the preseason finale as a New England Patriot, which was revealed to be Haglund’s deformity and required him to wear a hard cast for more than two months.

Wilson joined the Patriots after a 12-year tenure with the Arizona Cardinals, which released the aging veteran despite his five Pro Bowl selections and contributions in 181 career games.

When Wilson suffered the injury with the Patriots, it was believed the safety was in jeopardy of not making the team.

Yet in Chicago, for Wilson, there’s new life, provided he can stay healthy and consistently showcase the burst, superior instincts and athleticism he displayed back in June during the workout at Halas Hall which prompted the Bears to sign him.

“It’s an open competition back there,” Bears coach Marc Trestman said. “If he’s ready to go condition-wise in terms of on a daily basis and practice effectively, we’ll see where he’s at. We’re excited and hopeful that what we saw in the workout will transcend over the course of training camp.”

Wilson signed with the Bears after they had already conducted organized team activities and minicamps. So he didn’t participate in the team’s offseason conditioning program. To get Wilson up to speed, defensive coordinator Mel Tucker and secondary coach Jon Hoke reached out, as did Jared Allen, Charles Tillman and Lance Briggs, among others.

Wilson also got a hold of an iPad loaded up with Chicago’s defensive system, and crammed day after day, learning the intricacies of the scheme.

“Good thing they made iPads,” Wilson joked. “I missed pretty much everything [in the offseason]. So I got caught up with the iPad and I’m ready to roll. For the people that know me, they know how obsessed I am with just learning the ins and outs of the defense.”

There’s also an infatuation with disproving the naysayers. During his 12 seasons in Arizona, Wilson missed significant time only once (seven games in 2007 due to a season-ending heel injury). That’s partly why Wilson -- despite missing all of 2013 -- never doubted he’d return to action.

Now he’s in a wide-open competition at the safety position, as both spots are up for grabs.

“There’s no challenge, man,” Wilson said. “Football is football. I’m a guy who’s very prideful. I’m a little bit disappointed from last year. I don’t have any goals. I’m just going out there and competing with myself. I’m not competing with anybody. I’m just here to play football. I take a lot of the critics that said I can’t play, that it was a terrible signing by the Bears, and all the other stuff that’s being said. I use that as motivation for me.”

Will it be enough? That’s unclear at this point, but we’ll certainly receive at least an indication one way or another on Sunday, when the Bears participate in their first fully-padded workout of camp.

Emery talked about Wilson being a player that will “come down in the box and whack you, and whack you in space,” but also mentioned the veteran is “a very instinctive player; gets his hands around the ball and he gets around the ball carrier. He’s urgent and physical.”

The “physical” part is what Chicago has missed in recent years at the safety position, which is why the brass badly wants Wilson to succeed. Outside of Wilson, no other safety on the roster possesses the physicality to be an intimidating force on the back end.

“Mr. Emery gave me a chance,” Wilson said. “I think it’s low risk for them, high reward. I’m looking forward to the opportunity. Obviously, I think I still have burst. I think I can still play.”

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