- Michael C. Wright, ESPN Staff Writer
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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.