As with any NFL training camp the first day a team jumps into full pads is the most anticipated day of the preseason. Finally you get to see the rookies mix it up with the veterans and see how the new additions fit in with the team. For the Chicago Bears the anticipation was even higher with a new coaching staff and a shiny new offensive line to unveil. Everyone in attendance wanted to see how rookie offensive guard Kyle Long looks in the Bears offense, and today Long did not disappoint.
In one on one pass rush drills Long stood out as being very strong and aggressive, skills that he was complimented on by the coaching staff even before he suited up. Going up against veteran defensive tackle Nate Collins Long was able to get the better of him. At one point Collins tried to bull rush the rookie, Long anchored and then found his leverage and simply muscled Collins to the ground.
A little bit later going up against Kyle Moore, Long again showed brute strength and the nasty reputation by simply overpowering Moore again while throwing him into the ground. Each time Long took a rep the crowd in attendance watched intently and shouted their approval if Long won a battle.
The only blemish from Long today seemed to be a hump move that Stephen Paea gave him that threw him off balance. Paea got up under him with some power, and then got Long out of position as the rookie lunged and missed his block. Overall most would argue that Long stood out today over any other lineman as the story of practice seemed to be most of the players struggling.
J'Marcus Webb struggled a bit on the edge with Corey Wootton, enough to be called out from the crowd. Though Webb did get the most of Shea McClellin and every other pass rusher out there after Wootton. McClellin on the other still looks like Shea McClellin and seeing him in person without pads for the first time as he went to get lunch I still question the selection. McClellin is completely filled out physically with no room to add solid weight. He looks like a stocky athlete who won't grow much beyond his current physical build. McClellin again struggled in his one on one pass rush drills not showing any real explosion off the edge. Time and again in pass protection McClellin was bullied by tight ends, on at least two occasions he got no rush and was walled off by the TE.
The guess here is if McClellin is going to ever maximize his rushing talent it will be in a stand up role, or with the Bears disguising him in various rush packages. Certainly it's on the first day in pads, but McClellin doesn't look as comfortable or as explosive on the edge as rookie Cornelius Washington.
Washington is physically imposing, a very tall rangy athlete with good explosion off the edge. He can grow further into his frame and be a potential developmental prospect down the road. I'll have more with Washington later this week as I talked to him one on one after practice.
Sticking with more of the rookie battles seventh round wide receiver Marquess Wilson has been described by some in attendance of being a bipolar receiver through the first three practices. Wilson will make one big play and then screw up a routine play on the very next rep. Wilson did that today as he beat Isaiah Frey on a deep pass into the end-zone. He went up over the top of the defender, made the catch and came down hard with the ball in his hands. A great catch highlighting Wilson's ability to go up and attack the football. Later in practice however Frey got Wilson back as he pressed him hard coming off the line and continued to press inside leverage and then out-muscled Wilson for a slant pass and the INT. Perhaps the early thing to note here was Wilson only receiving one rep in 5-on-4 passing drills as he was buried behind everyone else. He made that one rep count early, but getting beat physically for the ball later was inexcusable for a player his size. There are flashes there, enough that the play he gets in the preseason games will ultimately determine his fate.
Alshon Jeffery had a very strong day of practice as he fought against Peanut Tillman. Jeffery had a little out route he caught along the sideline from Cutler with Tillman trailing from behind. He did everything right on the play, gaining separation, snatching the ball out of the air and tucking it in while keeping both feet in bounds. Later, Jeffery got loose on a deep throw and just like last year in week one Cutler fired a strike to Jeffery which he hauled in over the shoulder for the touchdown. Both catches elicited cheers from the crowd and seemed to indicate that Jeffery has a stranglehold on the number two spot and will very much fit in with this new offense.
The right guard competition will be one to watch as Kyle Long was getting snap after snap at the end of practice. It didn't matter that Long was in with the third team offense, it was simply a strategy of putting him through the grinder. Long seemed to respond as he kept pace and was still battling still fighting all the way through to the end.
If you were to judge the camp battle off of today's practice Long easily got the better of James Brown and seems destined to be the starter. Today at least he showed that nasty aggression you look for in an offensive lineman.
Joe Anderson also showed up well in practice today catching numerous passes on the field. The offense installation seems to be going well and it's apparent Trestman knows what he's doing and how to get people open. Getting people open was a skill that Mike Tice lacked a year ago, but it was readily apparent the simple complexity the Bears showed today.
At the end of practice the Bears went into the red-zone drills and Cutler connected on three straight touchdowns. The first was to Martellus Bennett, the second to Brandon Marshall and the third to Fendi Onobun. There were darts that needed to be right where they had to be in stride up high where the catch was made.
Sticking with Cutler the emphasis on fundamentals is readily apparent with him. Trestman stands in front of him even when it's receivers being covered by air and barks out a coverage to which he expects Cutler to read and make a throw accordingly. Trestman wants his QB and receivers making adjustments on the fly and knowing what route to run and where to go with the football accordingly. He watches how they go through their progressions how they set and reset their feet as they move to a check down. It's all an intricate part of this offense that will hopefully make the Bears a better football team.
Edwin Williams seems to have a lock on the backup center spot because he played well there today. The coaches however have given Matt Slauson a look at center too. Slauson has played the position before and talked with reporters afterwards about playing center. I'll have more on that later this week as well.
It's going to be a very heated competition for that fourth and fifth and maybe sixth wide receiver spot this year. Even Eric Weems had at least two big catches today showing something more than just the ability to play special teams. Weems, Anderson Wilson and Tolliver seem to be in line at the position as of today they all had a pretty good practice today.
Forte got loose on some big runs, basically untouched out on the edges. He should really be fun to watch in this offense. Trestman also has him lining up out wide like a receiver and has him run routes the same way.
Brandon Hardin took a lot of reps at second team safety today, he still takes too many steps in the wrong direction and was usually the culprit if a play went deep.
Martellus Bennett was lined up out wide like a receiver today on a few occasions and Tillman had the unfortunate assignment of covering him. Bennett is every bit of the 6-foot-6 265-pounds he's listed at, and his speed and ability to get open is evident. When Bennett goes full speed he really looks like a special player.
Devin Hester was late to practice, because honestly there's nothing left for him to do. Why he remains on the roster at the cost he does is absolutely mind-boggling. Hester's time in Chicago should quite simply be over.