Jay Taft: Chicago Bears camp filled with highs, lows
By Jay Taft
Posted Aug 03, 2012 @ 08:45 PM
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The Chicago Bears are seven workouts into training camp, and less than a week away from their preseason opener against the Denver Broncos at Soldier Field this Thursday.
With four full-padded practices under their belts, there has been some progress made toward molding this roster full of potential into a contending team. As Lovie Smith said Thursday: “There’s a process we go through, and we’re right on schedule.”
Since there was really only one position battle headed into camp — left tackle between J’Marcus Webb and Chris Williams — and that one appears to be going to Webb right now, a big part of that process is basic player evaluation. Who do we have overall, for one, and how will they fit into this new system, when it comes to the offense?
“We would like to have our team established right now and be ready for the Colts (in the regular-season opener), but we’re not.” Smith said. “We’ll just keep going through it. All of our guys will get an opportunity to prove what they can do and we like the progress.”
And so, like the other coaches and fans who have not missed a second of practice, I’ve watched player after player run through drill after drill. Here are a few guys who have stepped it up in some way during the first week of preseason camp.
Good as advertised
Sure, he’s supposed to have all this stuff down by now, and he should look good in training camp. But this year was different, and there were plenty of fans out there wondering if running back Matt Forte would come to camp ready to go after such a long, drawn-out contract battle.
Well, he did.
Forte is as chiseled as ever, clearly devoting himself to the weight room again this offseason. And the burst — well the burst was evident on Day 1 of camp, and he’s shown flashes every day since. If he stays healthy, he will be a difference-maker again.
Brandon Marshall came in with three big red check marks next to his name: One marking the star that has five straight 1,000-yard receiving seasons; one questioning the off-field man who has been in trouble with the law; and one that highlights an outstanding player who often catches a case of the droppsies.
Well, he has been a plus-mark in all three categories so far, and despite two drops on Day 1, he has been focused and hasn’t let one go since.
Some others who are looking good: Julius Peppers and Israel Idonije appear motivated; Michael Bush runs like a man possessed; right tackle Gabe Carimi appears healthy and ready to become a Pro Bowler; and corner Tim Jennings has no intentions of letting any of the new guys steal his starting spot opposite Charles Tillman.
But safety Brandon Hardin is using an impressive blend of size and quickness to push for a job now, and the big rookie out of Oregon State could very well slide into the starting lineup early this season.
Those who did nothing
For every player who has stepped up so far, there is at least one other who has been invisible.
What the youngsters want is to be noticed, but here are a few guys who made little to no noise in the first week:
Rookie Shea McClellin had a nice interception and sack on Thursday, but before that, he was getting tossed around by first-, second- and third-string offensive tackles at will.
All linebackers not named Urlacher or Briggs have been quiet, and the Bears could use another one to begin to step forward as those two are nearing the end of their prime.
Rookie receiver Jeffery has shown flashes of the receiver he was as a junior at South Carolina (88 catches for 1,517 yards with nine TDs), and at times has looked like the one from last year (49-762 and 8 TDs).
The tightend group has been average despite becoming a larger part of the picture.
Newcomers Geno Hayes at linebacker, Brian Price at defensive tackle and corners Kelvin Hayden and Jonathan Wilhite are all barely seeing the field (or at least barely being seen while on the field).
There are plenty of Bears kind of stuck in the middle, including quarterback Jay Cutler, who has thrown some darts into tiny windows — the kind of throws that make you tell your buddy “There are only about five guys in the world that can make that throw” — and some bullets into the feet of open wideouts — those that have you and that same buddy just shaking heads.
So luckily for Smith and the Bears coaching staff, there is still 10 preseason practices and four exhibition games to finish off the “process.” The offense is picking up steam, and a defense charged by Urlacher and Briggs looks the same as it always does at this point in the year: Motivated and hungry.
But “ready to go” is not a phrase that can be used for the Bears just yet.
Jay Taft: 815-987-1384; firstname.lastname@example.org