By Dan Durkin | @djdurkin
I never anticipated my inaugural piece here at beargoggleson.com to be a collection of pithy, subjective training camp observations, but alas, here we are.
After an active offseason, in which the Bears seemingly added a bevy of new talent, the 2012 Chicago Bears were unveiled to the public this past week, and I witnessed them first-hand on Friday afternoon. I am far from a kool-aid drinker, but must admit, I was impressed with the talent new General manager Phil Emery has assembled, and look forward to this season with more anticipation than I can ever recall.
Without further ado, here’s my list of notes, where I spray to all fields.
- Brian Urlacher practiced with a brace on his left knee, but didn’t appear to be hobbled by the MCL sprain he suffered in the 2011 finale. Urlacher looked fluid in his drops, with good knee bend and quick change of direction. He was actually featured in a few zone blitz packages, but blitzing has never been Urlacher’s forte. I was encouraged by Urlacher’s movement on the field as he appears to be completely healthy heading into the season.
- Israel Idonije looked very thin. As I wrote about here, I have concerns about the depth at defensive tackle, and was happy to see Emery saw it the same way by acquiring Brian Price, in a low-risk, high-reward transaction. I initially speculated that Idonije could be moved inside on passing downs, and spoke with John “Moon” Mullin about my theory after practice. Moon quickly shook his head “no”, saying Idonije reported to camp at 262 pounds. Look for Idonije to be utilized solely on the edge, spelled by rookie Shea McClellin.
- Tim Jennings was targeted and beat deep regularly. Much like last season, Jennings was susceptible to double moves, and was beat by Brandon Marshall on a deep out, and then by Earl Bennett on a wheel route. Visions of what Jordy Nelson, Titus Young, and other NFC North receivers might do to Jennings ran through my head. Jennings needs to improve, or Kelvin Hayden will take his job.
- Speaking of Marshall, he is as good as advertised. Big, strong, sudden, quick feet, no wasted movement, great body control, and the desire to attack the ball at its highest point. Marshall is easily the best offensive weapon I’ve seen in a Bears uniform since Sweetness himself. It’s going to be a lot of fun to watch Marshall and Jay Cutler work this season, as Cutler looks his way often.
- New feel to the offense. New Offensive coordinator Mike Tice’s offense will look drastically different than what we saw from Mike Martz the past two seasons. The Bears will blend two offensive systems, Tice’s power running and vertical passing game with the roll-out/get the quarterback on the move offense we saw Cutler run in Denver with new quarterbacks coach Jeremy Bates. The Bears took several snaps from the shotgun, rolled the quarterbacks out on bootlegs/nakeds/waggles, and ran a fair amount of no huddle plays. With the new personnel – particularly at wide receiver and running back – the up-tempo aspect of the no-huddle could really put a defense on its heels.
- Emphasis on vertical and seam routes with the tight ends. Tice likes to run the tight ends vertically to challenge the safeties. With a player like Marshall on the outside who commands safety attention and help over the top, the Bears could have some opportunities for big plays from the tight ends. But do they have enough talent at the position to capitalize? Paging, Kellen Davis.
- Speaking of tight ends, bubble player Kyle Adams stood out in 7-on-7 and during the team period. Adams ran with confidence over the middle of the field, catching every pass in his direction, typically in traffic with a trailing linebacker and a safety over the top. If Adams has a strong camp, he could push someone like fullback Tyler Clutts – as Tice’s offense typically doesn’t feature a traditional fullback – off the roster.
- Rookie Evan Rodriguez is an intriguing prospect. While he’s not built in the prototypical mold of a tight end, he has traits similar to Redskins tight end Chris Cooley. Rodriguez has sure hands, and is very slippery in the open field. His versatility to line-up as an F-back (fullback in an off-set I formation), H, and Y, makes him a player to keep an eye on in the pre-season. Tice would be wise to devise a small package of plays to get the ball to Rodriguez in the flats.
- Rookie Alshon Jeffery is a big target out there who catches everything near his body, and wasn’t afraid to go over the middle of the field. Jeffery will make an impact as a possession receiver and a red zone target, but he needs to work on his footwork at the top of the route tree. Jeffery is a long strider, who rounds off his routes. With a little bit of fine tuning, and a set package of plays, Jeffery could evolve into a nice compliment to Marshall.
- Running backs Matt Forte and Michael Bush are in great shape – especially Forte – and could form the best backfield in the NFL. Forte looked very quick and decisive with his cuts, showing no residual damage from the knee injury he suffered last season against the Chiefs. Bush looked strong and powerful in the open field, with great body lean, lowering his head at the sign of any wannabe tackler.
- Given the competition at left tackle between Chris Williams and J’Marcus Webb, the rest of the line from left to right was: Chris Spencer, Roberto Garza, Lance Louis, and Gabe Carimi. Carimi looks to have slimmed down a bit in the offseason. Equipped with a brace on his surgically repaired right knee, Carimi appeared to be running with a very slight limp on the field. The focus will be on the left tackle “battle”, but Carimi should also be scrutinized, as he’s yet to prove himself at the NFL level.
Granted, it’s only July, and this team does have several question marks, in particular the secondary and both lines. But I have a level of comfort with Emery at the helm that I haven’t had in decades. Emery has been proactive in addressing needs, and mentioned he will never rest on improving the roster. With the talent to compete, the pressure is now squarely on the shoulders of Head coach Lovie Smith.
No excuses in 2012, Lovie.
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