A late evening practice at Olivet Nazarene University was a welcome relief with the recent warm temperatures of the day time hours. The Bears have been going in full pads non-stop a break from the lighter training camps of years past. The team has responded in kind with some solid intensity and is showing some subtle signs on defense that they may be able to revert back to a form more acceptable in Chicago.
While the Bears may never again be one of the top five or better units in the league, it would be nice to see them improve to a top-15 rating or better. Leading the charge on defense has been the old crusty veteran Brian Urlacher. Urlacher has made some pretty outstanding INTs in practice and is showing signs of being a player more capable of making plays than he was the last two years. While the “old man” may not be the dominant speed force he once was, rest assured with Urlacher bigger and stronger he should go back to better helping to fill the lanes on run defense.
Other than Urlacher, Alex Brown has been ratcheting up his intensity level. Brown has sort of become a team spokesman with all the camera time and radio time he’s had since the start of camp, but Brown seems to have a chip on his shoulder. Brown seems to have always played with a chip on his shoulder in the NFL ever since he was drafted later than he expected to be. A fourth round selection Brown had first round talent coming out of Florida, but alleged character concerns and issues caused him to fall to the Bears. Ever since then it’s as if Brown has been trying to prove himself. While he hasn’t always been productive, having been demoted to second team after Mark Anderson’s rookie year, Brown has never wavered in his determination to be a starter and a damn good football player. Brown’s best success may have been his play against the run last year, specifically the play against the Philadelphia Eagles that sealed the victory.
Brown is going up against monster Orlando Pace and has been holding his own against the future hall of famer. This would seem to bode well for future blockers Brown will line up across, because there aren’t too many future hall of famers lining up at LT these days. What we’d like to see is more sack production from Brown, but overall the best thing to see is just pressure on the QB. Sacks are the stat that stands out the most, but QB hurries, knockdowns, pressure, etc can be just as effective in taking a QB out of his rhythm.
Rookie Al Afalava stepped up his game recently too with his promotion to the first team yesterday with Kevin Payne out for minor injury soreness. Afalava has been impressive and continues to be impressive on a daily basis proving that Angelo knows his late round DB talent. When the fans are scrambling for Angelo to take a safety early, the Angler seems to always be able to sit back and wait always seeming to find an NFL capable starter on the second day. Payne himself as well as Chris Harris are examples of gems that Angelo has found late in the draft. Afalava is a solid player who is improving in coverage, but is primarily showing his worth as an in the box defender. Given that the Bears’ defense is a one gap scheme that requires all 11 defenders to account for a gap, Afalava is a perfect fit at either strong or free safety.
You know things are going well for you when the coach mentions you by name and other veterans are taking note. Afalava seems to be determined to get playing time as a rookie, significant time at that. All this leads to his consistent level of practice play that is impressive. Hopefully moving forward this is just a sign of great things to come.
Elsewhere on offense Brandon Rideau is quietly making plays on a consistent basis. Rideau is likely going to keep his spot on the roster with his moving up to third on the depth chart behind starters Devin Hester and Earl Bennett. Rideau’s lanky frame offers a great target for QB Jay Cutler and he has deceptive speed down the field. Rideau made a few big catches yesterday notably two in a row during the two minute drill. Also of note was that he led the team in touchdowns during the pre-season last year so he has proved himself a bit.
Most everyone is counting on Rideau and are seeing the general things that he has shown to this point. Rideau has quietly become the story of camp in the last couple days. He is starting to show that ability that the Bears need out of their receivers and there is a near unanimous belief that this could be a break out year for Rideau.
Devin Hester also made a pretty spectacular catch along the side line last night. Hester laid out in front of the out of bounds line and made a stretch grab while staying in bounds. Hester just seems to be practicing better and better and is showing the ability to make the tough catch.
Back on defense rookie Jarron Gilbert got time with the starting defense manning the three-techique DT spot while Tommie Harris rested his knee. Gilbert is getting on the field a lot more now getting his fair share of reps and making plays. When he’s given the opportunity Gilbert has stepped up. He has a knack for getting in the gaps, getting up field and making plays.
Lastly the player most associated with being demoted and being the worst player on the offensive line, Josh Beekman. Left guard Josh Beekman is still running with the first team and is still playing better than Frank Omiyale. Fans can rip on Beekman all the want, but he’s not going away and he’s only getting better. For a third year player Beekman is where you’d want him to be. The Bears sure would prefer to have Steve Hutchinson or a young Ruben Brown in his prime at the LG spot, but Beekman is out there and is performing well. He works hard looks bigger and stronger than last year and is refusing to give in and walk away knowing that Frank Omiyale’s contract number likely means he’ll be starting ahead of Beekman. Josh Beekman is here on the team and he’s here to stay at the starting left guard spot whether the Windy City Nation likes it or not. He’s there as the starter until further notice.
Tags: 2009 Chicago Bears training camp, 2009 NFL, 2009 NFL training camp coverage, Al Afalava, Caleb Hanie, Chicago Bears, Chicago Bears Draft, Chicago Bears free agency, Chicago Bears training camp, Chicago Bears Training Camp coverage, Chicago Sports, Devin Hester, football, Frank Omiyale, Jarron Gilbert, Jay Cutler, Josh Beekman, Kevin Payne