Posts Tagged ‘Lovie Smith’

Midway Illustrated

September 13, 2009

MidwayIllustratedSite

Click Here to Experience the New Monsters of the Midway Illustrated, Blog

Pre-Season Indications: The Pass Rush Is Back

September 2, 2009

While most fans and analysts agree that the pre-season isn’t a great indication of how things will go, I’m going to step up and disagree with that assessment. Having seen all three of the Bears’ pre-season games to this point I can clearly say without much hesitation that the pass rush is back.

The Bears’ defense struggled last year against the pass, and it was the main reason they missed the playoffs. Meanwhile in 2009 the CB situation is far from settled and most fans would prefer to see a ball hawking free safety back there, the bottom line is thee success of this defense starts with the front four.

The top off-season priority was to find a way to fix the pass rush and to do it without overhauling the current crop of defensive lineman who were so successful in 2006 together. Enter Rod Marinelli one of the preeminent defensive line coaches in the league, if not the last couple decades. Marinelli’s resume speaks for itself although most Bears fans see only 0-16 and the coach of the Detroit Lions.

However Lovie Smith knows Marinelli well and knew that he was just the guy to fix the front four. There was a reason Smith called him the biggest free-agency acquisition of the 2009 off-season. Marinelli is a motivator of men, and is all football all the time. Toss in that he may be one of the best teachers of the game and is a disciple of the Tampa-2 defense and the choice was an easy and obvious one.

I predict and can say that it has already paid huge dividends for the Bears’ defense. While most fans remain skeptical the fact of the matter is the Bears’ pass rush has improved and it has improved drastically. The Bears currently rank eighth in the league with a pre-season total of 11 sacks. So? It’s the pre-season come the naysayers, fine but consider the opponents the Bears’ pass rush has looked the best against, the Giants and the Broncos.

Then the naysayers come with “the Broncos only allowed one sack the entire game”. Yes I’m aware of the stat, but the Broncos’ offensive line was also the cause of numerous holding penalties. A sign that the Bears’ defensive line was particular aggressive and dominating to the point that they had no choice but to grab and hold.

The Broncos mind you were the best offensive line in the league in pass protection last year. The Broncos only allowed 12 sacks on the season which good for first overall. Part of this has to do with Jay Cutler’s ample mobility and the other part would be they simply were good. Considering how many pass attempts the Broncos and Cutler attempted last year you can certainly see just how well they were in protecting the passer.

Cutler attempted 616 passes last year and was sacked the aforementioned 12 times. An average of 1 sack every 51 pass attempts. A phenomenal stat in pass protection for the Broncos. Yet the Bears’ offensive line did well to attack that well protecting front.

Not only are the sack totals up during the pre-season the intensity level is up. The D-Line seems to never quit on the pass rush and it shows. If one player gets the penetration forcing the QB to step up or move around in the pocket, typically someone else is there to make the sack. The front’s motor never seems to stop where as last year if they were stopped on their initial moves they seemed to just stop.

There is a clear difference in motivation along the front four. A never ending collective effort to get pressure and they have been successful. What also is a healthy indication is it’s not just the starters that have performed well. The backups have been just as intense and just as focused. Add on that the Bears will use a healthy rotation among the 11 members of the front four they could keep and the future looks bright.

There seems to finally be an intense focus as well as a realization of how important the “rush men” are to the success of the defense. The line has bought into what Marinelli is yelling, but more importantly they are learning from what he is teaching. The improvement to this point, has been visible to the untrained eye and that has the makings of what could be a very exciting season of Chicago Bears football.

Bears versus Bills Game Review Film Session 1st Quarter

August 17, 2009

Well it’s time to look at the Bears versus Bills game a little bit differently than a lot of people do. Sorta like the coaches do, but I’m no where near the level of an NFL coach. We’re going to go back and look at the tape and diagnose positive things from this game and negative things from this game. Sizing up how things went and what needs to be improved upon.

I’m going to try and go over each position and point out things that I like and things that I don’t like. I think I’ll have a much better feel for the game after I re-watch it and learn more from watching it the second time around. There’s nothing like modern technology to help make you a smarter football fan.

Anyway as we all know the Bears started their opening drive from the 40-yard line after the kickoff went out of bounds. I’m going to break down the first series and each series there after on defense as well. I’m going to try and dive into the intricacies of how each series went. What went well what didn’t go so well.

By no means am I an expert, I simply have a big mouth and a big opinion and a strong desire to watch and learn and become a better and smarter football fan. I’m going to do my best to be fair and balanced in my approach to the film session, and we’ll see what happens. By no means is this the end all be all, but I hope to generate more discussion and even more insightful debate among Bears fans. Hopefully like me everyone will be a little more football savvy after going through this.

The first series with a starting line up of QB Cutler, RB Jones, TE Clark, TE Davis, WR Bennett, WR Hester, OT Pace, LG Omiyale, Center Kreutz, RG Garza, RT Williams.

The Bears’ first offensive play is a three wide set with Desmond Clark lined up in the slot, but it’s twin TE formation out of the single back so it has the flexibility of run or pass. I love the flexibility of the twin TE set because if both TEs can block and catch really well, it gives you a lot of options and causes a lot of mismatches. Especially since most FBs now a days can’t run the ball very well so they’re just a blocker anyway and usually aren’t as good of a receiver as your TE. There’s a lot more versatility with this set so it’s a good offensive set for the Bears to run. I know I’m blabbering on and perhaps oversimplifying the two TE set, but I am doing this because I don’t think Ron Turner gets enough credit as an OC. This little two TE set is one example where Turner has a distinct advantage in personnel IMO.

First Offensive Series

So we see Cutler take a five step drop and rifle a pass to Devin Hester on a little button hook pattern. Cutler didn’t make any reads on the pattern he just set and fired. The play seemed to take a while to develop so it only went for a gain of two yards. The blitz came from the safety spot and Kevin Jones picked it up nicely and the protection was good.

Second play is a two back formation off-set I with McKie in the backfield, it’s a nice call a screen to Kevin Jones that goes for a gain of seven. If it’s the regular season I’d say it’s a little early in your game plan to be calling a screen, but it was effective in it’s execution. Good call by Turner here.

Third play three wide set pass is behind Hester it really looks like there was a route communication problem on this play.

Fourth down Bears punt and Maynard booms one and pins the Bills deep inside at their own five yard line.

First Defensive Series

The Bears come out with DE Anderson, NT Adams, DT Idonije, DE Brown, WILL Briggs, MIKE Urlacher, SAM Tiniosamoa, CB Vasher, CB McBride SS Afalava, FS Payne.

Traditional 4-3 look with the LBs shifted to the weak side of the formation, CBs up in press coverage. Lynch takes a counter hand off squirts through the right side of the line for a gain of six on the play. The success of this play was the counter-motion of it, the line collapsed down and there was a big hole on the right side. Mark Anderson came down to hard rather than maintaining his gap. Tackle by Afalava on the play he came up good in run support. He was a little hesitant which was why he didn’t make the tackle quicker. Still a good overall tackle and read by Afalava.

Second down and four, Bills try to run left with a simple off-tackle play and Alex Brown gets penetration up the field and into which causes havoc. The linebackers come into clean it up barely a gain of a yard if not a loss on the play.

Third down and three is the disaster play by Vasher that every has been mad about from the get go. The key to this play is the look the Bears give on a third and relatively short. The Bills have a three WR set with Edwards working out of the shot gun. The Bears are in a Cover-1, with a blitz fake on by Afalava who takes the TE in coverage man to man. Payne back deep in center field coverage. The nickel package here with a Cover-1 is a bad defensive call. Payne should maybe get over to defend the ball better, but for that to happen he has to make the perfect read. The Bears are up in press coverage on this third and short, but with the Bills working out of the shot-gun the read should be to move some players out of press coverage. Vasher bites on an out and up and gets burned by Lee Evans. It’s a good route by Evans, poor defense by Vasher but a good call on the out and up. Vasher bites on the route that would get Buffalo the first down, which is a good percentage read for him to make. However his poor fundamentals lead to the big gain on this particular play.

The pass rush is decent, but there isn’t a lot of time for it to get going because it’s out of the shot gun and Edwards makes one read and one throw. This eliminates the time for the pass rush to work.

First down run at Alex Brown out of a hurry up offense, doesn’t give the Bears much time to substitute. Run for a gain of five but the defensive pursuit was pretty good. No huddle play again, single back three WR set by Buffalo. Second down run towards the weak side again, trying to go at Lance Briggs. Briggs slips the blockers comes in and makes one of those tackles that makes you proud he’s a Bear. He has done really well in run support his entire career and this is just another example.

Third and six the Bears go with the SAM lined up on the line and fake a blitz, Corey Graham brings the blitz, the pass rush overall is good, with Graham flushing Edwards from pocket to his right. Edwards makes a dump off to the RB and Afalava comes up and makes a solid tackle short of the first down.

Fourth down is a punt for a fair catch.

Second offensive series

Bears line up in a straight I-formation hand off up the gut through the one hole, Jones cuts back at the line through an opening and makes a solid gain out of the play. Frank Omiyale looked lost on this, he missed his block so that’s why Jones had to make the cut back. On the flip side Omiyale gets down field and does make a block rather than quitting on the play. Sure he missed his initial block but it was good hustle to see him get to the next level after missing that block.

The Bears line up with a single back two TE formation, Bills up in strong press coverage eight men in the box expecting run all the way. Bears go strong protection, with only three options on the pass patterns. Hester runs a great route a deep hook play. Excellent pass and catch between Cutler and Hester, that shows a good level of chemistry between these two.

First and ten Bills come with a blitz that is picked up the pass protection is there. Cutler tries to float one out there to Hester but he’s swallowed up in double coverage. A better read may have been a check down or something with a higher percentage of success written on it. Going to Hester one too many times, is my call here. But if you want to take a positive look at it the Bears want to give Hester as many chances to make plays as he can. The more chances he gets the more complete and better he’ll become. Better to work on this in the pre-season. If this were a real game I’d be frustrated they’re singling in on Hester so much for their throws.

The next play is the other play that has caused nightmares and PTSD not to mention media stories. The INT where Cutler goes to Hester yet again. Cutler really sits on this play to long and the pressure gets to him because of him sitting on the play too long. He makes an awkward throw as he’s stepping up in the pocket trusting his arm strength to get the ball to Hester. Hester isn’t a jump ball kind of guy and he doesn’t even try to make the play because the ball is severely under thrown in the first place. Hester could have done more to try and make some sort of play on the ball whether it was defensive or otherwise. Both players are at fault here, but the story has been Cutler shoveling the blame onto Hester. I don’t think it was shoveling the blame so much as a bit of coaching and encouragement for him to say he needs to make a play on the ball.

First down and ten for the Bills and the Bears drop into a zone and run a stunt with Anthony Adams, Idonije gets solid pressure up the middle but gets pushed down from behind. The effort to get to the QB is there on this play and it forces Edwards to throw to the only option he has, a back out of the formation. Trumaine McBride makes a nice tackle on this play. No gain, on the play. Three seconds to throw the ball is about average for a QB.

Second down Corey Graham on the blitz, nice sack for Corey Graham. The D-Line gets good movement in the pocket which causes this blitz to be successful. The back makes the wrong read trying to help with the four man front and Graham comes free. Excellent call, made successful by a solid effort from the DTs to get into the backfield. Idonije again with good pressure, Bears have everything down the field covered. It’s another check down to Marshawn Lynch who gains eight after breaking a tackle by Trumaine McBride. The Bears went with a nice zone defense got adequate pressure which made the defense work.

Third offensive series

A run to Kevin Jones to the right side. Good gap defense by Buffalo Bears manage just four yards. A break down in the blocking on the left side not sure if it was Omiyale, Pace or Kreutz, but it was ugly. Part of it was the CB up in the box shot the gap hard and made Jones stop and stutter. From there it was just garbage and a broken down run play. Third down is the next ugly play Cutler. Out of the shot gun three wide he sorta hesitates when he sets to make his throw. The hesitation lets the DB really get into position to make the play. From there it’s almost picked off, you wish Cutler would have just trusted his read the first time rather than hitched it just enough to give the DB a chance to make a break on the ball.

The fourth down play is a muffed punt that the Bears recover. Primarily because their punt coverage is so good and always so well executed. A tip of the hat to Dave Toub here once again.

Kevin Schaeffer checks in at LT in place of Orlando Pace.

First and ten and what a pass and catch between Cutler and Desmond Clark. This is why it’s great to have a two TE option because Clark can still get down the field, get open and catch the ball. What a nice catch in classic Clark fashion, just an all-around great call here. Good pass protection on the whole and Clark runs a good route and it’s just a devastating play. First down again, Cutler with a quick out to Earl Bennett, good pass protection. Bears wanna get Cutler in a rhythm so they do so by throwing the ball around. Jones with nowhere to go up the middle stopped up the run play. Olin Kreutz just got man handled on the play and with the DT sliding down into Jones’ path it stuffed what was an otherwise good running play. Kreutz just got man handled at the point of attack and it just threw off the entire run play. They took a second shot of the play from behind the Bills in back from the end zone and you can clearly see Kreutz getting washed right into the play.

Third and three from the six Bears call a time out just as Cutler was going to throw a slant that looked like it might have been caught for the touchdown. Although it was thrown slightly behind Brandon Rideau so there is no guarantee that he would have made the catch. The next play is a throw into double coverage, Cutler’s gunslinger mentality evident on this one. Trying to squeeze it into Hester where the ball couldn’t go, incomplete pass fourth down Robbie Gould chip shot field goal.

Third defensive series

Bears come with an all-out blitz and it’s a quick slant to Lee Evans, no press coverage, Urlacher just missed getting a hand into the throwing lane.

Next play I don’t get to see because the production is slow to get back to it. It’s a run play that gets snowed under after about two yards. Next play is a quick hitch to the WR for a small gain. Bears play off in coverage which is why the quick hitch works well.

First and ten on a pitch to the ‘back the Bears get good pursuit and Al Afalava just misses another tackle. He slows up the back though and the back side pursuit catches up and finishes up the play. Good pursuit to the football here.

Another short pass play with the Bears in Cover-3. A stop route right in front of the CB that goes for another first down. Bears play off, Bills dink and dunk which is the story of the game to this point.

This is the play that Urlacher makes on first down here. An off-tackle play Urlacher reads perfectly storms through the tap and makes the tackle. In classic Urlacher fashion he’s moving so fast the O-Lineman doesn’t have time to block him. Read and react, make the play great stuff from number 54.

Second and nine Anderson gets pressure off the edge, but it’s a little late getting there. Edwards makes another short quick throw that BARELY gets to the TE. The rhythm of this play was clearly thrown off by the pressure Anderson applied. He cleanly beat his man on the left side. Just a speed rush to the outside by Anderson throws off the timing of the play.

The Bills going with a lot of hurry up offense here trying to wear down the Bears, trying to exploit a mismatch. To this point it hasn’t really happened as the Bears still lead 3-0. Brown gets a little bit of a pressure, everything covered down the field, another dump off to the back. He makes a few tacklers miss and storms his way forward for a gain he never should have gotten. Good pursuit by the defense, but horrible tackling. This play should have been stopped right where the ball was caught.

The play where every fan in Chicago was screaming at the T.V. The Mark Anderson play where he collapsed down so hard on the line of scrimmage on fourth and one. Kept absolutely no contain, good naked boot leg play for Edwards. Anderson looks like a dip shit on this play. Another pass no pressure on the QB here although it’s yet another stop route by the WR. The Bears should by now do a better job of jumping this route, but by now it’s a bunch of roster slobs out there in coverage anyway. Yes the starters along the front seven are still mostly out there but the back ups are in more in the secondary at this point.

First and goal, Freddie Jackson with the run towards the four hole and he’s stuck and dropped by Afalava. What a read and a superb tackle by this kid. Completely as advertised nothing critical to say about him to this point. He’s showing why he’s moving up the depth chart in such a hurry and why he should start. Second and goal empty backfield for Buffalo, out of the shot gun. Bears in zone coverage, outstanding pass rush here, Edwards is flushed from the pocket here on second and goal right into the waiting arms of Alex Brown. A clutch pass rush here by Alex Brown who gets a solid pass rush inside, and then Idonije’s pass rush up the middle gets Edwards moving right back into Brown. The pass rush by Brown did this as well as a good rush from Idonije.

Bills run the ball on third and goal from the 14 yard line and the Bears stuff it up. Field goal attempt is good just into the second quarter. We’ll finish the second quarter later in another blog.

Bears versus Bills What To Watch For

August 15, 2009

Well I’d like to say there is more that Bears fans should watch for in this game as far as the Bears being able to compete against the Bills’ strengths or weaknesses. However it’s the pre-season and there wasn’t a lot to observe last week in the Bills’ pre-season game.

The Bills looked pretty bad in the game that’s for sure. They didn’t execute well and the Titans’ starters had their way with them. Then when the Titans put their back ups into the game they started working their way down the depth chart the execution of non-NFL level talent had a lot of trouble executing. Things began to fall apart for both teams with the Titans victimizing themselves with a lot of momentum killing penalties in the fourth quarter. They also victimized themselves with a fourth quarter interception return for a touchdown.

The touchdown return off of the INT was the ONLY touchdown the Bills scored during the game. While I don’t expect the Bears’ defense to shut out and shut down the Bills’ offense, you hope that they will. Buffalo may have a slight advantage in this game since it will be their second pre-season game so they’ll have a better feeling for game rhythm and flow. Plus the Bills have been in their pre-season camp longer and practiced more than the Bears.

So what we’ll be watching for is the Bears’ execution. They should be able to execute like a well-coached football team just like the Titans were able to do with their starters in. The Bears should be able to run the ball pretty effectively. I’d like to see Kevin Jones show some of the burst and see the success he has had in camp translate over. Especially if the Bears see it fit to take it easy on Matt Forte and his hamstring.

Obviously you want to see if the front four can generate a pass rush. Most of what we want to see is fairly obvious so there should be no real surprises in this game.

Going outside the box I’d like to see how Al Afalava performs in the game at safety. If he has good instincts in the zone coverage and he understands his responsibilities in the Cover-2 better than what Danieal Manning did as a rookie and better than he seems to understand at this point. Afalava is a rookie so you don’t expect him to be perfect, but you’d like to see instincts in the game that Manning has never seemed to have.

Trumaine McBride, Corey Graham and how they’ll look in pass coverage. They will likely be the TWO back up CBs to Vasher, Tillman, Bowman etc. Hopefully they have a good game against some lackluster Bill receiver talent.

There is an argument that can be made however even though it is a pre-season game. The subtle signs that the defense was going to be bad reared it’s ugly head in week one of the pre-season against the Kansas City Chiefs. The Chiefs marched 91 yards on the Bears’ starters for a touchdown. Even after they shot themselves in the foot with 10 penalty yards the Bears’ defense was still unable to stop the Chiefs. It was the starters and the starters seemed to struggle on defense throughout the entire pre-season. Additionally it seems that a lot of the players that were backups in that game are important starters or players who’ll need to step up for the Bears in 2009.

Against the 49ers where the starters played for most of the game, the Bears made J.T. O’Sullivan look like Joe Montana guiding the 49ers offense down the field almost at will. O’Sullivan was seven out of eight for 126 yards and a touchdown in a pre-season game against the Bears’ starting defense.

So yes there is the importance of seeing the Bears’ defense perform well. Usually at this time of the season defenses are ahead of offenses so the Bears defense should be able to stop the Bills in this game fairly regularly. Especially with Terrell Owens out of the game.

So while everyone will have their eyes on Jay Cutler and his receivers the main point of focus should be the Bears’ defense and can they slow down a team. This is a team that is built on defense so the Bears should show signs of being a good team based on how their defense performs.

For more in-depth discussion on the Chicago Bears’ training camp go to Midway Illustrated

Chicago Bears Training Camp Report Day 6

August 6, 2009

There were a few things that happened down at camp today really caught everyone’s attention today. One really good thing and one thing that could be something to keep an eye on going forward.

The most important thing that happened today was Jay Cutler’s command of the offense and the accuracy to his receivers. Cutler was on target most of the day with his throws and they were delivered with a level of zip that has become his trademark. What we saw today was what we have come to expect of Cutler and it’s easy to see he is starting to really get a feel for his receivers and for the offense. Cutler was great in the two-minute drill and you can really see the rapport that exists between him and Earl Bennett. Yes I said Earl Bennett, who looks light years ahead of where he was last year and is practicing with a new level of confidence.

Cutler had a couple shaky days in a row, but today was one of his best days, and it was on a day you wouldn’t expect him to be on top of it given it was the fifth practice in a row in full pads. Lovie Smith has sorta become notorious for taking it easy on his veterans (he still is) but he has the Bears practicing five straight days in full pads. This to me shows a renewed level of dedication by Smith not to mention he senses the same urgency that the fans of the Monsters of the Midway do.

Adding more to the reasons the Bears brought Cutler here, and to the reasons why you can consider Cutler a franchise level QB was hearing again about his passer rating in the fourth quarter. Cutler’s rating in the fourth quarter was up over 90. Which is when having a high QB rating matters most, in crunch time with the game on the line. Sure the Broncos struggled in the red zone last year but you still want your QB to be at his best when the game matters the most and that’s yet another example of Cutler being on top of it.

To talk more about Earl Bennett’s development may not do him justice. He has come along way from last year and while we likely won’t see the true results of that until the season starts, at least we can have some confidence going forward. There is reason to be optimistic about Bennett’s work ethic and his consistency in practice. No the Bears likely don’t have a true number one wide receiver that’s going to going to haul in 90 to 100 catches and put up 1,200-yards receiving. However that doesn’t mean that the Bears can’t be successful or win the Super Bowl with the talent that is on the roster. The Bears have won without a major player at receiver before and if the players they have on the team perform up to expectations the offense will be just fine.

There is no reason to blow smoke up your ass and make you think that the receiving core is fixed or is going to be feared, but there is reason for subtle optimism that the Bears will have players capable of making plays when it matters. Earl Bennett is one, Johnny Knox is another, Brandon Rideau is another and quietly but subtly Juaqin Iglesias is becoming more consistent with his receptions in practice.

The other news we like to cover is the development of Zack Bowman’s hamstring injury. Bowman has been the stud on defense since camp started and looks like he’s fully capable of taking over for Nathan Vasher who is likely attending his final training camp as a Chicago Bear. Bowman injury while not rumored to be serious is cause for concern. After all anytime a player tweaks a hamstring it can be one of those lingering nagging injuries that cause a lot of problems, especially if that player is rushed back in or rushes himself back in. Right now Bowman is listed as day to day and hopefully he’ll be back on the field soon.

In the mean time look for Corey Graham, Trumaine McBride and rookie DJ Moore to get more attention with the first team defense. Moore is about where you’d expect for a rookie, making plays and showing potential, while at the same time getting worked over like a rookie usually does.

It’s of note to mention that Brett Basanez has looked better the past couple practices. While he may still struggle to stay on the 53-man roster it is nice to see him starting to find a bit of a groove. Overall though he’s still a country mile behind Caleb Hanie for the back up spot. Hanie is just more crisp and accurate with his throws and has the arm strength necessary to make NFL level throws that Basanez struggles with. Hanie is turning out to be a nice surprise for Bears fans and I’m really excited to see him in pre-season action again this year after he performed so unexpectedly well last year as a undrafted free agent signee.

On defense it’s of note that Adawale Ogunleye still hasn’t found himself yet. All last year you could question his heart and his desire and whether or not one of the lone over 30 players on the team was about done. Now you can really start to question it as O-Gun has yet to really make much of a play all camp long. At some point the light bulb needs to flick back on for O-Gun and he needs to perform up to the level he’s getting paid for. I think if Henry Melton were a little further along in his development there would be the potential to see O-Gun cut after this camp. Since the Bears need a more secure defensive front, O-Gun’s job is safe for now.

On the offensive line the players are playing up to expectations. Not a lot to report when it’s pretty much what you would expect from everyone. The key will be how healthy Orlando Pace remains at the LT spot. He is obviously still a very capable pass blocker which will matter most against Aaron Kampman of the Packers and Jared Allen of the Vikings. John St. Claire was abused by pass rushers most of last year, especially Allen so it will be nice to have a player out there that can protect the most valuable player on the roster. On the flip side Chris Williams continues to show why the Bears drafted him. The redundant he’s big athletic and strong may get old, but it is become more and more obvious that the Bears are overall better along the offensive line than they were and they will be better on offense because of it.

At the running back position Matt Forte is back close to full strength and practicing as such. Sure the team will still bring him along slowly but he is more active in practice than he had been through the first few practices. Seeing Forte starting to get his groove on in full pads is a welcome sign.

For more in-depth discussion on the Chicago Bears’ training camp go to Midway Illustrated

Chicago Bears Training Camp Report Day 3

August 2, 2009

While the defense has stolen the show for the most part of the first two days, the offense didn’t want to take that lying down on day two.

The passing game continues to find it’s groove with both Jay Cutler and Caleb Hanie getting in on the action. Cutler was overall sharp while Hanie continued to shine and show a high level of improvement over last year. Hanie has the arm strength to get the ball down the field and the accuracy behind that rocket to make big plays in tight spots. It looks as though they are the one and two (Cutler obviously) but Hanie is running away from Basanez. Honestly it’s not even close at this point even when Basanez improves his accuracy he still seems to get picked off once a practice.

On the offensive line Chris Williams is beginning to show signs of being fully healed from his back surgery last year. On top of being healthy Williams has shown the talent that made him the Bears’ first round selection in the draft last year. While most fans are skeptical given the recent lack of overall success with first round picks, Williams seems to be fighting as if his job were on the line. He’s had a few pancake blocks here and there and has been solid in pass protection as well. Williams has also been talking with a chip on his shoulder with the media. He seems to be fuming somewhat that they (the media) helped anoint a bust before he played his first real game.

The Bears need stability along the offensive front, especially at offensive tackle and it’s Williams and Pace that are attempting to do just that. The severely disappointing play from the offensive line last year really hampered the Bears’ success in both the running game and in pass protection. Now Williams seems intent on changing that and earning his pay check.

A bit of a surprise thus far has been the success of Lance Louis as a second team LT. Louis has shown that he may be a capable back up, at least from the early going of camp. Free agent signee Kevin Schaeffer is showing why the Bears signed him in the first place. Also playing with a high motor and a lot of intensity. Schaeffer was noticeably solid in the first pads practice and showed up again today. If for any reason Williams goes down Schaeffer is more than a capable back up in his place. On the flip side Williams would likely flip to the left side in place of Pace and Schaeffer would move up to starting RT.

At wide receiver Earl Bennett and the coaching staff may get the last laugh. Bennett is showing the signs that Jay Cutler and the coaching staff have been talking about from the get go. Bennett put a nasty double move off of a pump fake on Nathan Vasher and hauled in a pass 40-yards down the field from Cutler. Bennett also snatched the ball out of the air on a diving reception that brought a roar from the crowd. Bennett’s consistency is the most promising sign and it really helps that he shows to showing the signs of the same rapport he had with Cutler at Vanderbilt. ’08 may have been a wasted year for the rookie, but ’09 could be a year that makes the fans forget all about that.

With Juaquin Iglesias struggling to adjust to the pro level, the need for Bennett to step up his game and show why he was a third round pick is even more apparent. Iglesias had the first drop of the practice tonight and has made too many drops for our liking. Most people are beginning to ask who exactly was the third round selection and who was the fifth round selection between Iglesias and Knox. Knox is taking to the game like a duck to water, continuing all the great catches and route running he showed in OTAs. Further cementing his status on the team and moving up the depth chart to second team WR.

On defense Pisa Tiniosamoa is another player showing why the Bears were excited to sign him. He has laid the wood to both Garrett Wolfe and Kevin Jones on more than one occasion. Even at the smallish 224-pounds Tiniosamoa has made up with it with his intensity. Still you have to worry about things a bit when your strong side linebacker is tipping the scales in the range of some safeties.

Lance Briggs and Hunter Hillenmeyer took the day off for the most part with the veteran injury excuse of “general soreness”. This gave Jamar Williams the reps with the first team defense at the WILL ‘backer spot. Williams got popped pretty good by Olin Kreutz towards the end of practice. Williams is another player that has been the story of OTAs showing that he’s versatile enough to play all three LB positions while being the first player to come off the bench if an injury occurs.

Perhaps the best excitement of practice was the debut of the Wildcat formation or the Cane formation as the Bears are calling it. Devin Hester lines up behind center with Cutler split wide and fireworks happen. It’s just another reason to get Hester the ball in space or on a misdirection play that let’s him use his speed and moves in the open field.

As I predicted in an earlier article rookie Al Afalava is moving up the ranks in the secondary. He’s moved up to take reps with the second team defense. Even though Afalava was only around for a week of OTAs, he is out there showing off why the Bears are essentially experts at finding solid talent late in the draft. The more Afalava improves the better for the overall health of the secondary.

Unfortunately the secondary is not all stable. Nathan Vasher has been described as looking like a first year player, getting lost in coverage and beat by younger receivers. The sixth year veteran may very well be participating in his last Chicago Bears training camp. Coupled with his injury problems and his lack of consistent play Vasher looks like he’ll like be supplanted by Zack Bowman once Charles Tillman returns to reclaim his starting job.

At this point it’s one person’s opinion, although he has a lot of overall backing from everyone else in attendance in practice that there is absolute new attitude on the D-Line. The Rod Marinelli effect is being felt and the players continue to rave about as much as the media does. Adewale Ogunleye stated this is the first time he’s been able to implement what he’s being taught into real game situations (via game film). Alex Brown has taken to Marinelli’s approach like a duck to water. Not surprising given Brown naturally plays like Marinelli coaches. Rookie Jarron Gilbert is showing why the Bears are excited about his potential. Gilbert is versatile strong and very fast, he’s taking to the intensity. One observer made the comment that some D-Lineman have a tendency to look like Tarzan and play like Jane, while Gilbert is Tarzan on both counts.

Israel Idonije is looking like a slimmed down beast. Down 40-pounds from 306-pounds to 266-pounds. This gives Idonije a fierce burst off the ball and his already impressive power is magnified by the speed he possesses. This could be Idonije’s coming out party this year and it’s none too soon to have happen.

For more in-depth discussion on the Chicago Bears’ training camp go to Midway Illustrated

Chicago Bears Training Camp Day 2

August 1, 2009

By all accounts coming out of Bourbonnais today’s first practice in pads went well for the Chicago Bears. No injuries to any major players although DT Matt Toeaina came up limping and later had his knee wrapped. All players who were supposed to practice were suited up and ready to go. If Toeaina’s injury is of any significance it likely spells the end of his career as a Chicago Bear.

This is good news after hearing the report that Tommie Harris was limited this morning during the workouts. His knee will likely never be 100-percent but as long as he’s taking up space in the middle of the defense and making some plays here and there I won’t complain to much. The situation with Harris is what it is.

Elsewhere along the defensive line Alex Brown uncorked a nasty bull rush on Orlando Pace in pass rush drills. Brown knocked Pace over on a fierce move that sent the future hall of famer flat on his back. Brown joked about it after practice that it shouldn’t be mentioned because “I don’t want him killing me out here tomorrow.” This type of play by Brown is typical though even against a stud like Pace. There aren’t a lot of guys that have kept Alex Brown from wreaking havoc in the backfield the past few years.

Sure we would like to see higher sack totals from Brown, but his play against the run has been invaluable and has won the Bears more than one game. Last year especially against the Eagles on the fourth and one play from the goal-line really sent a message.

Elsewhere Jay Cutler looked sharp making big throws to Greg Olsen, Devin Hester and the newly adapted Earl Bennett. Bennett is starting to show some consistency in his play on the practice field. Giving hope for the future and reason to pay close attention to him in the first pre-season game of the season.

Olsen made more than one nifty catch today and he is proving to be the go to guy for Cutler we all thought he would be. The third year in most NFL players’ careers is usually they really break out and it seems that Olsen is right in line after the first two practices to do just that. Olsen made a circus catch between Danieal Manning and Brian Urlacher in coverage.

If they were going to give out a game ball for practice today it would undoubtedly go to second year CB Zach Bowman. Bowman was making a lot of plays today, poking a way a nice reception that Devin Hester hauled in. Picking off Cutler on another pass. All around Bowman was just making solid plays today showing that he is ready to take full advantage of the opportunity he’s getting with Charles Tillman out.

Bowman made his second INT of the young camp season, and earning rave reviews from Lovie Smith two days in a row. If it keeps up Bowman could really push Nathan Vasher who struggled a bit yesterday and wasn’t mentioned at all today according to various sources. Bowman has been running with the first team defense and has been taking full advantage of it. This is very good news to hear out of the young player and shows once again that Jerry Angelo can find good defensive backs in the later rounds of the NFL draft.

Back on offense the Bears are giving Kevin Jones a lot of reps with the first team offense. Jones has slimmed down a lot and his burst of speed is back. Having a full off-season to work out and focus on getting in football playing shape versus rehabbing an injury has benefited Jones. The Bears know that they need Jones to be healthy and productive to help keep Matt Forte fresh for the stretch run. Jones getting used to running with the first team offense is a positive sign for the Bears.

Jones is also a threat to catch the ball out of the backfield, same as Forte making sure that the Bears don’t lose that dimension on offense when Forte takes a seat. If Jones can even revert slightly to his old form, it will be a great coup for this offense. Cutler will help to take the load off of Forte yes, but hte best rushing teams in the NFL lately have all had two productive running backs. Just like the Bears had with Cedric Benson and Thomas Jones during the Super Bowl run. If Forte and Jones can both be productive the Bears will be in a solid position to win a lot of games.

In another positive sign for the defense Brian Urlacher picked off a Cutler pass and returned it for a touchdown. What Urlacher does in camp may not matter much to most of us considering his veteran status. However when they line up against the Packers it will be interesting to see exactly where he is at health wise and if he can be a top linebacker in the NFL going forward. There is little doubt that Urlacher is still the leader of this defense and his play will only benefit everyone around him.

Pisa Tiniosamoa and Hunter Hillenmeyer both made some nice plays today. Tiniosamoa popped Kevin Jones in a nice run between the tackles. Hillenmeyer picked off a Cutler pass showing that he is back and healthy and likely won’t give up his roster spot without a fight.

More on offense Josh Beekman continues to be the starter penciled in at LG. Beekman according to the much maligned K.C. Joyner was a solid guard for the Bears last year. Performing quite well even though it looks as though Omiyale will eventually take his place. Beekman though will not go down without a fight likely pushing ahead and making Omiyale’s job even tougher. This is the level of competition you want to see on an annual basis during training camp.

Lastly seeing the high lights of Jay Cutler throwing passes in practice is absolutely phenomenal. Sure those passes don’t count for much right now, but it’s still a thing of beauty to behold. His rocket arm and the tightness of his spiral really changes the entire mood and spectrum of this franchise. He has made solid completions to Devin Hester on more than one occasion and you can see the ease at with which Hester is able to haul in Cutler’s throws. It doesn’t matter what type of route it is whether it’s a deep pass or a pass over the middle between the zone coverage. Cutler makes all the throws makes them crisp sharp an on target.

For more in-depth discussion on the Chicago Bears’ training camp go to Midway Illustrated

Marcus Harrison out for the start of training camp

July 31, 2009

Promising second year defensive tackle Marcus Harrison was placed on the non-football injury reserve list today. Harrison showed up at camp on the high side of the weight scale.

Harrison was expected to come into camp with the promise of taking over the starting NT spot opposite of Tommie Harris. Harrison looked very explosive as a rookie draft pick last year. Earning a solid spot in the rotation before he admittedly hit a rookie wall.

His play though made him look like this would have been a big break through year for him. He was a solid pass rusher from the NT spot and was a pretty immovable object at the point of attack. His best strength though was his speed and his ability to get up the field fast and stretch out running plays thus giving Briggs and Urlacher a chance to make the tackle.

The news comes as an extreme disappointment to coach Lovie Smith given Harrison’s overall talent and the fact that Dusty Dvoracek has yet to finish a full season of football in his first three years in the league.

Harrison blamed the weight gain problem on personal issues he’s had to deal with in the off-season.

Harrison will have to drop the weight before he gets into the practice rotation and we’ll see exactly how long that takes and where that puts him in the eyes of the coaching staff.

It’s likely that Harrison will struggle for some time to work his way out of the dog house he has found himself in at this early stage of training camp.

For in-depth discussion regarding the start of camp and the excitement moving forward check out the forums at Midway Illustrated.

Bears Wrap Up 2009 OTAs Part I

June 23, 2009

First before I get into this I obviously owe a big apology to my loyal readers. I’ve been dealing with some personal issues close to my family lately so my blog has been neglected for a lot longer than I ever anticipated. Apologies that there has been a severe lack of content since the end of the NFL Draft. I hope to continue to provide daily updates, but more importantly the coverage you’ll receive during the season should be the best on the web from any Chicago Bears blog out there. Continue to check back here and at Midway Illustrated for all the best Bears information you’ll find in any non commercially affiliated blog.

This past Wednesday the 17th of June the Chicago Bears wrapped up their organized team activities for the 2009 off-season program. The big news everyone seems to be asking about is the speculation on Brandon Marshall and Plaxico Burress becoming Chicago Bear players. The likelihood of Marshall seems almost none given the need to trade for him. However Plaxico Burress is one to keep on an eye on as we count down the day to Bourbannais.

This blog however is going to cover went is being reported out of the OTA practices at Halas Hall. Where is the team at, and what player have stood out.

First off the big question everyone wants to look at is the wide receiver position and who is looking to emerge opposite Devin Hester.

Cutting right to the chase among the rookies (I include Earl Bennett in the rookie category) the talk is of Johnny Knox and the type of player he is. Knox as we all know has the speed to be a game breaker in the NFL. You don’t run an electronically timed 4.32 40-yard-dash, and find teams talking about your other attributes.

However this is precisely what has happened with Johnny Knox, the buzz is starting to emerge about his hands and his speed and route running ability. Knox is starting to look the part and is producing at a level higher than Juaquin Iglesias after 15 practices.

Every media type that has been at OTAs and including offensive coordinator Ron Turner have raved about Knox as the star of the rookie class during OTAs. Turner said as much in his interview on ESPN 1000 on Thursday.

Me personally I loved what I saw of Knox at the combine and his production in college is something else that says he is more than just a track star in pads. I am officially tagging Knox as the sleeper of this draft class who may wind up being a major steal if he continues to produce and work at the level he has thus far.

Granted Knox is only a rookie and has a long ways to go but his talent is unmistakable and with the need for WRs on this roster he looks as though he’ll find a solid role on this team in 2009.

We can also take a little bit away from the development of Earl Bennett. Bennett has already found a solid majority of critics lined up in his corner after missing all of 2008. Bennett however has begun to step up and show the ability that earned him a draft spot in the third round. Bennett is at a level that most of us have come to expect from the second year man.

Sure Bennett is not going to take over for Brandon Loyd, or Mushin Muhammad’s production this year. But he’ll be a part of the team and should play well moving forward. Keep in mind both Loyd and Muhammad are established veterans who have played at a high level way before. To expect Bennett to match those savvy veterans is a stretch, but anything is possible.

Brandon Rideau who ran with the practice squad most of last year is another player who has shown up and been noticed in OTAs. Rideau is also player who is showing an ability to produce this off-season. He is quite possibly producing at a level higher than Johnny Knox and could be the number two man next to Hester.

What seems to the be consensus among the receivers is that they all realize there is an opportunity to step up and be players and producers in this offense. Expanding upon that point they realize that a lot of money and a lot of years in the NFL are riding on the chance to come in and be big time producers. The race is wide open behind Hester, arguably ahead of Hester and with Jay Cutler and Matt Forte here for the long term there is an extreme need for someone to complement two future perennial Pro Bowl players.

Chicago Bears OTA Report June 10th

June 11, 2009

Unfortunately it’s coming down to the end of this season’s OTAs with only a week left until the Bears wrap it up. Although it might be a good thing since the nagging injury bug has taken it’s toll on some of the players this year.

Among the most notable injuries, Matt Forte with a strained hamstring, Brian Urlacher a strained groin, Charles Tillman with a shoulder problem, Nick Roach, Tommie Harris, Glenn Earl, Josh Bullocks among others out with injuries.

Only Tillman has managed to return to participate in two of the OTA practices thus far.

The story however has been Tommie Harris and his knee. The never-ending story that his knee is. Harris has apparently taken exception to recent talk about his demise, I even covered it in this blog here how Harris rarely participates and never looks to be at full strength. His knee problem is a major one in the fact that he hasn’t been a 100-percent participant in workouts of any kind for over a year.

Sports talk radio lit up the air waves with talk about whether the Bears should pick up his option next year or is the Jarron Gilbert and Marcus Harrison combination the way to go. My take is we’ll know all we need to know after this season.

Elsewhere the Bears signed all of their rookies during these OTAs. All nine of the draft picks were signed with third rounders Jarron Gilbert and Juaquin Iglesias signing four year deals yesterday. The Bears as usual are the first team to have all of their draft picks signed and ready to go.

News from the rookie class seems to be that Johnny Knox is making a small name for himself as the rookie that has stood out the most to this point. Knox’s speed in undeniable and his production in college was undeniable leading reason to believe teams may have underestimated how solid of a receiver prospect he actually is.

He came from a small school with high production, but no one really noticed just how dynamite of a play maker he is. He has shown of his speed in camp making big plays out of short routes and showing an ability to get deep. Knox will be one to keep an eye on in the pre-season games once the Bears face some real opposition. You’d like to think that Knox could develop along the same lines as Bernard Berrian did.

Berrian was primarily a deep threat who developed into a more well-rounded receiver as his career went on. Knox has the same level of speed and work ethic that may pay off for the Bears in the long run.

Elsewhere the Bears have been utilizing the TEs in more wide out type roles. Greg Olsen and Desmond Clark both proved to be favorite targets of Jay Cutler. Olsen got loose on a seam pass yesterday for what was probably the play of the day.

This is a dimension of the Bears’ offense that has been severely under utilized the first two years of Olsen’s career. While Olsen was effective last year, this year should be a case where Olsen puts up Tony Gonzales like production. Olsen is to big, to fast and has to great of hands to not be a multi-year Pro-Bowl player from this point forward.

Elsewhere on defense with Brian Urlacher absent Jamar Williams took all of the reps at first team MIKE. Williams appears to be a lock for a roster spot with his ability to play all three LB positions. While he was primarily talked about as Lance Briggs’ eventual replacement, he has now worked himself into position to be the primary back up at all three spots.

Williams’ only downfall is he could be the starter at the SAM spot, but because he has focused on learning all three LB spots and been a special teams wizard he is a back up for now.

The secondary is still getting shuffled around on a near weekly basis. Corey Graham took some reps at nickel back and is starting to show he has versatility to his game with an ability to play corner, safety and nickel. Danieal Manning sat out this work out with a minor injury.

Pisa Tinoisamoa ran with the first team at SAM with Nick Roach battling the injurgy bug. The recent Bears free agent acquisition is battling to start at the SAM spot. He led the Rams in tackles last year but doesn’t have the ideal size you’d like to see in a SAM backer.

The Bears definitely favor speed over size at the SAM spot. A report had Tinoisamoa playing at only 225-pounds last year. An extremely lean weight for a linebacker prospect in the NFL. Hopefully the report is more myth than fact, but that weight report is something I”ll keep an eye on going forward.

On the offensive line Josh Beekman has been sliding between center and guard but has kept ahold of his job as first team offensive guard to this point. Obviously there won’t be much movement on the offensive line of any real important note until the pads go on. Frank Omiyale and Beekman will have a major battle ahead of them at training camp. Both offer versatility in that Omiyale can slide out and play tackle and Beekman can slide in and play center.

The battle between Beekman and Omiyale figures to be one of the best battles to watch during training camp. Beekman may not be an elite level player but he continues to play well, continues to improve and there’s no reason to think his job is in danger.

We’ll have another full report next week at the conclusion of OTAs. Any news that happens between now and then we’ll keep you updated on.

Other coverage will include how the pre-season magazines rate the Bears’ strengths weaknesses heading into 2009. First up on the list will be coverage from Athlon Sports’ pre-season NFL magazine.