Last Thursday, the Chicago Bears reported to training camp at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, IL and held their first practice last Friday. Sunday marked the beginning of padded practices and Tuesday marked the team's first day off, as mandated by the new collective bargaining agreement.
It is hard to get a real good assessment of a team just a few short days into training camp, but it helps offer a good perspective of where the team currently is and what they want/need to work on moving forward.
Story lines seemingly change from day-to-day during training camp but here are five early observations from the Chicago Bears training camp:
Many have had their doubts about first-round pick Kyle Long since he was selected 20th overall in this past April's draft. After having limited experience in college and limited participation in minicamps and OTAs due to NFL rules, Long has a slightly steeper learning curve than most rookies around him.
Jeff Dickerson of ESPNChicago reported that "Long certainly held his own when the offensive and defensive lineman squared off in the individual one-on-one pass rushing drill. On two separate occasions, Long pushed Bears defenders to the ground before they were able to head up field."
One player that Long dominated was defensive tackle Nate Collins, who said to ESPNChicago:
He’s very strong, I know him, he’s a big guy and is very, very strong. When he gets his hands on you—that’s one of the biggest things we know -- when you are going around him don’t let him grab you because he’s got that strength
While it is okay to be excited about Long's strength and athleticism, he will still need to prove that he can beat out James Brown for the starting right guard position. He has spent his time bouncing around between the first and second team, but his biggest opportunity to show his value will be in the team's preseason games.
A one time projected second-round pick, Marquess Wilson dropped to the Bears in the seventh round following his fallout at Washington State University that ultimately led to him leaving the team.
He was suspended late in the 2012 season and decided to quit the team, all while ripping head coach Mike Leach on his way out the door.
Despite his character concerns, he was more than worth the risk in the seventh round for a Bears team still needing help at the position.
Between the 2010 and 2011 seasons, he combined for 137 catches, 2,394 yards and 18 touchdowns. In nine games during the 2012 season, he had 52 catches for 813 yards and five touchdowns.
Wilson has great speed (ran a 4.51 40-yard dash at the combine) and has the ability to stretch the field. He is great at going up and catching the football at its highest point and has shown an ability to lay out and catch balls.
He showed that off during Sunday's one-on-one drills where he made an adjustment in the air to make a diving catch, much to the delight of the crowd.
After practice, head coach Marc Trestman said of Wilson's diving catch, per CBS Chicago:
It was a good catch. This is a game of 1-on-1 and contested throwing battles. We talk about it every day and we look at it hard. Who won the contested throwing battle and usually that’s a point of emphasis on game days.
While there is no guarantee that Wilson makes the roster, strong showings like Sunday could push him into the mix.
A few weeks ago, I touched on whether Joe Anderson could make an impact for the Bears in the 2013 season.
Anderson has benefited greatly this offseason from injuries to Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery that allowed him to gain first-team reps during parts of minicamp and OTAs.
With Marshall sitting out of Monday's practice, Anderson got another shot to run with the first team offense.
When asked by reporters about Anderson, head coach Marc Trestman said the following, as reported by CBS Chicago:
He’s had a good camp. He’s shown strong hands. He’s shown the ability to get open in tight coverage and he’s coming out every day to compete. He brings added value because he’s a good special teams player, as well.
He will need to show that he can consistently play at a high level, but he could have an opportunity to push Earl Bennett for the third wide receiver position and may have a bigger impact on the 2013 season than many think.
Since the hiring of Marc Trestman back in January, all of the focus has been put on how he can help Jay Cutler improve as a quarterback.
Cutler has always been known for his strong arm, but he has struggled for years with his mechanics and footwork.
According to ESPN Chicago's Michael C. Wright, the most glaring constant for Cutler so far has been his precision in execution: his dropbacks, footwork and delivery.
While it is great to see that Cutler is seemingly buying in to Trestman's plans, when Trestman was asked whether Cutler can maintain those improvements, he responded by saying to ESPN Chicago:
That’s a great question. I don’t know if I have the answer to that other than you have to have great communication. You have to be honest and open in terms of (if) we’re drifting back into doing something we didn’t intend to do. We’ve got to be open with it. We’ve got to come here and remind each other each day, ‘This is what we’re trying to accomplish.’ If we’ve got two willing guys that are willing to work with each other to do it, we’ve got the best chance.
Trestman understands that this will be an ever evolving process to get Cutler to continue to improve on his mechanics and they will both have to work diligently to keep him from falling back into old habits. While he can continue to work with him on a daily basis, it will be up to Cutler this season to prove that you can still teach an old dog some new tricks.
Following Sedrick Ellis' surprising retirement, the already thin Bears defensive line got even thinner with Turk McBride's ruptured achilles injury on Monday that will likely keep him out for the entire 2013 season, according to the Chicago Tribune.
While McBride was expected to only be a back end of the roster type player, it again puts focus on a defensive line that appears to have more questions than answers.
While guys like Henry Melton and Julius Peppers are expected to live up to their 2012 Pro Bowl nods, questions still remain all along the defensive line.
Shea McClellin and Corey Wootton are battling out for the defensive end position opposite of Peppers, and Stephen Paea is expected to start alongside Melton at nose tackle. But after those five players, the rest of the defensive line depth chart is virtually wide open.
Nate Collins will likely reclaim his role as a rotational defensive tackle and he could be pushed by newly signed DE/DT Jamaal Anderson.
Veteran defensive tackle Corvey Irvin and undrafted rookies Zach Minter, Brent Russell and Christian Tupou will all need to take advantage of any reps they get to try and impress the coaching staff.