Chicago Bears Minicamp: The Long and Short of It

Gene ChamberlainCorrespondent IMay 24, 2010

CHARLOTTE, NC - JANUARY 03:  Julius Peppers #90 of the Carolina Panthers looks on the sidelines during the game against the New Orleans Saints at Bank of America Stadium on January 3, 2010 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

It's often said very little can be observed about a football team by watching them run around in shorts at a minicamp.

They certainly wore shorts and no pads at this weekend's Bears minicamp, but some facts became very self-evident anyway.

1. Julius Peppers is going to have a really big impact, regardless of all the whiners who point out his inability to go 100 percent every down. If he goes 100 percent once every five plays, the production will be better than what they previously had.

Admittedly, no one is going to put left tackle Chris Williams in the Pro Bowl yet, and Mark Anderson even beat Williams off the ball once so bad that it looked like he was The Flash, but Peppers consistently wreaked havoc on the pass pocket whether it was coming off the left side or the right side.

And he will be coming off both sides, as he did throughout minicamp.

"We’re just looking at moving him to different spots because he is really good left-handed and right-handed," defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli said. "I’ve never been around a guy who can do that. Simeon (Rice) was able to do some things like that. This guy’s very fluid like that."

Peppers was moving to the strong side of the formation a lot, but Marinelli said it might be a case of looking for the inexperienced tackle.

"Sometimes it might be a match-up that you might look for,” he said.

Brian Urlacher pointed out that Peppers is going to make it easier for everyone else because he'll command double teams.

That remains to be seen. This was supposed to be the thought with Tommie Harris before and it hasn't worked that way since 2006.

2. Whether it's Marinelli or Lovie Smith, someone needs to forget about messing around with cornerback Charles Tillman. They need to put him back to left cornerback and leave him there.

First they had him with the second team as a sort of punishment for missing voluntary workouts to be in Afghanistan and Iraq visiting troops. The last two days they had him with starters, but he played at right cornerback all camp.

Zack Bowman made a handful of interceptions as the left cornerback, but anyone can make picks without concern in camp because the stakes are low.

Putting Tillman on the left side has usually put him where the opponent's top receiver lined up and he usually fared well.

Putting Tillman on the right side might keep him from absorbing the physical beating he's taken the last few years because almost all teams run to the left side of the defense the majority of the time.

However, it's going to make the Bears less effective defending the pass.

They're weakening themselves and left corner and Tillman will have to get his footwork down on the right side. He was seen repeatedly working on that, sometimes with coaches, during the minicamp.

The other mistake in this is that Bowman isn't good enough to take over the responsibility of left cornerback. He had five picks the last nine games but still got beat a good percentage of the time and needs to show drastic improvement.

3. The offense has a long, long, long way to go.

Quarterback Jay Cutler threw repeatedly into the strength of defenses and receivers couldn't get open, especially deep. When they did, Cutler missed them.

The last part is timing and should get better with more work. However, the receivers struggling to get open is a real problem.

Last year, receivers had trouble getting separation until after the Bears were eliminated from the playoff chase. Then they got open with the pressure off.

It's a new offense and they're struggling. Also, this passing attack is much different in that Cutler has to throw it to open space, basically to spots and the receiver has to get there.

They weren't, and a quarterback who already has interception problems could really have some troubles if the receivers don't improve.

4. The safety position is still a mess. They are playing Chris Harris at free safety and Danieal Manning at strong safety. Manning can't play strong safety. He has trouble playing free safety, too, but he definitely isn't built to play strong safety.

Chris Harris came into his own at Carolina as a strong safety. He had played both spots with the Bears at times, but set a Panthers record with eight forced fumbles in 2007 and had 124 tackles the past two years as strong safety.

The Bears draft a free safety and they wind up using Harris at his weaker position.
Harris never showed good hands when in Chicago and Sunday dropped a certain interception, which led to some humor.

The day before, Smith had said of Harris at free safety: "We needed a voice back there. Chris is that. He's a smart player. Of course he's the quarterback of the secondary. But he knows what's going on on our defense."

When Harris dropped the easy pick Sunday, one prominent defensive starter yelled at him, "next time, catch it with your mouth."

They were kidding around, but it only underscores that Harris is an ideal strong safety now out of position at the free safety spot.

Major Wright is just a rookie, but the best thing that could happen is if he progresses rapidly enough to take over that spot so Harris can go strong.

5. Bears quarterbacks are going to be better instructed than any quarterbacks in team history.

No one has ever said they have great quarterback coaching, but Mike Martz spends virtually all his time with the quarterbacks and isn't afraid to get critical of them at times in front of everyone else.

6. There is a real sense of purpose, but there should be considering the coaching staff won't be around another year if they flop again.

Players moved around at a more rapid pace than at any other minicamp...if not any other training camp after Smith's first year.

Coaches demanded a lot, criticized players a lot, and there was little standing around. Besides Martz, defensive backs coach Jon Hoke ridiculed rookie Josh Moore once for failing to get up into the air high enough to make a play on a ball.

Receivers coach Darryl Drake was his usual scrutinizing self. Special teams coordinator Dave Toub hollered at his guys for not paying attention during onside kick drills and he pointed out that with the expected overtime rule change, the team could face more onside kicks to start overtimes, so they should pay attention.

7. The new coaches are making their own thorough evaluation of the talent at hand rather than rely on what was done in the past. This is especially true with offensive line coach Mike Tice, who let every guard play with the first team.

8. Mike Martz is trying to make use of his tight ends even though the rap on his past offenses has been they are glorified blockers. He even appeared to be borrowing from Ron Turner's two-tight end attack at times, with both Desmond Clark and Greg Olsen going into motion.

It was refreshing, though, to see an offense which didn't try forcing the ball into Olsen's hands. Last year, it became almost comical with the amount of pressure they put on Olsen to make catches.

9. Gorey Graham and D.J. Moore are getting a long look at nickel back. Don't be surprised if Manning winds up back there when training camp begins in July. Moore doesn't appear strong enough to handle the spot and Graham has had a chance at it before without seizing it.

10. Someone needs to get on the phone to free agent quarterback Josh McCown. Caleb Hanie has no experience and had a lot of trouble with accuracy and avoiding interceptions in minicamp.

Dan LeFevour is a long-term project.

"He’s lucky to find the huddle from the sideline right now, so that’s kind of the way it goes really, but he’s very promising," Martz said.


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