As a cool summer breeze made its way across Olivet Nazarene University’s football field in Bourbonnais, Illinois, the Chicago Bears wrapped their fourth training camp practice in front of more than 10,000 dedicated fans. This practice, like the one Saturday night that had a record 12,000 fans in attendance, was in full pads and ignited animated reactions from the crowd. The reuniting of Jay Cutler with his favorite target, Brandon Marshall, coupled with a happy Matt Forte and Chicago’s stout defense justifies the record attendance, as the expectations for this year’s team have never been higher.
With so many pure athletes on the roster, new offensive coordinator Mike Tice is aiming to make the Bears offense more explosive than ever. Athleticism on both sides of the ball was displayed during Sunday’s practice. Marshall made several catches that drew enthusiastic cheers among the fans, including a touchdown catch from Cutler where he out jumped his defenders. Rookie receiver Alshon Jeffery also caught a long touchdown pass while draped by two corner backs. Second year tight end Kyle Adams caught a bullet from Jason Campbell between the linebackers and secondary that had the crowd buzzing. Despite these remarkable plays, the secondary did perform admirably with Tim Jennings, Kelvin Hayden, Jonathan Wilhite, and D.J. Moore making numerous deflections. The real treat, however, was when Lovie Smith let his reserves scrimmage with contact.
After practice, Smith explained, “We are confident in the top half of our roster, but we wanted to get a good look at our young players and give them an opportunity to show us what they can do.” The reserves seized the moment, as no one held back on hits and continued to give 100 percent effort throughout the scrimmage. These scrimmages will inevitably become more frequent before preseason starts in order to expedite the evaluation process. After practice, when asked who has stood out so far, Smith stated, “I like all the guys right now. I think they are all right where they need to be, but we have a long ways to go before we really know exactly what we have.“
One young player that needs to show the coaches what he can do is first round pick Shea McClellin. McClellin has received some criticism for his play thus far with many analysts citing his lack of power and explosiveness; however, his high motor and dedication to improving each day should ease their doubts as camp progresses. After practice, McClellin spoke with reporters and reiterated is determination to improve. “ I’m a little sore right now but you just got to push through and play every down. I have the mentality to never quit. Today my pass rushing wasn’t very good and I was disappointed. I’m pretty hard on myself and know that I need to improve.”
His improvement should come sooner rather than later with pointers from veterans on the team. “Julius and Israel (Idonije) have been really helpful, if I ever have a question I can go to them. They’re easy to get along with and open to helping young guys. So far it’s been great.”
With training camp only in its first week, McClellin and other players will have ample opportunities to carve out a role with the team. The buzz around camp and the intensity is on another level compared to recent years in Chicago. With the team healthy and the addition of Marshall, the intensity should remain consistent as the players realize this year’s team can make their Super Bowl aspirations a reality.
By Gary Wang
Brandon Marshall catches a pass from Jay Cutler during drills.
Matt Forte runs for a touchdown during drills.