First-week observations: Mitch Trubisky, Adam Shaheen, Kyle Long …
After an introductory week at Bears training camp, the pace picks up in Week 2 — with the preseason opener against the Broncos at Soldier Field just eight 10 days away. Here’s a quick rundown of where the Bears stand as they accelerate their preparation for the 2017 season:
1. “The Plan” at quarterback has not elicited a lot of public confidence, but it’s working so far. Mike Glennon has not been perfect, but looks like the Bears’ best quarterback right now; rookie Mitch Trubisky has flashed franchise quarterback ability but looks like he’ll need that apprenticeship season; and Mark Sanchez is a veteran No. 2 who has value as a mentor on and off the field.
2. It remains to be seen if the Bears’ injury luck has changed, but their emphasis on recovery — starting practices later in the day and limiting their work in pads — seems to be having a positive affect.
Outside linebacker Pernell McPhee (knee) had arthroscopic surgery and is on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list. Wide receiver Markus Wheaton is out after having an emergency appendectomy Sunday. Guard Kyle Long is easing his way into camp after offseason surgery to repair a “severely broken” ankle. And Zach Miller, recovering from a broken foot, had a maintenance day on Monday. But — knock on wood — injuries sustained during practice are significantly down.
At this time last year, in fact, 16 players either missed practice, were limited or couldn’t finish — including Long (calf), McPhee (PUP/knee), outside linebacker Leonard Floyd (shoulder), tight end Zach Miller (concussion protocol), rookie linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski (hamstring), cornerback Kyle Fuller (ankle) and wide receivers Eddie Royal (concussion), Marquess Wilson (PUP/foot) and Josh Bellamy (ankle).
3. It’s early, but even with Trubisky — the No. 2 overall pick in the draft — virtually cemented as the No. 3 quarterback — the Bears have some rookies to be optimistic about. Tight end Adam Shaheen has at least shown the pass-catching tools to excel at the NFL level out of Division II Ashland. Running back Tarik Cohen not only flashes his pinball-ability, but it looks like the Bears have a good grasp on how to use him. Safety Eddie Jackson, coming off a broken foot he suffered at Alabama last October, does not look out of place at safety. Keep an eye on undrafted free agent wide receiver Tanner Gentry, who at 6-2, 209 has NFL toughness and has attracted the attention of quarterbacks and coach John Fox.
4. The defensive front seven looks ready to take a big step in 2017 — Akiem Hicks in particular has been near-dominant in practices; and Floyd, seven pounds heavier this year at his listed 251 with more strength and better technique, looks ready to build on his seven-sack rookie season.
But the offensive line, also expected to be a strength, bears watching. Long not participated in most team drills as he recovers from what Fox referred to as a “severely broken ankle.” And Josh Sitton reported to camp Monday after missing the first five days to be with his family after his wife had a baby. Sitton was limited in offseason practices because of a chest injury. His participation when he returns, presumably in Wednesday’s practice, also bears watching. Developing a standout offensive line figures to be a huge key to Glennon’s success, but it might be awhile before the Bears can develop the continuity they’re looking for heading into the regular season.
5. Perhaps unwittingly, Bears first-year wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni put a spotlight on Kevin White’s slow start in camp with an honest appraisal of the former first-round pick’s progress.
“He’s not where I want him to be. Or where we need him to be. He’ s work in progress,” Azzanni said. “.He’s had a good three days. Good first day; OK second day; much better [Monday]. I’m pleased with where he’s going. He’s going [up] and that’s what I want.
But Azzanni also said that while White is staying positive, the mental approach has been a challenge after missing his entire rookie season and 12 games last season becaue of injuries.
“You see flashes of what we want him to be, of what he wants to be,” Azzanni said. “We’ve just got to block out the noise for him. I can’t let him read papers and media … because there’s going to be some negative in there that gets into his head and he can’t let that happen. He’s got to be positive and we’ve got to go in our bunker in there and I’ve got to tell him how great he is all the time because he is.”
It will be interesting to see how White responds to that public assessment of his progress. For Kevin White to make it, he’s going to have to exorcise his demons with all eyes on him — not an easy thing to do at this level.
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