The Bears finished their final organized team activity practice Thursday, inching closer to the start of training camp and continuing to tweak their new offensive and defensive schemes.
From Kyle Long to Jared Allen, here are five things we learned from OTAs, which mark the end of the team’s voluntary offseason program:
1.Jay Cutler will have weapons
Kevin White, the Bears’ No. 7 overall pick from six weeks ago has looked every bit the first-round pick, using his combination of size and speed to stand out in drills.
He’s not being treated as a starter quite yet, but few rookies are from the get-go.
“I can’t recall at the receiver position, right off the top of my head, but there’s been other positions,” coach John Fox said. “When we drafted Julius Peppers early in my head coaching career, he was a starter from Day 1.”
White said his transition has been a challenge from his days at West Virginia, where he caught 109 passes for 1,447 yards last season.
“The guys are fast, and they’re much smarter than the college DBs,” he said. ‘It’s tough out there.”
The rookie is learning what his quarterback likes, too.Combined with Alshon Jeffery and slot addition Eddie Royal, the Bears could boast one of the league’s best receiving corps.
2.As for the linemen? Stay tuned
Coaches can only make so many judgments about their linemen when players aren’t wearing full pads. Because of that, Fox will wait until later to evaluate second-round draft pick Ego Ferguson, third-rounder Hroniss Grasu and, yes, even guard Kyle Long.
Long played right tackle this week in practice. And while Fox wants his linemen to be versatile in case of a game day injury, he said it’s been tough to evaluate them in the spring.
“We haven’t even been in pads yet, so it’s hard to go real deep in evaluations on linemen until you do that,” he said. “I like the way they’re going about their business. We’ve got enough options there, really, at every position. Right now we’ve got a couple guys missing. We’re going to try to make do and get through practice without wearing out any particular group.”
Long played tackle because the Bears’ two starters were held out. If he were to move there full-time — and no one is willing to state that publicly — the Bears would then have to determine who plays right guard.
3.The Jared experiment is working
Bears defenders seem genuinely excited about Vic Fangio’s 3-4 defense, which has been installed this spring as the team tries to fix a unit that posted the two worst seasons in franchise history the last two years.
Jared Allen is of those players, despite earlier in his career stating said he would never move to outside linebacker. In OTAs, he’s looked solid. And he says he enjoys the new challenge.
“My body feels fresher because I’m not banging every single day and putting my hands on a 300-plus pounder and banging heads,” Allen said earlier in OTAs. “I like it because it is testing my football IQ. … This is a totally different thought process for me, and it’s really forcing me to study. I’m having fun with it.”
Shea McClellin and Mason Foster have shined, too, at inside linebacker in Fangio’s creative new scheme.
“How he’s got us playing—I can’t tell the secrets—but he’s got us where, you don’t know who’s dropping, you don’t know who’s rushing,”outside linebacker Pernell McPhee said last week, “It’s just different. It’s very creative.”
New safety Antrel Rolle said the defense feels right.
“There’s still a lot of work left to be done, which is expected, but things are coming together,” he said. “The feeling is good and the tempo is great.”
4.The Marty stakes go up next week
OTAs have come and gone without Martellus Bennett’s participation; the tight end is staying home while he awaits a new contract, seemingly upset with the one he’s set to be under for the next two years.
Such incidences are common around the NFL, but they don’t turn into full-blown holdouts until players miss mandatory events. The three-day minicamp — which starts Tuesday at Halas Hall —qualifies as such.
Fox knows that missing a mandatory practice would be an escalation of Bennett’s situation. The Bears can fine him around $72,000 if he no-shows.
5.Help is on the way
The signing of cornerback Tracy Porter earlier this week shows that, three months after they first started signing veterans to one-year deals, the Bears are sticking with their strategy of trying to catch lightning in a bottle.
Porter can play nickel, too, Fox said, and could provide could insurance for signee Alan Ball, who is still rounding into shape after finishing last season in the IR.
The defense will get a boost when ends-turned-outside-linebackers Willie Young and Lamarr Houston return from season-ending injuries. They continue to work out and are staying on their schedule.
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