BOURBONNAIS – On Tuesday, the Bears will head north for good, leaving behind the dorm rooms and lecture halls of Olivet Nazarene University.
With the Bourbonnais portion of training camp concluding, here are five things we gleaned from assistant coaches in recent conversations.
Safety: The Bears are demanding big plays – or else.
The Bears want big plays and takeaways from their safeties. It starts with Adrian Amos, who started every game as a rookie last season but didn’t make an interception. He broke up only four passes.
“It’s just that he needs to put himself in position to make a play on the ball,” assistant secondary coach Sam Garnes said. “He’s there, but make a play on the ball. We’re going to be on him about it because if there’s somebody else that can get the ball … we want guys that can get the ball.”
The pressure, though, is the same for Harold Jones-Quartey, even if he had an interception, three pass breakups and a forced fumble in one game last season.
“We make no exceptions,” secondary coach Ed Donatell said. “If you’ll get the ball for us, we’ve got a place for you in our defense.”
Offensive line: The team’s belief in left tackle Charles Leno Jr. is unwavering.
Dave Magazu, the Bears’ offensive line coach, doesn’t understand the concerns about Leno, who is entering his first full season as a starter.
“My son will tell me, ‘God, nobody likes Leno.’ Pro Football Talk, this that and all the other B.S.,” Magazu said. “I’d really like to know who those guys are, where they rate all these players in the NFL.”
Magazu said the next step for Leno involves more consistency, but acknowledges that all offensive linemen get beat at some point.
“We wouldn’t have played him [last year] if we didn’t feel comfortable with him out there,” Magazu said. “So I’ve been comfortable. I think he’s so underrated it’s scary — and there’s nothing wrong with being under the radar, OK?”
Wide receiver: Marc Mariani is well on his way to earning a roster spot.
Receivers coach Curtis Johnson happily talks about all his players, but his praise for Mariani was noteworthy because of its zeal.
Mariani, a leading candidate for punt and kick returner, had a uniquely productive season last year as a receiver: 19 of his 22 catches went for first downs and 11 of them came on third downs.
“Love him — love him,” Johnson said. “He can do everything. … He plays every position, knows the game. Physical. Tough. You watch him block. He’s one of the guys who is doing all those things. I really like Marc a lot.”
Inside linebacker: The Bears are comfortable with their young reserves, namely John Timu.
A devastating Hroniss Grasu-like injury can change the Bears’ promising situation at inside linebacker with Danny Trevathan and Jerrell Freeman.
But linebackers coach Glenn Pires sees development in John Timu and Jonathan Anderson in their second camps.
Timu’s instincts stood out when he led the team with 25 tackles in his three starts to close out the season. Pires said Timu, who is considered the top backup inside, is playing faster.
“He’s recognizing what the offense is doing more, so he’s anticipating,” Pires said. “That’s the edge that he’s getting.”
Running back: Don’t count out veteran Jacquizz Rodgers.
Running backs coach Stan Drayton not only called Rodgers, 26, the leader of his young group of backs, but said he sees “highly productive” player.
Rodgers is the Bears’ best third-down option, making him almost indispensable. He’s a reliable blocker and receiving threat.
“He’s a guy that’s solid [and] doesn’t make a whole lot of mistakes,” Drayton said. “Any time you have a player like that, you really feel comfortable with him in the game.”