Here are some observations and not-so-deep thoughts from Sunday’s session.
— Roberto Garza pushed Brian Urlacher down and on a running play and then playfully drove him into the ground.
— Fullback Will Ta’ufo’ou made a diving catch deep downfield. There haven’t been this many passes thrown to fullbacks, by the way, since Matt Suhey retired.
— Craig Steltz made a leaping breakup of a Caleb Hanie pass intended for Desmond Clark. Steltz intercepted Hanie again and later drew praise from coach Lovie Smith.
“I’m pleased with the amount of plays our secondary made,” Smith said. “Craig Steltz really stood out with some of the plays he made.
I liked Danieal Manning at his position [strong safety]. Of course, Chris Harris was making plays. I feel pretty good about the secondary.”
— Chris Harris dropped a sure interception on a Jay Cutler pass intended for Devin Hester.
— Johnny Knox is devastatingly effective on the 15-25-yard button hook. He stops on a dime and defenders struggled to catch up to him.
—- In the best shape: Israel Idonije: If I had a body like that I’d never wear a shirt.
— Rookie defensive end Corey Wootton is quick off the ball. He was beating rookie free-agent tackle J’Marcus Webb on several plays with pure speed.
— Frank Omiyale, playing right tackle, put Julius Peppers on his back. Don’t read too much into this. There were no pads. But he looks more comfortable over there.
Here’s Lovie on the minicamp. Believe it or not, he made an attempt at humor!
“I like what we did on both sides of the ball. The Bears won every play.”
Not knee-slapping funny but, hey, it’s a start …
It’s looks like the switch from left corner to right is official for Charles Tillman. Smith wasn’t specific when asked about it. He basically said they were trying some different things, but defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli seemed to spill the beans.
“We think he’s going to do a heck of a job over there,” Marinelli said. “I like both our corners. Right now, I think we’ll be fine.”
More praise for Julius Peppers. So much praise, in fact, that it’s starting to sound like a campaign. It’s a good sign for the team, however, especially since his work ethic has been questioned in the past.
“We’re better,” Brian Urlacher said. “Anytime you get a player like Julius Peppers you get better right away. He’s awesome. He works his tail off every day. He doesn’t say much but he works his tail off.”
Said Marinelli: “He’s a tremendous player. Since the day he got here, in terms of all our offseason work, he’s been a leader in terms of effort and tempo and fundamentals. Everything we’ve asked him to do, he’s done full-speed.
“He’s talented. No doubt about that. But I think the other thing is does is he brings to that unit and that defense leadership. It doesn’t always have to be verbal.”
Urlacher spoke to the media for the first time during the minicamp. He’s clearly glad to be back, and looks fit and fast, which is about all you can judge during a minicamp.
I asked him if sitting out last season with a broken bone in his wrist gave him any perspective.
“It sucks,” he said immediately. “It sucks, man. I got a lot of perspective. I never want to do it again. It was frustrating. I never missed a season — high school, college, nothing. The closest I came was ’04 whern I missed a few games with my hamstring. It was frustrating.”
I asked him what the worst part of missing the season was.
“Not being up here all the time and being around my teammates,” he said. “I missed football, obviously, but the most fun I have is with my teammates.”
Finally, I asked him if being away from the game made him think about how much longer he would like to play. He didn’t bite.
“No. It didn’t cross my mind.”
Here’s the story I wrote that will appear in Monday’s Sun-Times that includes more from Marinelli and Urlacher.
Talk to Rod Marinelli about Brian Urlacher or talk to Urlacher about Marinelli and you’ll get a similar answer: Presence. Both claim the other has it in abundance.
“He’s right to the point,” the middle linebacker said of the Bears new defensive coordinator. “You’re going to do it his way our you’re not going to play. That’s the way he is. It’s pretty easy. Do what he wants you to do and you’ll play if you’re athletic enough and good enough and fast enough.”
After missing almost all of last season with a broken bone in his wrist, Urlacher was thrilled to be back on the field again during a three-day minicamp that concluded on Sunday at Halas Hall. Marinelli used the five practices to emphasize fundamentals and instill a philosophy that he hopes will add consistency to a unit that finished 17th in total yards last season.
“If you want to look at stats, I don’t want to go there,” Marinelli said. “What I’m looking for is every snap we max out and there’s no inconsistencies, no up and down, no waves. What I like to see is for us to play our system, play it exactly right, play it with maximum speed, effort, angle tackling and play that snap as well as we can. Then play another one.
“That’s how you should play this game. At the end of the day you look at the scoreboard and see how you did. Nothing should influence a defensive team.”
Both Urlacher and Marinelli praised free agent defensive end Julius Peppers for his ability as well as his leadership and work ethic. Peppers was flip-flopping between right end and left end at minicamp. Where Peppers would play was not a subject Marinelli or coach Lovie Smith wanted to discuss in detail. The early plan appears to be moving him around based on individual matchups.
“We’re better,” Urlacher said. “Anytime you get a player like Julius Peppers you get better right away. He’s awesome. He works his tail off every day. He doesn’t say much but he works his tail off.”
As for Urlacher, Marinelli said just having him back gives the team a boost.
“He’s got a presence in the huddle,” Marinelli said. “He can communicate. He can run the defense, and that’s a confident feeling. That huddle is about confidence. You get the huddle break and he gets everybody lined up and ready and then his presence speaks for itself.”
Here’s a bonus quote from Marinelli on Peppers’ versatility:
“He is really good left handed and right handed,” Marinelli said of Peppers. “I’ve never been around a guy who could do that. [Ex-Illinois and Tampa Bay defensive end] Simeon [Rice] was able to do some things like that. This guy is very fluid.”
Another bonus quote on consistency:
“In the NFL, the key is to be consistent because the season is so long,” Marinelli said. “No ups and downs. We’ve got good talent, good veteran players who have done it. Now it’s about doing it at a high level consistently. That’s our challenge.”
I know there are a lot of doubts about Marinelli based on how the defensive line played last season, but the guy demands respect and I’m liking what I’m hearing.
Here is Lovie on the wide receivers and some other general thoughts:
“They all had their moments making plays,” he said. “I feel like we were fairly deep at the position, actually. We don’t have a lot of experience there. I liked what our tight ends could do and Matt Forte looks as good as he has in a while. Everything is positive right now for a good reason.”
I asked him if he had any opinion of how Major Wright was progressing now that the third-round pick had participated in both the rookie and full-squad minicamps.
“He’s getting better,” Smith said. “He’s still a rookie, though. It’s hard for the rookies. You’ve been the top dog and you come here and of course a lot of players are further along than you are but Major can catch the ball well. He’s a good athlete. He’ll only get better.”
And on the subject of takeaways:
“We have to have more takeaways,” he said. “It’s as simple as that. We feel like we’re going to be able to score points but you have to be able to get the ball back, of course. The No. 1 goal of our defense is to score.”
Marinelli was also asked about Marcus Harrison, who didn’t participate in the minicamp because he was sick.
“He’s a big, athletic man who can really move,” he said. “He did some nice things last year and next year he’ll be doing the same thing again. He’s going to take a step. We’ve got some inside players.”
Sorry it took so long to get all this up. I had to catch a flight to Dallas for the NFL’s Spring Meeting, where owners will be voting on the site of the 2014 Super Bowl and will perhaps even extend the new overtime rule to the regular season.
More on that later …