An overview of Day 7 of Bears training camp in Bourbonnais:
1. Injuries are starting to add up. Is it too early to worry?
Defensive end Corey Wootton left practice with a hip injury and is day-to-day. Wootton, who started the final seven games last season, is the fifth Bears player to miss time with an injury. Left tackle Jermon Bushrod (calf), middle linebacker D.J. Williams (calf), offensive tackle Jonathan Scott (leg) and defensive ends Jamaal Anderson (leg) and Cheta Ozougwu (hamstring) also have suffered injuries since the Bears started practicing in pads on Sunday.
Bears coach Marc Trestman doesn’t appear concerned about the rash of injuries, but if many more players go down, he won’t be able to avoid the issue. This is far from the most physical of training camps, so conditioning could be a culprit. It will be interesting to see how quickly the injured players return. The Bears have a new strength and conditioning coordinator in Mike Clark, who replaced Rusty Jones, who retired in January. Injuries were an issue under Lovie Smith on and off during Smith’s nine seasons as head coach.
2. Jon Bostic is getting a chance to win the middle linebacker job.
On Wednesday, Bostic replaced Williams, who is week-to-week with a calf injury. On Thursday, Bostic was given play-calling responsibilities with Lance Briggs missing practice on a maintenance day. It’s early, but it looks like the Bears are eager to see just how quickly the rookie can learn. You never really know until you try. Mike Singletary, a second-round pick in 1980, became a starter in the seventh game of his rookie season. Lance Briggs, a third-round pick in 2003, became a starter in the fourth game of his rookie season. It’s a big job, but the Bears have plenty of experience and quality around the middle linebacker to give Bostic enough margin for error to be a starter as a rookie.
3. Kyle Long is learning quickly.
Rookie guard Kyle Long, the Bears’ first-round draft pick, received his most extensive reps with the first team Thursday, with James Brown getting more time with the second team. Is it a sign that Long is winning the battle for the starting job at right guard? Not so fast, say both Marc Trestman and even Long himself. But even though Long does not have a lot of experience as a starting guard even at the college level, he’s a perfect candidate to move up quickly — a bright guy who seems to learn well, who is being taught by a coaching staff that seems to teach well. Unless Long is overwhelmed in preseason games, it’s not far-fetched to expect him to start the season opener at his current rate of progress. How good he’ll be is another question — he only has to beat out Brown, a second-year player who has a lot of potential but still was an undrafted free agent last year.
4. Martellus Bennett looks like the real deal.
It’s easy to get fooled by Bears tight ends in training camp. The Bears always throw downfield to their tight ends in Bourbonnais and it gets everybody excited. But in the regular season, those plays either disappear or turn into drops by Kellen Davis. So take it for what it’s worth that Martellus Bennett made another leaping downfield catch in practice Thursday — the kind of play that makes the Bears offense look like it has the potential to be lethal. Bennett doesn’t catch everything, but he makes catches previous Bears tight ends could make not on a regular basis. Most importantly, it appears that Jay Cutler trusts him, and Cutler usually throws bulls-eyes to receivers he trusts, which gives Bennett a chance to be even better than advertised.
5. The offense is catching up to the defense already.
Training camp generally is a zero-sum game. A good play for the defense is a bad play for the offense and vice-versa. So take it for what it’s worth that the Bears offense is starting to get its feet on the ground and causing genuine “conflict-of-assignment” for the defense. This could be the start of an intense daily battle between a veteran defense that ranked among the best in the NFL last season and an improving offense that could take a quantum leap this season. We’re not far from our first altercation of training camp — which will be the first sign that the offense is becoming a real threat to not only the Bears’ defense but the rest of the NFL. Stay tuned.