BOURBONNAIS, Ill. — The Bears have been installing their 3-4 defense all offseason, beginning with the hiring of coordinator Vic Fangio and his staff, punching up with the signing of Pernell McPhee, Antrel Rolle and other players and bringing all of them together through minicamps and OTA’s. That all moved to the next level on the first day of practice against a more “live” offense in particular.
The practices saw the return of Jonathan Bostic to a linebacker competition and rotation after his missed offseason with a back problem. Ends Lamarr Houston and Willie Young were in the uniform of the day (helmets and shells) but did primarily light running and some individual work.
“We’re cleared,” Houston said. “I’m 100 percent. I’m just taking it day to day and working my way back into playing football the proper way. Everything is good. Just taking it slow.”
Not all members of the defense were, however.
The expectation is that the down-three linemen will be in multiple personnel packages and those were evident on Thursday. Jeremiah Ratliff was a Pro Bowl nose tackle with the Dallas Cowboys in his prime, is a nose tackle now, but also was asked if he knew exactly what his position would be: “No. I’m not really worried about it,” Ratliff. “That will sort itself out. Wherever I am that day, that’s where I’m going to be.”
The Bears used a No. 2 pick this year on nose tackle Eddie Goldman and a No. 2 last year on Ego Ferguson. The latter has gotten quicker with some intentional weight loss and Goldman is a rookie who’s not being handed a job. “I think Eddie needs to just keep doing what he’s been doing,” Ratliff said. “He’s been playing hard — great leverage, great hands, strong guy, you know, powerful. He can eat up two, sometimes three blockers. You see how big he is. And he’ll be good.”
Pernell McPhee provided a highlight rush beating left tackle Jermon Bushrod with a counter move and boring in on Jay Cutler for a simulated sack. McPhee also showed quick lateral movement in inside-run work, getting across the faces of blockers and into gaps inside to stack plays up.
Cornelius Washington, one of the squadron of defensive ends trying to adapt to linebacker, earned a high-five from McPhee with penetration at the point of one inside-run attempt. McPhee and Ferguson combined to blow up one run try in the backfield.
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Tim Jennings was excused for personal reasons but is expected back for practice on Friday. Where he sits on the depth chart will be closely watched, as Sherrick McManis has made some strong impressions on the new coaching staff. Jennings had zero interceptions in 2014 and coach John Fox said matter-of-factly that Jennings hadn’t had a particularly good year, not a good start with a new staff.
Antrel Rolle already has established a presence in the deep middle alongside Brock Vereen, with the two of them combining to break up a 40-yard try in the end zone from Cutler to Alshon Jeffery. Vereen delivered several extremely fast closes on receivers in non-contact work.