BOURBONNAIS – Saturday marked the first day the Bears donned pad in 2015 and the occasion belonged to the linemen, finally able to do some actual hitting of consequence.
Besides the usual one-on-one pass-protection drill, the John Fox group has installed a period of one-on-one run blocking, a session that demands strength in holding a point vs. a force determined to lock onto the defensive player.
Left tackle Jermon Bushrod was held out of practice, coaches’ decision, and right guard Kyle Long, who again produced some tense moments, was pulled from practice with a shoulder bruise. Charles Leno got extended work in Bushrod’s spot with the No. 1 offense, while Vladimir Ducasse filled in for Long, who rolled up to the dining hall for lunch riding a Big Wheel and wearing an ice bag on his shoulder.
“The effort was really good,” Fox said. “It's always sloppy the first day because they haven't done it for a whole year, but the effort was good, the intent was good, and we'll get a little bit better on the technique as we go.”
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The day saw the offensive commit its first turnover in the three camp practices and struggle at times running the football against a strong front-seven. But the offense had its moments:
Matt Slauson, who missed much of last season with a chest injury, was the dominant offensive lineman of the day. Just ask Jeremiah Ratliff. The veteran defensive tackle delivered a huge swinging right-arm club move on his first rep against Slauson. Ratliff might just as well have hit a building; Slauson did not move even a little and earned a well-done from Ratliff after the rep.
Coaches had the two go again. Not good for Ratliff, who came across Slauson’s front with a swim move and was promptly driven back on the defensive side of the football. Defensive end Ego Ferguson also was dominated by Slauson, consistently one of the Bears’ highest-graded offensive linemen before his ’14 chest injury.
Long, taking two snaps at right tackle in the drill, was matched up twice against outside rush linebacker Sam Acho. Not good for Acho, who took some verbal exception to Long’s sustained blocking after winning the rep, then Long followed that with bringing Acho to a complete stop on an outside rush. Acho was not alone having trouble with Long; defensive end Jarvis Jenkins was similarly stood up cold on a rush.
Rookie center Hroniss Grasu found that there are indeed levels of nose tackle at the NFL level. Grasu completely locked up fellow rookie Eddie Goldman on one pass-rush attempt, but a moment later barely made contact with Ratliff when the latter went by him with an NFL-grade swim counter move.
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Acho also was unable to use his speed with any effect against right tackle Jordan Mills. But Mills struggled on the edge against rush linebacker Pernell McPhee in two matchups. Leno also did not fare as well against McPhee, who bull-rushed Leno backwards several steps before losing his footing. Guard Ryan Groy gave a good accounting of himself, matching power with power against Goldman. Goldman also was on the losing end of a matchup against veteran center Will Montgomery.
Jay Cutler had a minor low point when he overthrew a streaking Alshon Jeffery, who was 20 yards behind the nearest defender after the play developed to perfection. “I told him it looked like I threw it,” Fox said, smiling. “And that's not a compliment." Cutler continued his turnover-free streak to three days. But other than the overthrow, Cutler’s connections with Jeffery have been smooth and recalling Cutler throws with Brandon Marshall.
Jimmy Clausen hooked up with Eddie Royal for a deep completion on a seam route after connecting with Josh Bellamy earlier for a highlight touchdown catch. Shane Carden is having the expected rookie struggles, not helped on Saturday by one bad drop and a receiver losing the football for the camp’s first turnover.
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The streak had to end eventually and it fell to rookie wideout Ify Umodu from Northern Arizona to commit the first turnover. Umodu caught a Carden pass across the middle but was stripped of the ball by cornerback Terrance Mitchell and the defense recovered. Bellamy came down with the ball on a tumbling catch in the end zone off a Clausen pass against excellent coverage by rookie cornerback Qumain Black from East Central.
Jeffery is running precise routes and getting separation to go along with his size and strength advantages over most defensive backs. Jeffery has worked open in all areas of the secondary and his comfort level with Cutler is particularly evident.
The defense bottled up the majority of rush attempts on the first day in full pads. Matt Forte struggled to find space and get turned downfield. Ka’Deem Carey flashed his best burst of camp so far, getting to and through the line for one first-down pickup.