Bears training camp preview


Bears training camp preview

Training camp 2012 will unfold in stages for the Bears beginning later this month. Like a satellite launch, the stages are intended to ramp up a team that considered itself a playoff team last year into one that views itself as a Super Bowl one this season.

Id say were a better football team, Im talking about the 53-man roster; even the 61-man roster with the practice squad, said resident optimist Lovie Smith. We have some pretty good training camp battles too going on. Feel like we have an idea of what direction were going.

The Bears of Summer convene for training camp on July 24. Pretty much. They arrive on Tuesday, do some closed conditioning work the next day and then have a pair of afternoon practices without pads Thursday the 26th and Friday the 27th, which means a level above minicamp because offense and defense will be allowed to work against each other.

That level will ratchet up even more when pads come on for a 7 p.m. practice on Saturday July 28.

As far as some of the roster spots, its hard to evaluate, Smith said. You cant really evaluate linemen until you get the pads on. Thats why training camp is important for them.

Camp is important to virtually every member of the football side of the operation, for different reasons. Three individuals and positions will be under particular scrutiny:

Phil Emery

The Bears made a change at general manager chiefly because of lackluster results in the draft. Emery scored big with the trade to acquire wide receiver Brandon Marshall and executed a plan to significantly upgrade the reserves at multiple positions with veterans (quarterback, running back, offensive line, cornerback).

But Emery himself set the bar for needing to see impact from his top draft choices, and sooner rather than later.

You need contributions out of those drafted players right away, especially the higher end of the players, Emery said. They need to come in and at least contribute to your squad in a role of some type.

It was apparent from the outset of camp in 2007 that defensive end Dan Bazuin was a mistake with the second-round pick. Same with first-rounder Michael Haynes in 2003, and second-round wideout Mark Bradley in 2005.

More than just defensive end and No. 1 pick Shea McClellin and wide receiver Alshon Jeffery will be closely watched come late July.

The O-line and its tackle triad

The Bears have three No. 1 draft choices and a No. 2 among their offensive linemen. Tackles Gabe Carimi and Chris Williams were Bears No. 1s and guard Chris Spencer was a Seattle No. 1. Guard Chilo Rachal was a second-round pick of San Francisco.

All could be starters by the end of training camp.

The group collectively has been the subject of constant doubts and criticism since the nine-sack horror show against the New York Giants early in 2009.

Coaches and personnel staff gave the group a vote of confidence by going elsewhere in the draft and free agency.

The time for settling things is at hand.

The secondary

Only the wide receivers of 2010 received a stronger no-confidence vote than the cornerback and safety positions this offseason. The secondary could be the scene of two 2011 starters losing jobs in the course of camp and preseason.

The Bears gave cornerback Tim Jennings a new contract. They also gave one to veteran Kelvin Hayden, however, as well as Jonathan Wilhite. Jennings is back after a serviceable 2011 that included a game-15 benching for since-departed Zackary Bowman. If Jennings is benched for Hayden, it will not be for one game.

Major Wright was in and out of the lineup with injuries last year and in two seasons has failed to firmly secure the strong-safety position alongside Chris Conte.

The Bears invested a third third-round pick in as many years at safety, with Oregon States Brandon Hardin. Wright did not start any games as a rookie. Conte started nine straight before finishing the season on IR. If Wright does not play to what the Bears expect from their deep coverage, they believe they have an alternative in former-cornerback Hardin.

Because the pads will be on and offense and defense can square off with unpleasant intent, even the seven-on-seven sessions will be worth getting a good seat for.

There are certain routes that the offense has advantages with just because we cant make any contact, so its kind of like a gimme play for the offense, said cornerback Charles Tillman. I definitely think once we have pads, and for sure once we have a pass rush, I think that kind of evens everything out.

Next: Defensive Line

Trey Burton, Adrian Amos earn Bears’ top grades from Pro Football Focus for Week 7


Trey Burton, Adrian Amos earn Bears’ top grades from Pro Football Focus for Week 7

The Bears were not at their best against the New England Patriots on Sunday. They made plenty of mistakes on all three phases and gave Tom Brady too many opportunities to control the game.

It wasn’t all bad from Chicago, though. Trey Burton emerged as a new favorite weapon of Mitchell Trubisky, and the tight end was the Bears’ highest-graded player in the game by Pro Football Focus.

Burton had a career high 11 targets, nine catches and 126 yards with a touchdown, giving Trubisky a 144.7 passer rating when targeting his top tight end.

Seven of Burton’s targets and six of his catches traveled 10 or more yards in the air, according to PFF.

Defensively, safety Adrian Amos led the pack with a 74.6 overall grade. He did not miss a tackle after missing a career-high five last week, and he allowed only one catch for eight yards against the Patriots.

On the bottom of the scale, outside linebacker Leonard Floyd received the second-lowest grade of his career (38.9 overall) for his performance. He did not record any pressure on the quarterback in 13 pass rushing snaps, and he allowed two catches for 13 yards and a touchdown in coverage against running back James White.

Wide receiver Allen Robinson had a career-low grade as well at 44.9 overall. He was clearly limited by his groin injury, targeted five times with one catch for four yards and a dropped pass.

Overall, the Bears were able to stick with one of the top teams in the AFC while also leaving a lot of room for improvement. It’s a step in the right direction from where Chicago was in recent seasons.

Wendell Carter Jr. survives gauntlet of centers to begin career


Wendell Carter Jr. survives gauntlet of centers to begin career

Don't tell Wendell Carter Jr. the center position is a dying breed.

The 19-year-old rookie hasn't exactly been able to ease into the NBA, finding himself up against a handful of All-Stars and powerful frontcourts just five days into his career.

It culminated Monday night with a date against Mavericks center DeAndre Jordan, and once again the seventh overall pick held his own. It was much of the same as it was against Philadelphia's Joel Embiid and Detroit's Andre Drummond last week (and Nikola Jokic in the preseason finale): some good, some bad, plenty of poise and zero backing down. The NBA is unforgiving, but this could very well be the toughest stretch Carter faces all season.

"He’s playing against top level centers now," Fred Hoiberg said before Monday's game. "It’s a great experience for him. He’s going to learn and get better and he plays within himself, we will continue to look for him to be more aggressive."

He was as aggressive as the Bulls have seen him against Jordan and the Mavericks. He blew by the 20 and 18 minutes he played in the first two games of the year, totalling 32 minutes. His final line won't tell the story - 4 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists and a block - of a Carter who defended well at the rim, picking and choosing his spots on when to attack shots and when to simply use his verticality.

He wasn't credited for a block but he contested a Jordan dunk that turned into a Bobby Portis dunk on the other end. Plus-minus isn't always a good indicator of a player's worth, but Carter was a +5 in a 14-point Bulls loss. He even attempted a corner 3-pointer early in the shot clock, showing no hesitation. Carter's had his moments, but it's also apparent he's got a 19-year-old body going up against veterans each night. That'll come with time in the weight room. For now the experience is 

"I appreciate the fact I’m able to play against these very talented bigs early in my career," Carter said after the loss to the Pistons. "What I need to work on is I have to get stronger; that’s the first thing I recognize; just being up against the best. I love the competition. It’s always a great feeling going against the best."

What the Bulls are finding out is they have a player mature beyond his years. As he progresses he'll continue to get more difficult assignments. He had his rookie moment late in Monday's loss, committing a turnover in the backcourt after the Bulls had cut the deficit to five with 35 seconds left. The fouls are also an issue, as Carter has committed 10 in three games (after committing 17 in five preseason games).

That doesn't necessarily seem important for a Lottery-bound team, but considering the continued struggles of Robin Lopez (and Cristiano Felicio is entirely out of the rotation) it is. Lopez had 2 points and 1 rebound in 10 minutes while committing five personal fouls. In three games he has 11 personal fouls and 11 points, and also has more turnovers (five) than rebounds (four). If the Bulls are going to compete until Lauri Markkanen returns, Carter will need to hover around the 32 minutes he played Monday.

He'll get a much easier test on Wednesday when the Charlotte Hornets arrive in town. Cody Zeller doesn't exactly have the credentials of a Jokic or Embiid, meaning Carter may have a little more room to work. 

The Bulls know they have something in Carter. It'll be abother month until they can deploy him alongside Markkanen, but if the first three games are any indication, Carter won't have any problems matching up with some of the league's best.