LAKE FOREST, Ill. – The back fields at Halas Hall, where the Bears practiced Tuesday, are secluded among trees, away from the usually-bustling team facility. They’re almost serene at times, save for brief interruptions from passing Metra trains.
Jimmy Graham broke up that tranquility on Tuesday. A lot. As he bullied defensive backs in one-on-one drills and caught a handful of touchdowns in seven-on-seven and 11-on-11 periods, it was easy to forget he’s a 33-year-old coming off one of the least productive seasons of his career.
But if the Graham we saw Tuesday shows up on Sundays this fall, the Bears might have themselves a powerful weapon with which to work in 2020.
“I thought Jimmy had a great day of work today and really showed why he’s been such a great player in this league for so long,” quarterback Nick Foles said.
The 6-foot-7, 265 pound Graham still has the size, strength and savvy to dominate smaller defensive backs, especially in the red zone. The Bears hope those skills can still be an asset in Graham’s 11th year in the NFL, even as he started to show his age last year with the Green Bay Packers.
But while Graham’s play stood out Tuesday, so did his exuberance. After beating defenders on those touchdowns, Graham took the ball and threw it as far as he could in celebration. That kind of energy permeated practice, and is something coach Matt Nagy greatly appreciated.
“That's the swagger that we need on offense,” Nagy said.
One practice does not mean Graham found a fountain of youth and is in for a vintage Jimmy Graham season in 2020. But if he keeps that level of play up throughout camp, the Bears should enter this season hopeful they’ve truly found a solution at the “U” tight end after that spot was a wasteland in 2019.
Fight! Fight! Fight!
Graham’s big day – and his celebrations – might’ve got to at least one defensive back. During a team drill, Graham caught a pass and was tackled to the ground by safety Deon Bush – despite Nagy's directive to only “thud” on Tuesday.
A mild skirmish ensued between Bush and Graham, with Bush the instigator for breaking the “thud” rules.
These fights aren’t a big deal – certainly, this one paled in comparison to Kyle Long swinging a helmet at undrafted defensive lineman Jalen Dalton last year – but Nagy would prefer players channel frustration more positively.
For what it’s worth, Eddie Jackson did just that. As he watched his fellow DBs get beat time and after time in one-on-one drills, he eagerly jumped in to defend Graham and won the rep by breaking up a pass.
A much-needed edge
The Bears’ offense didn’t do a lot of winning during last year’s training camp in Bourbonnais. It was often disjointed, sloppy and ineffective – which, as it turned out, was a harbinger of disjointed, sloppy and ineffective play during the regular season.
Tuesday’s practice, then, was a breath of fresh air for the Bears’ offense. Graham’s celebrations led the way, bringing that swagger Nagy wants – and which disappeared from this group for large swaths of the 2019 season.
It was hardly a perfect day – there were some sloppy center-quarterback exchanges, for instance – but it was refreshing to see the offense not only hold their own, but have a little fun after winning plays, too.
“We need more guys on offense - I think the defense does a great job of doing that, I think the offense could pick it up,” quarterback Mitch Trubisky said. “Celebrate our good plays and just bring a little more edge about ourselves.”
A good day for tight ends, not just Graham
Tuesday’s one-on-one drills were also a showcase for rookie Cole Kmet and free agent signing Demetrius Harris, in addition to Graham. Kmet bounced back after an uneven practice Monday with a good day Tuesday, and Harris had a few good plays throughout the morning, too.
What stands out about Graham, Kmet and Harris, though: These are some big dudes. All three displayed some impressive physicality on Tuesday, too, which was good to see for a unit that hasn’t always shown that in recent years.
Then again, in recent years, none of those three players were here.
“Obviously the tight ends jumped out to our eyes down there,” Nagy said. “There are some nice-sized tight ends that have some really good ball skills, and so it's a great challenge when our safeties are covering them or our linebackers, or if you put a corner out there for that matter.”
Quote of the day
Speaking of hulking humans: This isn’t as much a practice observation as an opportunity to highlight Cordarrelle Patterson’s first impression of the 6-foot-6 Foles.
“F***, he's big,” Patterson said. “I thought I was big. But he's a big human.”
Foles' stature definitely has been noticeable on the practice field, as Patterson said.
Foles, by the way, is one of 11 quarterbacks in NFL history to be at least 6-foot-6 and at least 240 pounds. The other big dudes: Joe Flacco, Matt Schaub, Brock Osweiler, Josh Freeman, Jamarcus Russell, Scott Mitchell, Paxton Lynch, Dan McGwire, John Navarre and, of course, Jonathan Quinn (remember him?).