Bears

Bears OL strong in first 2015 time in pads

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Bears OL strong in first 2015 time in pads

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:

Offensive line

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.

Quarterback

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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Receivers

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.

Running backs

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.

Even without practicing, Allen Robinson is making a strong first impression with the Bears

Even without practicing, Allen Robinson is making a strong first impression with the Bears

Before Bears wide receivers coach Mike Furrey met with the media on Wednesday, Allen Robinson was curious what his position coach would say about him in public. 

“I just told him, I don’t know you,” Furrey quipped. “Who’s Allen Robinson?”

Furrey, of course, knows who Robinson is. But the point behind that joke is that Furrey, the Bears’ court wide receivers coach in four years, is still getting to know all of his receivers — let alone the one who hasn’t participated in a practice yet. For all the positivity that's easy to find around Halas Hall these days, the Bears' biggest offseason acquisition hasn't taken a rep yet. 

The good news for the Bears, of course, is that Robinson’s past play speaks for itself. He combined for 153 catches, 2,883 yards and 20 touchdowns in 2015 and 2016, and has been adamant he’ll return to that high level of play when he’s cleared to practice. The Bears were confident enough in Robinson’s medicals to guarantee him a little over $25 million in March, per Spotrac, about a month before they let Cameron Meredith sign with the New Orleans Saints largely over medical concerns (Meredith’s torn ACL was viewed as more serious than Robinson’s, in short). 

So the getting-to-know-you phase for Furrey and Robinson is largely taking place off the field in the meeting rooms of Halas Hall. 

“What a great young man,” Furrey said. “He’s come in here, obviously, rehabbing and doing all those things. But he’s alert, he comes to meetings, he’s ready to go. Really, really smart, you can tell that from the beginning and he’s a professional.”

What Furrey, in particular, likes about Robinson is that he’s an “alpha,” but is far more than all talk and no action. 

“And a lot of times that alpha talks a lot and they don’t really put it out there,” Furrey said. “He kind of has that alpha quietness to him. He understands what’s going on, you can look at him and you just kind of get that feel of he has a great understanding of how to approach this game at this level. Obviously he’s been highly successful for a couple years with some big numbers, but he doesn’t act like that. He’s still hungry, he wants to learn, and I think he’s got a chip on his shoulder, which is a good trait to have too. So we’re excited about that.”

The expectation all along has been for Robinson to be cleared to fully participate in training camp practices. So while coach Matt Nagy said last week Robinson is “ahead of the game,” that may not mean he takes part in the final round of OTAs next week or veteran minicamp the first week of June. 

But while Robinson can’t prove himself to his new coaches on the field yet, he’s doing the right things off the field to make a positive first impression. 

“He knows you gotta come in early, he knows you gotta be the last one to leave, he knows you gotta study,” Furrey said. “It doesn’t matter five years in, six years in, you gotta take notes. It doesn’t matter if you hear it 10 times, you just gotta keep taking notes. He’s been really good at that, and I’ve been really impressed with that. I’ve been able to get on the field with him a little bit, just kind of throwing some balls to him, and I didn’t know he was that big. But obviously we’re excited for it to happen out there.” 

Protection Issues: Bears O-line ranked 21st in NFL

Protection Issues: Bears O-line ranked 21st in NFL

Mitch Trubisky has been set up for a huge season in 2018 with all the firepower the Chicago Bears added on offense. Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, Anthony Miller and Trey Burton will give the second-year quarterback a variety of explosive targets to generate points in bunches.

None of the headline-grabbing moves will matter, however, if the offensive line doesn't do its job. 

According to Numberfire.com, the Bears' starting five could be the offense's Achilles heel. They were ranked 21st in the NFL and described as poor in pass protection.

Last year, the Bears ranked 26th in Sack NEP per drop back and 23rd in sack rate. These issues were especially apparent after Trubisky took over. In the games that [Kyle] Long played, their sack rate was 8.2%. It was actually 7.2% in the games that he missed. They struggled even when Long was healthy.

The Bears added Iowa's James Daniels in the second round of April's draft and he's expected to start at guard alongside Long. Cody Whitehair will resume his role as the starting center, with Charles Leno, Jr. and Bobby Massie at offensive tackle.

If Long comes back healthy and Daniels lives up to his draft cost, they should be a good run-blocking team from the jump. But Long has played just 18 games the past two years and is entering his age-30 season, so that's far from a lock. On top of that, the pass blocking was suspect last year and remains a mystery entering 2018.

The biggest addition to the offensive line is Harry Hiestand, the accomplished position coach who returns to Chicago after once serving in the same role under Lovie Smith from 2005-2009. He most recently coached at Notre Dame and helped develop multiple first-round picks. He's going to have a huge impact.

The good news for the Bears is they weren't the lowest-ranked offensive line in the NFC North. The Vikings came in at No. 25. The Packers checked-in at No. 13, while the Lions were 16th.