ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — It wouldn’t be fair to call them fights, but the Bears and Broncos did get into two skirmishes during two-on-one gunner drills during Thursday’s joint practice at the UCHealth Training Center.
Anthony Miller got mixed up in the first scuffle, and while coach Matt Nagy was talking to the rookie wide receiver, defensive back Deiondre’ Hall got involved in a bit of a tussle. The two teams were quickly separated, and after some talking-to’s from coaches, the rest of the morning went on without anything spilling over into pushing/shoving/fisticuffs.
Miller said Nagy’s message to him was one of understanding, and Miller said he knew he wasn’t supposed to be mixing things up like that.
“It’s all a part of the game,” Miller said. “Things can get chippy a little bit. It’s a physical game. You got grown men out here, some of them, they don’t like to get handled, and when that happens stuff pops off. But like I said it’s just a part of the game.”
Those two skirmishes were the only times the intensity of these joint practices boiled over into something counterproductive. Pass rushing drills — the most physical battles between the two teams — would frequently end with a Bears’ offensive lineman giving Von Miller a pat on the butt or helmet, or something along those lines.
Nagy and Broncos coach Vance Joseph went into this week hoping to prevent the kind of all-out brawls that have marred joint practices in the past — like the one between the New York Jets and Washington earlier this month — and largely saw that message hit home.
“As competitive and as much of an ego as you want to have and try to fight somebody, it's not worth it,” Nagy said. “You know, there's injuries and it just doesn't make sense. So I think the best way to handle it is just bring everybody together and just tell them that, right? And just let them know that hey we're here to play football, not to fight and they responded well to that. These guys are in this league for a reason, because they're the ultimate competitors and sometimes that comes out. But that's our job as coaches to control it."
Roquan Watch 2.0
Nagy said he was “happy with what he saw” after watching the film of Roquan Smith’s practice on Wednesday, but the Bears will continue to slowly bring the eighth overall pick along as he works his way back into football shape. Smith’s responsibilities and reps didn’t increase in Thursday’s practice, and Nagy said no decision has been made as to whether or not Smith will play in Saturday’s preseason game against the Broncos.
“I thought there were some plays where he showed some flashes of speed and cutting down angles and the instincts, I though his instincts showed up,” Nagy said. “He still, again, didn't get a whole bunch of reps yesterday, he got enough which was good — we didn't want him to get a lot of reps.”
The Bears have been adamant for months — really, since they drafted James Daniels with the 38th overall pick in April — that Cody Whitehair will be their Week 1 starting center. The thought is that letting Whitehair stick at one position, instead of shuttling between center and guard, would allow him to improve on the solid production he had in 2016 and 2017.
That may still be the case, but an issue has cropped up over the last week or so for the third-year Kansas State product: His snaps haven’t consistently been accurate. It’s been an especially noticeable problem the last two days here in Colorado.
Whitehair admitted he’s struggled with consistency snapping the ball, the root of which is both mental and physical, he said.
“Obviously if you don’t get the ball to the quarterback, the whole play is messed up,” Whitehair said. “So it’s something that I’m trying to move past and go to the next play but it is in the back of my head. I care so much that I gotta let it go. At the end of the day, it’s something I’m working on.”
This was an issue for Whitehair a year ago that he ultimately fixed, even as Kyle Long’s availability shifted him between guard and center quite a bit. But a difference from last year to this year is the presence of Daniels, who starred as a center at Iowa and looks like a natural fit at that position.
“You want those to be darn near perfect, 98 percent of the time if not near 100,” Nagy said, adding that it’s not just one guy having those issues. “Yeah, there are some struggles right now but we're going to stay positive with it.”
If Whitehair can’t fix those snapping issues before Week 1, though, it’s fair to wonder if the Bears would almost have to move him to guard and insert Daniels at center. If that’s the case, it wouldn’t be the first time a Bears rookie would be thrown in at center on short notice — Whitehair, after all, succeeded doing that two years ago.
Whitehair said he’s willing to do whatever the team asks of him, but is also able to draw on that experience form 2016 to stay positive as he works through this slump.
“(It tells me) just that I can do it,” Whitehair said. “(I was) put in there with a week of practice, and I did well my rookie year, so I gotta keep focusing on that, stay positive and keep working at it.”
The Bears released outside linebacker Andrew Trumbetti and signed long snapper Tanner Carew on Thursday in an effort to bring in some competition for Pat Scales, it would appear. Carew was the only long snapper invited to the NFL Combine earlier this year and was waived by the Seattle Seahawks in late July.
Carew played for Bears offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich in college at Oregon, and had some good things to say about his former coach back at the Senior Bowl in January.
"I love coach Helf," Carew said. "He’s a great coach and a better person. There isn’t a better judge of character out there than coach Helf. ... He truly does look out for his players and that really goes a long way, being a player that played for him."