BOURBONNAIS — Monday’s non-padded practice at Olivet Nazarene University marked the end of the longest stretch of consecutive practices in training camp. Starting last Thursday, the Bears held two non-padded practices, two padded practices, and one walk-through. With Tuesday being the first off day of training camp, here are five takeaways from the first five days of action:
1. Kevin White is off to a slow start. He hasn’t seen many targets in team drills (although Mike Glennon missed him wide open on one rep Monday) and he has yet to excite the fans in attendance with the few catches he has had.
“He’s not where I want him to be or where we need him to be,” Bears wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni admitted Monday. “He’s a work in progress. He’s had a good three days. Good first day, OK second day, much better today.”
Azzanni was just referring to the three days since pads went on and Sunday’s quiet practice prompted the wide receivers coach to pull out some of White’s tape from West Virginia.
“He forgets about (West Virginia) sometimes because of the battle he’s had the last two years,” Azzanni said. “I wanted him to see how he used to go up and just grab that ball out of the air and he’s starting to do that again. I know he had a drop in one-on-ones the other day. The other thing is, he’s a prideful kid and he lets that beat him up and you cannot do that.”
Confidence continues to be focal-point for White. The Bears want him to be thinking less at the line of scrimmage and just playing. White appears to still have the speed and leaping ability, but he needs to play the game faster. Azzanni also admitted he tries to keep the wide receiver away from stories like this one.
“We’ve just got to block out the noise for him. I can’t let him read papers and media. I just can’t let him because there’s going to be some negative in there that gets into his head and he can’t let that happen,” Azzanni said. “He’s got to be positive and we’ve got to go in our bunker in there and I’ve got to tell him how great he is all the time because he is.”
White also started slow in Bourbonnais last year and that carried over into the start of the regular season. But he appeared to turn a corner Week 3 in Dallas and was in the midst of putting two good games together before breaking his leg in Week 4 against Detroit. While the pressure to perform continues to mount on the former No. 7 overall draft pick, there’s still time for White to put it all together.
2. The early returns on the Bears’ new-look secondary is positive. Cornerback Prince Amukamara has consistently broken on the ball in practice and safety Quintin Demps has flashed his knack for grabbing interceptions (he had six last year, while the entire Bears defense had eight). While Marcus Cooper has been limited with a hamstring injury, former first round pick Kyle Fuller looks healthy and flashed Sunday with a nice interception.
The second safety spot is up for grabs, but rookie Eddie Jackson had an impressive interception Sunday, reading Mitch Trubisky perfectly from at least 25 yards away before jumping Rueben Randle’s route and snatching the ball away. Jackson’s instincts and speed after the catch were evident on that play. Meanwhile, other safeties like Adrian Amos, Deon Bush and Harold Jones-Quartey have not been as noticeable so far.
3. Of course, if the secondary is playing well, then that might bring along some concerns with the quarterbacks, but all three look like they belong. Keep in mind that most of what we’ve seen so far has been “install,” meaning the quarterbacks are still pretty inexperienced with the plays they are running and working the kinks out. That said, Glennon looks comfortable running the offense and has developed chemistry with wide receiver Cam Meredith and tight end Dion Sims.
“(Sims is) another big body,” Glennon said. “He and Adam (Shaheen) are two big guys that even when they look like they may be covered they’re strong enough that they get open.”
(Sidenote: Sims has been very impressive, both as a blocker and a pass catcher. I’ve always thought he is underrated as a pass-catcher, especially in the red zone, so it was not surprising to see he and Glennon hook up for a 15(ish)-yard touchdown Monday.)
As for the other quarterbacks, I’ve been impressed with Mark Sanchez’s arm strength and he seems to be a big fan of throwing to Shaheen, who has looked every bit the part of an NFL tight end in Bourbonnais. Sanchez has had some impressive moments (like two lasers to Shaheen in red zone drills Monday) and some unimpressive moments (like missing Josh Bellamy and Victor Cruz in the back corner of the end zone on back-to-back snaps in the same drill).
Trubisky’s issues still stem from his inexperience, which isn’t surprising at all. He clearly has the same athleticism, elusiveness and arm strength that was evident on his North Carolina tape, but it’s going to take some time to put it together at the NFL level.
One play Monday summed up Trubisky’s first five practices perfectly: Rolling to his right, the quarterback managed to launch a 45-yard bomb that was placed perfectly over two defenders and into the arms of tight end Ben Braunecker, who went up and made a nice catch. Let’s be honest, though: It was probably an ill-advised pass into double-coverage. Still, the natural ability was on display.
4. The offensive line figures to be a strength this season, but it’s been hard to gauge so far. With Kyle Long and Josh Sitton out, Eric Kush and Taylor Boggs were getting most of the work at guard, but they are now sidelined with their own issues (a hamstring for Kush and a concussion for Boggs). Long figures to be limited for a while, but Sitton reported to Bourbonnais Monday and is expected to be ready for practice Wednesday. If healthy, the Bears might have the best interior O-line group in the league, but it might be a few weeks before we see it all come together.
“You want to get these guys used to playing next to each other, communicating with each other, different calls. So for us, we’re excited to get those guys eventually, but right now it’s good for the group in terms of mixing and matching lineups,” Bears offensive line coach Jeremiah Washburn said Monday.
As for tackle, it will be interesting to see who emerges as the backup swing tackle, but one candidate is 28-year-old Bradley Sowell, who has been in the league since 2012 and has 21 starts to his name. That said, after starting nine games for the Seahawks last year, he was benched in December and didn’t even dress in the team’s final two games.
“I’ve followed (Sowell) since he came out of Ole Miss,” Washburn said. “You track certain guys in the league, you know them as players, so he’s a guy we’re happy to have here. He’s going to help us.”
Sowell has been impressive in training camp so far and since he’s had mixed results as an NFL starter, swing tackle might be a perfect role for him.
5. Rookie running back Tarik Cohen has emerged as this year’s fan favorite. At 5-6, 181 pounds, he’s been exciting to watch and the crowds have been cheering him on, in part because — without live tackling — the fans don’t always realize when a play is dead.
That said, there have been some legitimate positive moments for Cohen in camp, including a cut up the middle Sunday that earned a fist bump from offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains. Cohen also caught two touchdowns the last two days. On Sunday, that led to an unfortunate chest bump celebration with center Cody Whitehair, which sent Cohen flying to the ground (Whitehair is 129 pounds heavier). Cohen learned his lesson, however, as Monday he went for the more controlled chest bump with tight end Daniel Brown.
“I ain’t gonna fall today,” Cohen said.