Monday, July 28, 2008

Salute Your Shorts - Bourbonais

I went to training camp on Sunday for the second time in my life and it was another great experience. The clouds we're out for most of the day keeping everyone cool but, at times, the sun would uncomfortably beat down on us. We got there about half an hour before the practice actually began, so there was a pretty long line to get in. We decided to jump in the shorter line, and it paid off. Even though they let around 150-200 people from the long line in for every 50 or so from the shorter line, we ended up waiting only around 10 minutes before we actually got in.

As soon as we entered the bucks started flying. Spending $3 on a program and another $1 on a "fan-pack" provided me with more than enough reading material to hold me until practice began. As soon as I entered the gift shop I figured I was going to be in trouble for spending too much money. However a surprisingly small selection of jersey's kept me in check. All I wanted to get was a white Mike Brown jersey, but they didn't have any. I would have settled for a white Lance Briggs, but those were nowhere to be found. I left the jersey section without getting a new one, which was the only thing I was set on buying before I went. I did find some consolation prizes though. I copped a white mesh hat, which kept me cool the rest of the day, and an overpriced polo. I ended up spending $85 at the store, but that wasn't it for the day. As soon as we left the store we walked past a booth for signing up for the 4th Phase. I had been planning on joining for a while, but never really got around to it until yesterday. It cost me another $36 or so, but I walked out with a t-shirt (that will fit until the first time I wash/dry it) and will have more to come in the mail.

We managed to find a seat near the north(?) end-zone of the Offense's field without spending any more money. By the time we got to the seats the action was just about to begin. Throughout the day I was most impressed with Matt Forte. He is a beast of a man with huge arms. He showed his strength during some blocking drills when he dominated the other RBs, especially Garret Wolfe. He seemed to be (by far) the hardest worker out of 6 or 7 RBs, which should be the case since he's a rookie. But considering the fact that every media outlet covering the Bears has already appointed him the starter, it's refreshing to see. When the Offense and Defense clashed at the end of practice for 7-on-7s Forte stood out not only running the ball, but also catching the ball on the move. He broke away a few times eventually reaching the end zone. I wasn't very sold on the selection of Forte over Ray Rice in the draft, but I think the Bears made the right choice (even though I still think Rice has a bright future in the NFL). Forte seems to be a complete running back: he's strong, he's quick with his effortless gliding, and I've heard on numerous occasions that he's the best blocking RB from this year's draft.

Devin Hester practiced for the first time on Sunday after receiving his new contract extension. Although he dropped a few passes, overall he looked pretty good to me. He slipped behind Charles Tillman, the Bears' best CB, to grab a TD that had no business making it through the defense. The coverage was skin-tight, but Grossman managed to make a perfect throw to the delight of the fans. We didn't get to see Hester return any kicks, even though it looked like that was the first thing they were going to do when practice started, but every time a pass was thrown to him the crowd made a lot of noise (even if he went on to drop the ball). Hester certainly looks like he's progressed this off-season and will continue to get better at the WR position. Just having him on the field for more plays than they did last year will improve the offense, even if he never touches the ball. Anytime he's on the field the defense will have to pay close attention to him, and if they ever fall asleep he can easily reach the end zone. Like I've said before, look for Hester to explode this season.

Despite throwing a few ducks, and plenty of heckling from "fans," Grossman looked good overall. He especially meshed well with Mark Bradley, who has climbed up the depth charts and will likely be the most productive receiver on the team this year. Bradley showed speed and the ability to create separation from the defender. He and Grossman seemed to be on the same page just about every play they were on the field. Right now it looks like the 1st team offense will be Hester and Bradley lined up out wide, with Des Clark and Greg Olsen sharing time/sharing the field, Grossman under center and Matt Forte right behind him. With that lineup the Bears have a lot of options, assuming the O-line shows up. This lineup doesn't even include what many are considering the Bears' top 2 WRs (Marty Booker and Brandon Lloyd). Lloyd did not impress me at all on Sunday, but if he produces a little bit, I'll be happy. I didn't notice Booker more than one time during the entire practice but I think he'll contribute a decent amount this year. This still leaves us with Rashied Davis. A converted CB who has excellent speed. This will be his 3rd year working with the Offense. He has very quick feet and with more time spent on the field, he can be very dangerous for this offense.

One person I was disappointed in was Greg Olsen. I saw him drop at least a couple passes, possibly more. I know what he's capable of and I'm not worried, but he didn't look very sharp on Sunday. One thing that I did like about what I saw from him was he lined up out wide on a few different plays. With his speed, they can use him as a receiver to create mismatches with smaller CBs. Hopefully Grossman will look Olsen's way more than he did last year. Grossman doesn't use the TEs as well as he needs to, and with 2 solid TEs, once he starts using them his numbers will improve greatly.

The defense seemed to be having their usual fun that they like to have a practice. Joking around with each other while still getting in their daily allotment of DW. During 7-on-7s the defense looked in control. The receivers weren't getting too much separation and the defense came up with a couple of INTs. It was great to see Mike Brown running around on the field. He didn't show any signs of previous injury and I truly hope he can stay healthy this season. He is too valuable to this team. He makes big plays and provides great leadership when he's out on the field. While injuries hampered the defense last year, they are very deep this year at all positions. The D-line should dominate this year by using a big rotation and keeping everyone fresh. I'm excited to see how much time Marcus Harrison gets and what he can do. He would have been a 1st round pick had he not gotten in trouble or gotten injured. The coaching staff speaks very highly of him and I expect him to get some quality tick this year. Another rookie who can possibly compete for a starting job (or at least significant playing time) is safety Craig Steltz. The coaches really like what he's done so far and if there are injuries to the secondary he can fill in (if he doesn't end up winning a starting job).

Overall I had a great time at training camp and didn't end up spending as much money as I thought I would. It has only made me more excited for the upcoming season and more optomistic about what the Bears are capable of this year.