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Thoughts from Training Camp

| July 27th, 2019

I made it out to Bears training camp for their first open practice today, so I wanted to share a few observations. This was the 2nd day of camp and there were no pads, so I’m not going to focus too much on specific plays. I’m more interested in what the depth chart roughly looks like now and what guys look like they do or don’t belong, athletically speaking.

Offense

  • Let’s start with Mitch Trubisky, who looked really good today. He was very sharp mentally, making quick, decisive reads consistently in full team drills. His passes were consistently on target (not just catchable, but right on the money) for everything 20 yards and in, and even the long balls were pretty solid for the most part. When I went to camp last year, I commented that he was thinking instead of playing, but today he was in control and could just go out and play. I was most impressed with how fast he got the ball out, often throwing it right as the target was making his break. He was clearly the best quarterback on the practice field (which he should be), but that was not the case when I was there last August.
  • Depth chart stuff: it’s default for veterans to start ahead of rookies early in training camp, so I found it noteworthy that a few offensive rookies were already fairly high on the depth chart. David Montgomery and Mike Davis seemed to be splitting reps at RB, and undrafted rookies Sam Mustipher (C) and Alex Bars (LG) were both on the 2nd string offensive line. They both have familiarity with OL coach Harry Hiestand from their time at Notre Dame, and it appears one or both have a decent shot at making the roster if they can have a good camp/preseason.
  • I paid close attention to the TEs, where I was very curious to see how Bradley Sowell looked. I was pleasantly surprised in that he didn’t actually seem out of place, which is impressive considering he’s switching from OL to TE this year. He has clearly slimmed down and didn’t look oversized, and was fairly fluid running basic short routes. I’m not saying he’s going to be stealing targets from Trey Burton or anything like that, but he looked more like a TE and less like an OL trying to play TE than I expected, which is a good start to being capable depth behind Adam Shaheen (who himself looked slimmed down) as the in-line TE.
  • Speaking of TEs, Dax Raymond was the undrafted rookie getting all the hype from fans this offseason, but right now he seems to be clearly behind fellow undrafted rookie Ian Bunting. Bunting took a bunch of reps with the 1st string offense in late 2 minute drills, and Raymond got none.
  • Hyped rookie WRs Riley Ridley and Emanuel Hall didn’t practice, so unfortunately I can’t say anything about where they seemed to be in the WR pecking order. It would have been kind of hard to figure out, though, because WRs, RBs, and TEs rotated through with the 1s and 2s a whole bunch.
  • The 2 guys who got the ball the most in full-team work, by far, were Allen Robinson and Tarik Cohen. I would guess they are going to be the main weapons this year.

  • Anthony Miller and David Montgomery have clearly better feet than anybody else out there. They both have fantastic cuts pretty much every time you watch them.
  • Miller did have a few mental lapses though. In 11v11, he seemed not to know one play, which resulted in the man he was supposed to block “tackling” Tarik Cohen for a loss on an outside run. In another, he picked up an illegal motion penalty.

Defense

  • I didn’t see as much of the defense, because they spent most of the practice doing drills on the other side of the offense from where I sat. That means I only really saw them going against the defense in 7v7 or 11v11, and again with no pads, so no live tackling.
  • This isn’t exactly groundbreaking, but Khalil Mack is GOOD. On the first play of 11v11, he blew by Charles Leno on a beautiful inside move and would have hit Trubisky before he had finished his drop. He was in the backfield several more times as well, and made it very obvious why he draws so many double and triple teams.
  • One position battle I was interested in watching was Buster Skrine vs. Duke Shelley at nickelback, but Skrine played exclusively with the 1s and Shelley with the 2s today. It’s typical for the veteran to be ahead of the rookie at this point in camp, so I more would have thought it noteworthy if they were splitting reps.
  • The defense blitzed a whole lot, highlighting the more aggressive approach new defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano is going to bring. Sometimes Trubisky recognized it and made a nice throw to a hot read, but the pressure “got home” quite a bit as well. On the last 2 minute drive scenario, I think the defense had 5 sacks, including 3 straight to end the “game” with the “win.” There was no tackling, so the ref would blow the play dead, even though I think Trubisky might have been able to escape a few of them.
  • In terms of defensive rotations, two things stood out to me. First is that Bilal Nichols is clearly established as the 3rd defensive lineman, with Roy Robertson-Harris 4th and Jonathan Bullard 5th. Also, Nick Kwiatkoski does not seem entrenched as the 3rd ILB. He was rotating through pretty evenly with Joel Iyiegbuniwe and Kevin Pierre-Louis.

Special Teams

  • We’ll start with kicker, which has been the storyline of the offseason for the Bears. Elliot Fry handled all the kicking duties today, and he was great. From what I saw, he only missed 1 kick out of about 10 or so, including making all 3 attempts from 50+ with a long of 60. All of these came with all 22 guys on the field, so a full rush, as it were (though guys weren’t rushing very hard).
  • It was comical to see how into the kicking attempts the fans got. I think each field goal got more crowd reaction than any offensive play.
  • Eddie Pineiro didn’t kick at all, and on kickoff drills he did a few reps but didn’t kick a live ball. He just kind of jogged up to simulate the kickoff motion so the other 10 guys had a signal for when to start running. That makes me wonder if he has some kind of minor injury.
  • Watching individual ST drills at the end of practice was enlightening in terms of seeing who looks like they do or don’t belong. Undrafted edge rusher Matt Betts got some hype after signing due to an impressive Canadian highlight reel, but he looked very out of place and unathletic. To be fair, he was a defensive end in Canada, so he’s not used to playing in space, but his lack of athleticism even running in a straight line really stood out. 6th round pick Duke Shelley also looked uncomfortable in ST drills, probably because he was a 4 year starter in college and thus hasn’t done special teams much.
  • ST is an important area to pay attention to for end of the roster spots, and in that respect one guy who I noticed was on the 1st team in kickoff drills was ILB Josh Woods. He saw a lot of ST action in preseason last year too, and appears positioned to push hard for one of those last spots as a ST ace.

Other coverage

  • I did a quick post-practice show with Dan DeYoung of the Loop Sports.