Expectations high as Bears conclude OTA workouts
By Larry Mayer – http://www.chicagobears.com/news/NewsStory.asp?story_id=4809
LAKE FOREST, Ill. – When Bears players begin training camp in Bourbonnais exactly five weeks from today, they’ll no doubt step on the practice field with an underdog mentality.
At least that appeared to be the message that coach Lovie Smith foreshadowed Wednesday when the Bears concluded their 10-week offseason program with their 13th and final OTA workout.
Sounds like they’re already setting the tone for a terrible, apologetic season.
“We’re in fourth place right now in our division,” said Smith, whose team finished last in the NFC North with a 7-9 record in 2007. “That’s the mindset we have. We have a long ways to go.”
Smith indicated that he was inspired by the Boston Celtics, who won the NBA championship Tuesday night one year after finishing with the worst record in the Eastern Conference.
Ummmm, yeah. Did you see what kind of money the Celtics spent in the offseason? Garnett AND Allen — meanwhile the Bears made 0 significan gains during the Free Agent market this year. Angelo, apparently, was not as inspired by Boston spending spree.
The Bears rebounded from a 5-11 last-place finish in Smith’s first season as coach in 2004 to claim NFC North Division crowns with marks of 11-5 in 2005 and 13-3 in 2006.
“We’ve been in this situation before, so it’s not new to us,” Smith said. “We’ve been in last place and we’ve climbed that mountain. So that’s the message going in. It’s always good to be the underdog. Right now most people are counting us out. We like that position.”
Glad you do. Get used to it.
Rookie and full-squad minicamps in addition to the OTA practices gave Smith and his coaching staff an excellent opportunity to evaluate veterans and newcomers alike this offseason.
“We’ve had a chance now to see all the rookies, put them through just about every situation that they’ll go through once training camp starts,” Smith said. “We feel good about our football team at all positions. *
*excluding all skill positions
“We know that some guys have to play and prove some things like that, but we like the person that’s there.”
That’s true at running back, where second-round draft pick Matt Forte joins veteran Adrian Peterson, 2007 third-round pick Garrett Wolfe, P.J. Pope and Matt Lawrence. Even though the Bears recently waived Cedric Benson, they do not intend to sign a veteran free agent such as Shaun Alexander or Kevin Jones at this time.
“We like the running backs that we have right now,” Smith said. “We don’t have any plans to [add a veteran]. We like all of our players and those are the ones that we’re going with. We feel real good about all of our positions right now. I think most teams this late in the game, you need to feel good about the players that you have right now and we do.”
Oh yes. No need to add a veteran when your most experienced back has never started on any NFL team.
Bears quarterbacks Rex Grossman and Kyle Orton will resume their competition for the starting job in training camp. The battle could last well into the preseason with an emphasis on how the two veterans perform against live defenses.
“You can’t judge an awful lot right now,” Smith said. “The guys have done what we’ve asked them to do. There’s been a lot of great mental work going on, but we have to get them in a situation where there’s real pressure on them and grade them more on that. If you asked me right now, I would say that the competition is even.”
Wow. Completely even! Didn’t see that comment coming. Lovie Smith is tourturously good at pretending he doesn’t know who’s doing better. How many times has Smith said “He’s our guy” to bench him the next day, or, in Chad Hutchinson’s case, DROP him form the team completely less than 24 hours laster.
Smith was pleased that Brian Urlacher decided to participate in some of the OTA practices and isn’t worried about the middle linebacker’s contract situation being an issue in Bourbonnais.
How nice of Urlacher to show up.
“We’re not going to have any distractions,” Smith said. “Once it’s time to play football, we’re going to play football. You take care of those things in the offseason. Once we get to Bourbonnais, it’s nothing about the offseason then. It’s the regular season; real football. It’s time to go to work.
“I know the players will show up once training camp comes. We’ll have all of our players there ready to go. I’m not expecting anyone to hold out or anything like that. It’s a whole different mindset once we get down to Bourbonnais, and before you know it, Bourbonnais will be here.”
Wednesday’s final OTA practice had a last-day-of-school feeling with players swapping jerseys with each another before participating in a spirited workout. One of the most noteworthy trades involved Grossman and Devin Hester, who even ran one play out of the quarterback position.
“That was just for you guys,” offensive coordinator Ron Turner said to reporters. “I said, ‘Hey, he’s in an 8 jersey, we might as well put him back there.’ I’m sure [Hester] will be lobbying [to play quarterback in the future].”
Funny enough, I’ve suggested this before. Double TE, and a long-snap to Hester. EVERY PLAY. Consider it “offensive streamlining”.
Asked if Grossman looked faster in his No. 23 jersey, Hester said: “Yeah, he did. I actually saw him run a quarterback sneak, and he showed a little burst out there.”
This, of course, is hilarious, because Grossman is one of the least mobile than quarterbacks in the league. Any time he starts moving around in the pocket the only thing that bursts is his knee.
With the next five weeks off, Bears players are being encouraged by their coach to go on vacation and spend time with their family, all while getting away from football.
“We have a little bit of time right now,” Smith said. “We’re not playing the Colts tomorrow or anything like that. We’re going to take a little time off … but still you can start dreaming about good things happening*.”