For the fans in the stands, we are five practices in so far with two padded practices.
What have we seen so far? Well, we’ve seen a mixture of everything. The offense has had its days, but the defense won the most recent practice on Wednesday. Rookies are flashing but they’re also having to adjust to the speed and the talent of the NFL.
Because we are so starved for live action throughout the offseason, that first week of camp is always met with classic overreactions, both good and bad. I’m guilty of that many times in the 25 years of going to Bears Training Camp.
It’s part of the experience.
It’s physically impossible for me to write an article every day and give my reactions the way Adam Hoge and Nicholas Moreano provide for you. Much respect to the hard work they are putting in daily for all of you diehards but I figured I would periodically jump in with some collective thoughts after a handful of practices week to week.
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OK, onto the camp report …
Chase Claypool is standing out
The biggest takeaway so far that I’ve had is that WR Chase Claypool is the star of camp so far. Even over Justin Fields and DJ Moore, who clearly show what they are capable of. Claypool is just standing out more to this point. And I think with all the talk surrounding Chase heading into camp, whether it be his health situation or his modeling career, all eyes were on him. And he took note. Claypool has come into camp with a clear chip on his shoulder. You can see he has something to prove and being in a contract year is also a common motivator for any player.
But it’s not just his vibe or his energy. It’s the way he’s making plays. Using his physical traits to dominate the guy across from him. Something you can’t teach. He’s just too big. On a 20-yard dig route he used his body to post up and make it impossible for the DB to get around him as he made the reception. In 1 on 1s he “mossed” Jaylon Johnson as he skied over him in the end zone and pulled the ball over his head, all hands, for the touchdown. He’s made plenty of plays in team and individual drills each day that show you he is capable of being a difference-maker if used correctly.
One of the biggest things that left me impressed with Claypool was his willingness to play through little bumps or dings when he could’ve easily used the veteran’s excuse to take a day off or a play off. On Friday’s final play of practice, there was a collision that resulted in Claypool hitting the turf and as he came off he was limping. We all thought there was a good chance he wouldn’t practice the next day. Instead, he was right back out there.
On Monday, Claypool had a well-contested catch on the sidelines where CB Greg Stroman Jr broke up with the play with some physicality, which led to Chase shaking his head as he came off. He could’ve taken the rest of the day off but was right back out there after one play. He’s not wanting to miss any opportunities, it appears. You can tell by his passion it means something to him. He’s trucking guys and standing over them while flexing just to remind everyone who he can be. Maybe some forgot? There’s been a lot of talk about how Claypool has to prove it this year, which is fair. So far he’s doing that.
Justin Fields’ focus
Justin Fields is always going to be the focus for everyone. No ones going to camp and rooting for the defense to make a play on Fields. And so far, Justin has had his share of ups and downs. I think you’re seeing an emphasis by the QB and the coaching staff to work on the short-yardage throws. We’ve seen a lot of them. Slants and short dig routes to DJ Moore and Chase Claypool. Quick checkdowns to the tight ends, Cole Kmet and Robert Tonyan. Crossing routes on QB rollouts where guys are left wide open in the flat. We all know that Justin can hit the $100 ball. But can he throw the nickel and dimes? On Wednesday’s practice he had a slant to Chase Claypool that was thrown behind him and batted up and nearly intercepted. So it hasn’t all been pretty. But he’s had more than a few three-step drops and rips to DJ Moore where you can see that connection being a routine each Sunday.
The thing I’ll say so far about the offense, is that I don’t believe it’s a fair representation of what the Bears offense will be in the regular season. We all know that Justin Fields is one of the most dynamic athletes to ever put on a Bears uniform but he is not going to take off running in camp the way he does in a regular season game. That’s a huge part of this offense you’re not seeing here. And while we all want OC Luke Getsy to tone down how much Justin runs the football on his own, they may not have a choice. With the offense still being a work in progress, Fields is gonna do what he’s gotta do. I can promise you that.
Still waiting on the running game
Along with the QB run game being a staple to this Bears offense so are the RBs. The Chicago Bears set a franchise record for rushing yards as a team with 2,975 yards. Yes, Fields played a big part of that but so did the RBs. This running back by committee will be just as important to the success of this offense as the continued development of the QB. Because while Fields and his newly tooled offensive line and wide receivers are building chemistry, they will have to run the ball. Khalil Herbert and Donta Foreman are both guys you know what you’re getting from and Roschon Johnson is a promising rookie out of Texas. But you aren’t going to be able to see too much of what the run game will actually probably all the way until week 1. They just don’t hit like that at camp anymore.
So, this all about the development in the passing game. Getting Fields as many reps in the pocket to learn to read the defense, climb and navigate in the pocket, and get the ball out quickly on target and in stride. 7 on 7s have been some of the most interesting sessions to me because you’re seeing if he’s made progress in some of these areas. On Tuesday he lit up 7 on 7s going 8 for 10 in one segment while delivering passes to almost a different player every time and had the ball quick out of his hands. They weren’t bombs but they were efficient. And that’s what Justin needs to do more of. Take what the defense gives him, trust his reads and rip it. But with the ups come the downs. On Wednesdays practice of back to back pads, Fields and the offense had a much rougher day. In a particular 7 on 7, he was picked off on back to back plays by Jaquan Brisker and wasn’t getting the ball out fast enough.
The defense is forming an identity
Peanut Tillman once yelled to the fans at Bourbonnais after getting tired of hearing all the cheers after deep ball touchdowns, “The defense plays for you guys too!” And it was a great point that the fans really never root for the defense at Training Camp. Even when we had great defenses with Urlacher, Briggs, Tillman the fans always want the touchdowns even at the expense of your own defense. It’s actually kind of funny. TJ Edwards had an interception last Friday on Justin Fields and I joked with him after practice that he needed to cut that out. He said, “Hey man, I’ve had to chase him around all summer. I gotta get mine too.” Fair enough.
It’s been well reported but the defense absolutely dominated the offense at Wednesdays second padded practice. And talked a whole bunch of shit while they did it too. You can see them as a group coming together and building confidence. Specifically from second year guys Jaquan Brisker and Kyler Gordon. Both were all over the field making plays yesterday and showing a ton of leadership along the way. In one segement Kyler Gordon had a sack, a tackle for loss and an interception all in a row. As I mentioned earlier, Brisker had back-to-back picks. Almost had another one later in practice where he was bee-lining a route and if not for an overthrow probably lights up the WR or gets an interception. After Wednesdays big day, both Gordon and Brisker were the very last 2 on the football field still practicing over an hour after their day was done. You can see their ready to take the next step.
The LB core also seems to be a huge bright spot for this team. The local kid, TJ Edwards, is getting in passing lanes and blowing up the run at times. One that stood out was a goal line stuff where you could hear his pads crack from the other side of the field. How can you not like Jack Sanborn? He really is the epitome of Chicago Bears linebackers, he just looks like a bricklayer. He’s constantly chasing guys out of bounds and has gotten to the QB a few times on a blitz where you’re reminded of the flashes we saw from him to end last season. Even rookie Noah Sewell had a great day of practice on Wednesday where he broke up a pass in coverage with the RB in the flat showing nice closing speed and laying the wood on the TE Carlson as he came over the middle. Tremaine Edmunds is an imposing guy just to stand next to and has made more than a few plays so far, including an interception of Fields on a tipped pass in the air which he proceeded to take the other way while he brought the rest of the defense with him for a great celebration on the fans side of the field.
But the defense also got beat by the offense most of Tuesday. Justin Fields was able to climb the pocket more than a few times and find both Claypool and DJ Moore in clear throwing lanes for the touchdown. They don’t seem to have an answer for Robert Tonyan who has good days consistently, whether it be downfield or in the rollout game as he comes across the middle for walk in touchdowns. Rookie CB Tyrique Stevenson had his first'”welcome to big leagues” moments the first 3 days of open practice where both DJ Moore and Chase Claypool used their veteran savvy to beat Stevenson on individual and team drills. Although, Tyrique has countered nicely these past couple days. It’s a punch/counter punch league, as they say.
Overall, camp is so much fun because football is back but it can trick you because you’re over anxious for answers you want to questions you’ve had for months, that you probably won’t get for another two months. And it’s easy to project things for players that don’t always work out. We’re fans, right? That’s what we do. We want the best for every player and can envision a scenario where their path leads to greatness. I’d rather be wrong about some players than not root like hell for every player.
That’s what camp is all about. The season of dreaming. The time to get hyped about the good and rationalize the bad. The answers will come soon enough. Patience.
After a horrendous day for the offense on Wednesday, Justin Fields said, “It’s really good to actually have days like this just to see how guys respond to a little bit of adversity. I think the guys definitely had more juice at the end of practice. I just want them to have that the whole time, start off with that same juice. But just got to learn from our mistakes and continue to get better.”
The saying goes, iron sharpens iron. But you guys all know where I’m gonna go with this. Brick by Brick. Just gotta keep stacking em’. Because not every brick in the wall is going to be perfect but when the wall is finished, you don’t see any single bricks. You just see the wall.