By Laurence Holmes-
(CBS) Remember HBO’s Hard Knocks last year? Rex Ryan and the Jets got into pads really quickly. Ryan believes in hitting and it was on display. The Jets ran full-contact goal line drills and it made you feel like you were actually watching football, not a glorified walk-through. That week, I spent some time discussing with my teammates, Dan McNeil and Matt Spiegel, the merits of full-contact in a training camp. The neanderthal fan in all of us seemed to gravitate towards the Bears needing to mirror some of the Jets style.
Let me back-track for a bit…
Throughout Lovie Smith’s tenure as head coach, his camps have been “player-friendly”. Meaning the practices have been thorough, but are less physical than other teams.
That wasn’t the case Tuesday night. Before the electrical malfunction, the Bears held an exhilarating practice filled with big hits and a lot of chirping. After stretching and warming up, the Bears ran a goal-line drill. Basically, you put the ball on the 2-yard line, call an inside run and see who wants it more: offense or defense. There were big hits and the defense was very stout, standing up Marion Barber three times. Khalil Bell fared better.
The bigger point is that there was an energy in this drill unlike any other in camp. All of the players were fixated. When the defense would make a big play, yells would go up from the D. When the offense scored, the crowd cheered.
My take is that the Bears are using this shortened window well. The level of preparation has to go up and that means from a physical standpoint too. Smith has recognized an opportunity to get the team into “game-shape” and that means blocking & tackling technique. It means finishing to the ground, not just a touch up to signify the finish of a play.
The Bears were smart. They ran this drill early in practice, so guys were fresh and less likely to get hurt.
Even fans who were disappointed about the abrupt end to practice, got treated to something pretty rare. It was fun. It was physical. It was football.
Hard Knocks would’ve been proud.
Other notes from practice:
-With the field lights going off for over and hour, the Bears moved the practice to Bradley-Bourbonnais Community High School. The irony is that the playing surface at BBCHS is FieldTurf.
-Lovie Smith paid close attention to the individual blocking drills of the tight ends.
-As the Bears get ready for an actual game, they focused on some situational drills like red zone and 3rd short.
-The Bears released their first depth chart on Tuesday. In my opinion, the most interesting thing was that the Bears have installed Roy Williams as a first team WR and have Johnny Knox as the second team wideout. This isn’t a surprise because the Bears have been talking up Williams and strangely talking down Knox. Mike Martz and Darryl Drake have each mentioned that Knox needs to take the next step in his development. Their criticisim is heavy-handed, considering that Knox was a fifth round pick from a small school, who led the Bears in receptions (51), yards (960), receiving tocuhdowns (5) and yards per catch (18.8) last season. Knox did all of this in his second year and his second consecutive new offense.
The Bears need to be careful here. They’ve been building up Williams at Knox’s expense. You would think that Williams was coming off a Pro Bowl season and not three consecutive years of less than 40 catches. For now, I’ll trust that the Bears know what motivates Knox. It just seems strange that the offensive staff has gone out of their way to say what Knox isn’t. You rarely see them publicly admonish a player. Hopefully, Knox will take the challenge on and show the coaches what they’re looking for. As for Williams, the Bears are placing some very high expectations on a player that has underwhelmed for the last few seasons.
For more Bears coverage throughout training camp follow Laurence Holmes on Twitter (@LHolmes670).