By Chris Emma-
BOURBONNAIS (CBS) — With the tents pitched and grass freshly cut, the gates to Bears training camp in Bourbonnais opened up for thousands of supporters Friday. Football officially returned to its eager fans.
“2014 is here,” yelled one excited fan as he sprinted toward the front of the ropes to get a good view.
For a Bears team with high hopes for success, training camp at Olivet Nazarene marks the dawn of a new day.
Second-year coach Marc Trestman was pleased with the opening of practice, which saw a strong start for his new-look defense — two impressive interceptions, including one by rookie cornerback Kyle Fuller, plus a successful ball punch.
The tone was set for training camp with a productive, fast-paced practice on a breezy morning.
“A lot of good things happening,” Trestman said in summary of the work. “A good ebb and flow to practice. The guys had to pick themselves up when things weren’t going well and manage the success they had as well, so that was good.”
To maximize productivity during the nearly three hours on the field, Trestman divided the team on two parallel fields, attempting to get each player as many reps as possible. Thursday’s conditioning test was to prove which players are in shape, but each practice will work as a reminder, too.
How would Bears newcomer Jared Allen describe the practice?
“Long,” he said with a smile. “Goodness, I flashed back to (former Chiefs coach Dick)Vermeil. Three hours? Whoa.”
Added Fuller, one of 43 Bears offseason additions: “The pace is cool. You’re out there getting reps, quick and fast, and then you’re back in there. It’s definitely getting my conditioning up.”
Trestman primarily worked the starters in scrimmage action, attempting to gain a cohesiveness with the roster. Jay Cutler worked in the most at quarterback, while backups Jordan Palmer and Jimmy Clausen took snaps, too.
However, it was the defense’s day, showing a new energy.
“The fans and the media want to talk about what happened last year,” Allen said of the defense. “I wasn’t here last year, so for me, it doesn’t matter. I know how things can change in one year.”
Perhaps that turnaround is coming. The opening of the gates in Bourbonnais marks a new beginning for the Bears.
McClellin comfortable at Mike linebacker
Wearing 50 on his jersey and sporting a new, slimmer physique, Shea McClellin continued his acclimation process at linebacker.
McClellin, a former first-round pick as a defensive end, was moved to linebacker during the offseason, with an eye on the Mike spot but also perhaps on the strong side. Friday marked the start of his first training camp at the new position, one which felt like “home” to him.
“It’s where I belong,” McClellin said of playing middle linebacker.
This offseason has brought plenty of time for McClellin to learn the new position, and mini-camps and OTAs have helped to guide the process along.
There’s great pressure for McClellin to find his fit at the linebacker position after a failed two years on the defensive line. He’s trying to drown out the outside noise and enjoy the change.
“It’s definitely fun,” McClellin said. “I feel refreshed coming out here and playing linebacker now. I’m definitely very excited.”
Day one of the move saw progress from McClellin. He seemed more comfortable and fit in his new frame, and he put together a strong showing. None of it came as a surprise to his coach.
“I’ve seen it all through the offseason,” Trestman said.
“We have a lot of confidence. We’re excited about seeing where this could go with Shea. Today is day one, and we’ll continue to watch him hopefully progress during camp.”
Depth at the linebacker position will provide great competition for McClellin, making him an underdog to land a starting spot. However, he is optimistic in looking ahead.
“I’m feeling good,” he said. “There are things I’ve got to work on still, and I’m ready to compete every day, work every day and do the best I can.”
Difference in the defense
Football isn’t a game meant to be played in a T-shirt and shorts, but the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement has cut down the number of padded practices allowed in training camp.
A true evaluation is difficult without the contact included in game-like action, but the display of Friday’s practice showed a solid start for the Bears’ new-look defense.
“I’d say there’s definitely optimism, but we have to take it day by day and get better,” McClellin said.
A revival of the defense must start on the line, where numerous key additions such as Allen, Lamarr Houston and Willie Young will lead the unit.
In the first practice, the Bears say their deep line is revealing itself as a strength.
“The competition is hot,” defensive tackle Stephen Paea said. “It’s a blessing for our team. I just can’t wait to see how we’re going to do in the preseason and carry it over to the season.”
The defense as a whole has quality potential, led by the front four. The mixture of veterans and youth can only improve at linebacker following a poor 2013 season, and the new additions in the secondary are welcomed after struggles.
“It’s exciting to see the talent level we’ve got,” Allen said.
— While there was plenty of praise flowing following the Bears’ first practice, Allen tempered the evaluation. “We’re still in shorts and T-shirts,” he said. “We haven’t put the pads on.”
— Receiver Alshon Jeffery showed off his uncanny ability to bring in the ball with his trademark leaping catch, tearing one away from a defender. Jeffery has the star potential so many talk of.
— Rookie corberback Fuller was the best player in Friday’s practice, intercepting two passes, one of which was returned for a touchdown. He had planned for a big day. “I’m pretty sure everybody comes out thinking that,” he added.
— The first fight of camp came between receiver Eric Weems and cornerback Sherrick McManis, a brief skirmish that was quickly broken up by the coaches.
— The Bears return to the practice field on Saturday at 9 a.m. at Olivet Nazarene.