By Chris Emma—
CHICAGO (CBS) – Upon arrival in the Soldier Field south end zone, receiver Victor Cruz contemplated his first salsa dance in a Bears uniform but then decided against it. He’s saving the celebrations for a real game.
“I don’t want to give too much too early,” Cruz said with a smile after Saturday’s Family Fest in Chicago.
At the least, Cruz can be content with a strong showing at his new home stadium. He had the biggest highlight of Saturday’s showcase scrimmage with a 50-yard touchdown reception from backup quarterback Mark Sanchez, one that saw him evade defenders over the middle and break for the end zone.
The veteran Cruz is one of many interesting stories as the Bears continue on through training camp. Though his best days may be in the past, Cruz is fighting for a spot in the slot. It will be an ongoing battle with veteran Kendall Wright and others.
Cruz is just one of many new pieces to this puzzle. After widespread changes this past offseason, the Bears are working through their personnel to find the right fits for this new season. There’s plenty of competition throughout a deeper Bears roster.
There are many players like Cruz who could emerge into a key role or just as easily not make the 53-man roster. That’s the byproduct of competition.
Running back has a battle behind Jordan Howard, with Tarik Cohen, Benny Cunningham, Jeremy Langford and Ka’Deem Carey. Tight end features Zach Miller fighting for his place against Adam Shaheen, Dion Sims and Daniel Brown, among others. There’s competition on the defensive line, with Jonathan Bullard, Jaye Howard and Mitch Unrein competing for reps as the other five-technique. It’s a battle at safety, too, with Deon Bush, Adrian Amos, Harold Jones-Quartey and Eddie Jackson in the mix.
There’s competition abound. It’s exactly what the Bears intended for training camp.
“We’re just a better football team,” coach John Fox said. “I think we’ve come a ways, and we’ll see where it takes us.”
Glennon getting comfortable
The offseason program didn’t reveal the best of starter Mike Glennon. A lot of throws found the turf or a defender’s arms.
Now, it appears that he just needed a little bit of time to develop with the Bears. Glennon has settled in well with this new-look offense, and that comes in part because of better chemistry.
Glennon finished 5-for-5 with his passes in Saturday’s scrimmage. He worked a bland offense and didn’t throw any deep balls, but this was just a scrimmage barely beyond a week of work in training camp. What’s important is that Glennon is synced up with his wide receivers.
That rapport developed during a recent trip to Fort Lauderdale, a getaway organized by Glennon himself.
“Mike has an understanding of where a receiver is supposed to be, when he’s going to get there, because each guy is different,” offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said. “We talked earlier about developing chemistry, some of that comes from learning what your guy does well and what his strengths are.”
Glennon seems particularly comfortable with Cameron Meredith and Kevin White, who project to be his top targets this season. Glennon isn’t best suited on the move – his time in Tampa saw struggles because of issues behind a porous offensive line – so when a play does break down, Glennon can look toward those receivers in whom he now holds a greater trust.
The receivers see Glennon commanding the offense even better.
“He’s a great leader for us,” Meredith said. “We’re happy to work with him and go out there and see him lead us down the field and all that type of stuff. He’s been a great guy in the huddle. We’re looking forward to the season with him.”
Shaheen, Cohen fitting right in
Practice on Friday at Olivet Nazarene saw rookie tight end Adam Shaheen go up for a quick strike and haul in a touchdown pass with one hand over safety Quintin Demps. Shaheen used his size and athleticism to simply overpower the veteran. Imagine a Rob Gronkowski jump ball.
On Saturday, rookie running back Tarik Cohen took a handoff and found no space between the tackles, so he made a quick cut to the right side and beat defenders to the edge for nine yards. The next play, he won the edge again and earned seven yards.
The Bears’ rookie class is off to a great start in training camp, and while quarterback Mitchell Trubisky remains under the constant spotlight, the development of Shaheen and Cohen is quite important, too. Both have looked like NFL players – a great compliment for two rookies with questions to their development.
Shaheen dominated the Division-II level, but there were many wonders to what he could become at this next level. Early into camp, Shaheen has shown an ability to create space within a defense and go up to get the football. He looks comfortable at this speed of the game simply because of his size and athleticism.
“He has the makeup, size, length, body type, even without pads he looks like he can block,” Fox said. “Now we’ve gotten a chance to see (him block in pads). He’s been impressive. I think he’s got a bright future.”
Cohen stands a foot shorter than Shaheen but uses his size for a different kind of advantage. At 5-foot-6, he’s an elusive player in the backfield. Quick cuts allow Cohen to break toward the edge and find the open field. He’s shifty through the first two levels of the defense and explosive once he gets beyond that.
In Cohen, the Bears may have the ideal complement to Howard. There are good developments showing early on for this rookie class.
Extra points: Trubisky finished Saturday’s scrimmage 3-for-5 on the day … Langford (ankle) remained sidelined for practice, while Daniel Braverman (quad), Eric Kush (hamstring), Connor Shaw (leg) and Pernell McPhee (knee) were held back in Bourbonnais … Cornerback Rashaad Reynolds left practice with an apparent injury … The Bears are off Sunday and return to work Monday at Olivet Nazarene. Their first preseason game is Thursday night at Soldier Field against the Broncos.