Deep, confident Bears team eager to kick off season

BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- The Bears' Tuesday night practice was full of pop here at their training camp facility at Olivet Nazarene University. For good measure afterward, their fans were treated to sparkling fireworks that filled the sky.

And if the Bears have their way, that is only a hint of the show to come.

This is a confident team. It is, overall, a deep team. The offense looks ahead of the defense but the defense is not in the dumps. The players looked excited. Their work was impressive.

Both Bears starting cornerbacks -- Charles Tillman (back) and Zachary Bowman (hamstring) -- are currently out due to injuries. Bears coach Lovie Smith expects both to be in the lineup on opening day on Sept. 15 against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field.

"And when we get them back," said Smith, "we'll be salty."

That is a mouthful coming from this normally reserved coach.

Photo gallery


Observation deck

1. Shall we tango? Had the chance to ask quarterback Jay Cutler about teammate Brian Urlacher supposedly saying recently that Cutler was, uh, soft. Cutler was informed that one of his former coaches told me that Urlacher had better watch out because Cutler would kick his tail. Said Cutler, laughing, "Uh, maybe so. But I think I would need some help." Urlacher loved it.

Urlacher said: "Good way to start off camp, huh? It's priceless. It's fun. We couldn't hit in practice tonight and if you give Jay time like that he will eat you alive. So, for the defense, this was not one of our best days of camp. But I think about what he can do to the teams we play against if we give him time and I'm really excited. He can kick a lot of butt right there."

What a dominant, signature force for each side of the ball on this club. With Cutler on the offense and Urlacher on the defense, the Bears have enviable axioms from which plenty on each side should flow.

2. Who will catch it? There is not a proven, imposing No. 1 receiver on this roster. This has been a source of Bears consternation since Cutler arrived in the trade from the Denver Broncos. But Cutler insists that he has what he needs. And you can see that his work with this group of receivers is quite promising. Devin Hester is a full-time receiver now and needs to continue to work at catching and holding onto the ball all of the time instead of some of the time. Man, once he gets it in his hands, though, anywhere on the field, he is electric.

Devin Aromashodu is a big target with a nice, long stride and apparent toughness. Impressive camp thus far. And Earl Bennett stood out as a dependable, good-hands, nice route-running receiver who is fluid and gains separation. It is all about the in-game performance, though, and that is why this group will be watched closely in the team's preseason opener on Saturday night at the Buffalo Bills and beyond.

3. Secondary concerns: With no Tillman and no Bowman, the Bears secondary looked ordinary. But you have to give safety Danieal Manning this: He was limping in practice due to a nicked foot and still was making plays all over the field. What a worker. He has been known to occasionally get caught out of position and blow assignments, but if he can clean that up and keep his nose on the ball, he can be as good a playmaker on defense as any of the Bears. He will contribute full-time as the team's kickoff returner and he has a natural knack and skill for that, too.

Surprise, surprise

Supreme left tackle Orlando Pace was supposedly washed up. Think not.

The guy looks in great shape, and even at less than 100 percent he remains better than half of the league's left tackles. What a player. What a pro.

"This is the first time I have been healthy in two years," said the former St. Louis Rams fixture. "This offensive line is a talented group, a mixture of youth and older veterans. Training camp is all about getting jelled. You know, this franchise has always been a run-first offense. So, you have to say the run-blocking right now is ahead of the pass-blocking. But we are going to get the pass-blocking right. We have to. We have Jay back there. That's a strength you have to protect. I understand this team's history and they understand mine. They are giving me respect and I'm doing the same. I hope I can be a factor for all of our linemen in giving them some examples on how to do the job."

Rookie report

The Bears will play close attention in preseason action to linebacker Marcus Freeman, the former Ohio State player drafted in the fifth round. Freeman has shown athleticism and will. He might give this team more depth at one of its current strengths. The Bears are looking for him to become a special teams nightmare for opponents from his first NFL special teams play forward.

Lasting image

The Bears fans. Nearly 10,000 of them surfaced for Tuesday night's practice. What a scene. They lined up five deep behind fences, brought lawn chairs and sat on nearby house rooftops. You could feel the buzz among them and the passion and high hopes they have for this team. A tremendous connection.

Say what?

"My parents grew up 30 or 40 miles from here. The locker room is as good as it gets -- they have welcomed me with open arms. I've got a good feeling here. I've got a good home." -- Cutler on settling in with the Bears.

Extra points

» Tommie Harris practiced on Tuesday night for the first time in recent days and moved well, worked well. Smith says that Harris, who revealed he had knee surgery in March, will not be overworked in camp. Smith believes Harris will be ready for opening day.

» Urlacher on new assistant head coach and defensive line coach Rod Marinelli and on the Bears pass rush: "What a coach. What knowledge. He is inspiring. I know the secondary is supposed to be our weak link right now. But, hey, this defense is built to get to the quarterback. And if we don't get a pass rush, nothing else matters. That has to be our focus this year: Get this pass rush back to where it identifies us."

» Smith on why he is focusing more on his defense and on his decision to call the defensive plays this season: "Every year you look at where and how you can best help your team. The defense has not played recently the way I would like for it to play. I will rely on all of the coaches as I always have. But this is my area, where I have the most experience, and I will use it to get more involved in fixing it. I do feel really good about this team. It will be ready to fight."

» Tight end Greg Olsen made a one-handed touchdown grab in the back of the end zone late in practice to cap a two-minute offensive drill. Cutler lobbed it back there and Olsen dazzled. Olsen is set not only to be a Bears story of note this season but one across the entire NFL.

» Running back Matt Forte threw a halfback touchdown pass early in practice. With defenses focusing on Cutler's big arm during games, this is a play that the Bears will certainly utilize this season and one that has a chance to be particularly fruitful.

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