Bears camp postcard (cont.)
New Face, New Place
Marty Booker. Well, sort of. Five years after being traded to Miami for defensive end Adewale Ogunleye, Booker, who ranks fifth and sixth all-time in receptions and yards for the Bears, is back in Chicago, having signed as a free agent this offseason. Sure, he has a few obstacles to overcome before he's a starter again. He turns 32 on Thursday, but he might be the best man for the job -- at least for now.
In nine NFL seasons, Booker has played alongside 16 starting quarterbacks, which he says has made it easy to deal with the Bears' uncertain QB situation. "I've never had stability at that position," Booker said. "I have to go out and catch the ball from whoever is throwing. Who's throwing it has never been part of the issue. Can't be. I'm paid to catch the ball, not to care about where it's coming from."
On the downside, Booker's never been a speedster. He generally has relied on his humongous hands (no, really, they're massive) as a possession receiver and has used his big body to box-out defenders. Too bad neither Orton nor Grossman are known for their accuracy.
Looking At The Schedule
Just like in 2007, when the Bears opened the season against a much-hyped San Diego team, Chicago gets a tough Week 1 test that could set the tone for '08. This year it's the Colts in Indianapolis. Last year the Bears not only lost a close game to the Chargers, 14-3, but also they lost two key defensive starters to injury in safety Mike Brown and defensive tackle Dusty Dvoracek (each one tore an ACL). Not exactly the best follow-up to a Super Bowl loss.
Coming out of this year's game with a win and a healthy Brown (remember, he's missed the majority of the last two years) would be a huge start. After that, the Bears face just one playoff team, Tampa Bay, over the next seven games. Managing six wins over the first half of the season seems realistic, and this is a team that tends to steamroll when it builds confidence.
Memorable Image From Camp
Between the injuries (Brown, Harris) and contract squabbles (Urlacher, Briggs), who would have thought the entirety of the dominant '06 Bears defense could ever return to the field intact? But there they were, yucking it up all weekend, knocking helmets off and oozing intensity. Following one run on Saturday, rookie Matt Forte was pushed back down to the ground after bouncing up from a tackle, evoking memories of the alleged harassment Cedric Benson got from this same bunch during the '06 camp. Forte didn't take it personally, but he certainly took notice: This unit is still tough as nails.
Speaking of Forte, he's had his moments, but Smith seems to have taken a step back from declaring the rookie a starter just yet. Adrian Peterson, who's proven perfectly capable as a starter in the past (he had three scores in five starts last year), had been taking the majority of the snaps with the first-team offense up until Sunday. On Sunday, Forte finally worked in with the unit a few times and was used heavily as a receiving back, displaying some nifty moves and steady hands, especially on a one-handed grab in traffic that he took the distance. The catch might have looked a little less pretty had it been placed better, but this one was low and behind. The passer? Grossman.
Come late August when I'm drafting my fantasy team, I'll have very few Bears players on my "draftable" list. If Olsen falls into the seventh round or later, he's a steal. I've got a mental list that also includes Hester if he falls very, very far, and the "Bears defense." Beyond that, whomever starts in the backfield will be worth a flyer, based on the commitment of this offense to the run (Smith used his go-to "we get off the bus running" line again Sunday), but even that situation will be tough to figure out with the position still up for grabs.
There cannot be a team in the league with greater depth at tight end than the Bears. After Olsen and Desmond Clark (two years removed from a 45-catch, six-touchdown season) is 6-foot-7, 262-pound Michigan State rookie Kellen Davis, who the Bears selected in the fifth round. The way the Bears were telling it, Davis hadn't dropped a pass until Sunday afternoon, and more than a few reporters had dubbed him the "best looking player in camp" so far. His best chance to make an impact in '08: Learn how to block.
The first player to express frustration with Hester-mania? That would be Rashied Davis, who's also competing for a wide receiver spot. On Hester's first day in pads on Sunday, fans cat-called "Heeeester" for the first five minutes of receiver drills before Davis finally had enough. In shrill falsetto, he wailed "Deeeeeeevin! Deeeeeeevin!" for the rest of the drill.
The Bears know what's coming in 2008: No one with any sense will punt or kick directly to Hester. (Note: the Broncos aren't on the schedule.) So when Hester lined up in pads to return live punts for the first time on Sunday, the crowd got a fistful of disappointment as Brad Maynard sent eight straight punts away from Hester. Maynard hung 'em high, he pinned 'em against the sideline -- but not a single one was returnable. You could see the frustration building in Hester's eyes. It could be a long season for the Windy City Flyer.
Best way to pass the time in Bourbonnais? Stroll through the players' parking lot and try to guess whose gaudy ride is whose. The gigantic Nissan monster truck with the UF stickers? Gotta be Grossman or Alex Brown, both Florida alums. But the blended chocolate-brown-and-black Hummer with extra-thin wheels and chrome rims? I'm leaning toward Dvoracek, but, really, I don't want to know.