Postcard from camp: Bears
SI.com has dispatched 10 writers to report on the 32 NFL training camps across the country. For the complete schedule of postcards, click here.
Setting The Scene
The Bears take refuge at miniscule Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Ill., about an hour south of Chicago. During evening practices the feeling is pretty much Friday Night Lights on a far smaller scale. Fans belly up about three-deep along the fenced-off track oval that rings a lone field or they squeeze into a singular grandstand.
Observers do their best to entertain themselves throughout Lovie Smith's light practices, which so far have lacked much pop. Kyle Orton and Rashied Davis barely fail to connect on a 40-yard bomb and one fan bellows, "Get Hester a helmet!," referring to the Bears speedster who was then toiling, "injured," on the sideline. Rex Grossman defies character and pulls the ball down for a long scramble and another fan joshes, loudly, "Who is that?" It's amateur night at the Apollo. Just imagine if they served beer at Bears camp. Beyond that, the prevailing theme in Bourbonnais is uncertainty. The depth chart at every offensive skill position remained unresolved through Sunday.
1. Grossman vs. Orton vs. ... Caleb Hanie? OK, it seems almost unfathomable the Bears will ever have to call upon their No. 3 guy, which looks to be Hanie, a rookie out of Colorado State. But keep in mind the Bears have had to use at least a third-string QB in three of Smith's four years. (Telling, isn't it, that Orton and Grossman were both third-string or lower on this team at one point?)
Having watched Hanie sputter through two practices, Bears fans had better hope this rejiggered offensive line stays intact. (For starters, that means first-round pick Chris Williams has to get on the field, and quick. He has a bad back at the moment.) As far as the QB starter goes, very little seems to have changed from Day One of camp when Smith flipped a coin to determine which QB got first-team reps at the beginning of a month-long rotation. Rex won.
Bottom line: Grossman still has a much better arm ... and he still makes the same mistakes. Meanwhile, Orton still seems to prefer playing it safe. And he still has trouble with most long balls. To me, logic says Orton gets the nod. The Bears seemed to have given Grossman one last chance to wow them when they re-signed him to a one-year contract. As far as I can tell, it hasn't happened yet.
2. Not buying the Hester-holdout nonsense: There was never a question of whether Devin Hester would seriously hold out long, especially under this current Bears regime, where GM Jerry Angelo is quick to quell all holdouts. (See recent long-term contracts for Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs, Robbie Gould, Tommie Harris, and so on ...) Hester was all smiles on Saturday, a day before his contract was renegotiated, and was seen chatting up Angelo on the sidelines. He wasn't fooling the fans or the media when he developed a mysterious "hamstring injury" on the same day that he returned to camp last Friday.
For Saturday's evening practice, he was the last player on the field, sans pads, whereupon the crowd went nilly-willy. He spent the majority of his time fielding balls from the punt machine, and every now and then he'd stop to stretch, high-kicking BOTH legs, one at a time, far over his head, like he was trying to punt his own face. This was not a guy with a hamstring problem. The Bears knew that and were OK with it, as long as the situation got resolved soon.
Smith seemed equally cool on Friday when he told reporters, "The players I know can play, I'm not going to rush any of them back." But offensive coordinator Ron Turner seemed a little more concerned. Remember, the Bears immediately need Hester to become a No. 1 receiver following the departures of Bernard Berrian and Muhsin Muhammad. "He's up to speed," Turner said. "But he needs reps. We need to get him out here." That was 9:15 Saturday evening. Hester re-signed less than 15 hours later. As for the hammy, "it's a'yight," Hester deadpanned Sunday.
3. Greg Olsen on breakout alert: Hester and teeny-weeny running back Garrett Wolfe garnered the loudest applause over the weekend, but Greg Olsen got the most consistent cheers. Without a proven bunch of receivers, Turner says he'll lean more heavily on the second-year tight end, who came on strong around midseason last year after essentially missing the first four games to a knee injury.
Olsen has been a beast at camp, snatching balls in traffic and exhibiting acrobatic abilities on one particular deep ball Saturday -- that he barely managed to fingertip to himself while staying in bounds. Tellingly, that pass came from Grossman, which Bears fans have to like if he wins the job. Olsen and Grossman never seemed to click last year. Most of his balls came from Orton or the departed Brian Griese.