Saturday: Chicago (Olivet Nazarene University, Bourbonnais, Ill.)
Three football nuggets: Alshon Jeffrey, scarred during the draft process, fell to the second round, but the Bears love him so far. Watching receiving drills, the kid belongs ... Can't wait to see what a great special teams coach, Dave Toub, does with a great all-around special teams player, Blake Costanzo, who comes over from the 49ers ... J'Marcus Webb has about as tenuous a hold on the left tackle job as any other offensive lineman in football. Saw Mike Tice drilling the lineman at the afternoon practice, and I don't think he'll hesitate to pull Webb if he struggles like he has the last two seasons.
Finally, some size at receiver -- and some size with good ability.
Sometimes at these practices your eyes glaze over. You're watching drills that often don't directly translate to what players are going to do on the field, and you wonder what exactly you're watching -- and why.
Then there is a duel between two good players.
This afternoon, right in front of a few media folks on the sideline of camp, we got to see four snaps, just feet away, of 6-4 wide receiver Brandon Marshall against 6-2 cornerback Charles Tillman. Tillman's the leader of the pack in the secondary, the best corner on the team, with a good resume that includes 30 career interceptions. Marshall's the Pro Bowl receiver in from Miami via trade this year, still feeling his way a bit with his new teammates but respected as a guy who gives the Bears what they haven't had: a productive big receiver in a division with a few of them.
Just before he and Marshall squared off, Tillman watched cornerback Jonathan Wilhite lose a step on free agent receiver Chris Summers by trying to joust him downfield. "Run!'' Tillman yelled at Wilhite. "Just run!'' Tillman turned to another corner prospect, Cornelius Brown, and said, "See? He's too busy trying to reach for him. Just run with him!''
Now Tillman lined up across from Marshall. Quarterback Jason Campbell hut-hutted, and they were off. Marshall ran a shallow cross. Campbell's pass was on target. Tillman got a fist in and knocked it away. Tillman, 1-0.
Two minutes later, Tillman got beat by a step down the left sideline, and Jay Cutler threw it perfectly for a long gain. Tie, 1-1.
Now another cross, from left to right. Marshall juked and got an edge just after the snap. Another completion, and now secondary coach Jon Hoke went to Tillman to confer. Marshall, 2-1.
Number four: Marshall ran a stutter-and-go, hesitating and trying to throw off Tillman with hip fakes. Then Marshall sprinted by him. Easy catch. By the time the ball landed in Marshall's hands, 35 yards down the left side, he had a couple of steps on Tillman. Marshall, 3-1.
There will be other duels on other days, and the object is for Tillman to get practice going up against a Calvin Johnson type of big receiver, and for Marshall to get used to how the big corners of the division will play him. Cool to watch.
Sunday: In Summation ...
Phase one of the SI-EvoShield Training Camp is over. Home now for three days, to write and veg out a bit. Before we parted Saturday night at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago, ProFootballFocus czar Neil Hornsby, who accompanied me on the first 19 days of the odyssey (and he urges you to take advantage of his newfound knowledge and contacts by buying his premium stat service on the website), asked each other this question: What's the one major thing we took from every team's training camp and/or first preseason game? The answers:
Arizona: Rookie Ryan Lindley, the sixth-round quarterback from San Diego State, isn't far behind incumbents Kevin Kolb and John Skelton. Don't see him playing anything but a cameo this year, though, barring the other two stinking up the place.
San Diego: Antonio Gates is as healthy as a colt. Saw him smiling and happy and running freely. He could put up Gronkian numbers.
New Orleans: The Drew Brees- and Chase Daniel-led offense (and don't laugh; Daniel was very good the day we watched) will not let Sean Payton's absence drag down a great attack.
Denver: I wrote last week about Peyton Manning not being near 100 percent with his arm strength, and he isn't. I don't much care. Hornsby and I both thought he had -- and will have -- plenty of arm to win with.
Seattle: Read so much of people putting down Seattle's draft as a monster reach, particularly pass rusher Bruce Irvin in the first round and quarterback Russell Wilson in the third. Funny, then, that we heard three or four GMs or personnel people on our trip say, "I loved Irvin,'' or "I would have taken Wilson. Great pick."
San Francisco: Randy Moss, in terms of burst and quickness, looked far better than we'd expected. Will it last? Who knows. Might be worth a ninth-round fantasy-draft flyer, though.
Oakland: Talking to new GM Reggie McKenzie, you can tell the Raiders still have miles to go to clear up the salary cap -- and it could hurt them this year at shallow positions like linebacker, offensive line and tight end.
Miami: Could this be the worst receiving corps in the NFL? Could be, unless wing-and-a-prayer wideouts like Legedu Naanee and Roberto Wallace, at least one of them, come through.
Tampa Bay: In terms of leadership and practice performance, the $11 million-a-year man, Vincent Jackson, has come in and dominated camp. That must continue for the Bucs to contend.
Jacksonville: Not convinced about Blaine Gabbert's renaissance. You can tell new coach Mike Mularkey is trying to do everything he can to boost the kid QB's confidence, with low-risk routes galore. Won't know if it works until the games count.
Atlanta: Handcuffs are off Matt Ryan. He'll have the ability to throw for some ridiculous numbers (5,000 yards is very realistic) with new coordinator Dirk Koetter sending Julio Jones flying deep.
Washington: This is Robert Griffin III's town. Everyone else but Obama is just renting space.
New York Giants: A loose team that's so happy to be overlooked this summer. Sleeper guy who's going to play a lot and has caught Coughlin's eye: Jayron Hosley, third-round corner from Virginia Tech.
New York Jets: In a suburb of Tebowville is concern about where the pass rush will come from. Aaron Maybin and then who?
Buffalo: Slightly underwhelmed with the performance of The Greatest Defensive Line of All Time. Played the run well against Washington, but gave RGIII too much time. Preseason, though, can be so misleading.
Cleveland: If they're missing Joe Haden and Scott Fujita for the opener, added to the loss of Chris Gocong already, and if Trent Richardson doesn't play in the preseason because of the knee, and if Brandon Weeden struggles as many rookie passers do, look out below. The Eagles, Ravens and Giants are on the slate in the first five games.
Detroit: Running game, meh. If it's mediocre again, the Leos need someone like tight end Brandon Pettigrew (speaking of meh) to finally play worthy of his first-round pedigree.
Chicago: For the first time in any of our lifetimes, the Bears are north of meh (speaking one last time of meh) at wide receiver.
So long, Bob Ryan. You've been a role model.
The Boston Globe columnist wrote his farewell column Sunday in the paper after 44 years (well, sort of a farewell column; he wrote one on the Olympic basketball final in today's paper, and will stay on as a contributor to the paper), and I think I speak for everyone in our business when I say how much I'll miss Ryan.
So matter-of-factly eloquent. His lead from the Sunday goodbye:
"LONDON -- Day One did not begin well. En route to the Globe for my first day as a summer intern, I was sideswiped on Storrow Drive by a Bloodmobile.
"Since then, no complaints.
"Forty-four years later, I'm still here, which is truly remarkable. How many columnists on a major American daily newspaper have spent their entire journalistic lives with one newspaper? The answer is close to zero. But why would I want to go anywhere else?''
Simple, declarative sentences are good things. Ryan specialized in them. He said what he thought without couching it, column after column. "I do want it known that I have spent 44 years doing it from the heart,'' he wrote Sunday. I have never once written to provoke or attract attention. I have always done what has come naturally, which doesn't mean it's always been right. But no one is right all the time.''
You came close, Bob.
"I thought I did a really good job, especially for the first time being out there. I was really, really calm. I just trusted what I saw.''
-- Rookie Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson, after playing the second half of Seattle's 27-17 win over Tennessee. He completed 12 of 16 passes, including a 39-yard touchdown throw to Braylon Edwards, and ran three times for a game-high 59 yards, including a 32-yard touchdown run that sealed the game.
"Channeling my inner Tebow."
-- Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez, on making a nifty scramble in New York's preseason opener Friday night in Cincinnati.
"I was young at one time. I've made some mistakes. Like I've been saying, I've made some mistakes in my life and I've moved on from them and I wish that everybody would, also. I've put those things behind me and I'm just focused on being a better person and moving forward in life ... If I don't play football, let it be because I can't perform physically, not because of what my past has been or what somebody has said. The crazy thing about it is nobody's even seen me or seen the kind of shape that I'm in. I just want to get out on the football field and get back to dominating my position.''
-- Free agent wide receiver Plaxico Burress, to KILT radio in Houston via sportsradiointerviews.com. Burress, who turned 35 Sunday, has watched Randy Moss, 35, and Terrell Owens , 35, get chances to play in San Francisco and Seattle, respectively, and is frustrated no team has given him a chance to show he can play.
"Arizona will be not charged with a timeout.''
-- Replacement referee Craig Ochoa in the Baltimore-Atlanta preseason game.
That's good to note, especially since the Arizona Cardinals were 803 miles away at the time, and their game in Kansas City wasn't due to start for another 24-and-a-half hours.
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