Postcard from camp: Bears
Bears wanted to operate on Brian Urlacher now; hope he'll be ready for Week 1
There are concerns on the O-line, but Jay Cutler is expected to overcome them
Brandon Marshall hasn't been a problem child for player's coach Lovie Smith
SI.com has dispatched writers to report on NFL training camps across the country. Here's what Peter King had to say about Bears camp in Bourbonnais, Ill., which he visited on Aug. 11. Read all of our postcards here.
At Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Ill., always a pleasant stop on the camp trip. The Bears have a press room set up in the middle of campus. Practice is on the ONU football fields, and food at the main campus dining hall, all within a short walk. Wish more teams realized the value -- for fans and camaraderie of the team -- of going away to a campus setting for training camp.
1. Brian Urlacher is iffy for the opener. When I visited camp and spoke to coach Lovie Smith, he told me Urlacher's left knee would be fine, and he would be ready for the Sept. 9 season opener against Andrew Luck and the Colts. But that's in doubt after arthroscopic surgery on the knee Tuesday. Urlacher hurt the knee in the last game of the 2011 season, colliding with safety Major Wright, and rest was prescribed for it to heal. But he still was sore in camp, took a week off, and then it was determined he'd be better off getting the procedure done now. Long season, get it fixed now, etc. Versatile Nick Roach takes over the middle in Urlacher's absence.
2. Left tackle is still a problem spot. The Bears seem happy with the right tackle spot, now that 2011 first-round pick Gabe Carimi is back from injury. The nominal starter on the left side is J'Marcus Webb, but the Bears are running out of patience with him. He was whistled for 14 penalties last season, high among NFL offensive linemen, and he's been shaky during camp.
I don't recall a starter playing into the fourth quarter in the first preseason game, but offensive coordinator Mike Tice left Webb in until then -- and said Webb just has to play better. He might not be capable, and Tice could be forced to go with 2008 first-round pick Chris Williams sooner than later.
3. The Bears have entered the new reality of the NFL at wide receiver. After a string of failed big receivers (i.e., Roy Williams), 6-foot-4 ½ Brandon Marshall and 6-3 Alshon Jeffery looked in practice to be the solutions Chicago's been looking for at the position. Both caught the ball well and showed good separation from corners.
Jay Cutler, quarterback. No knock on Cutler that he got hurt last year and the Bears' 7-3 season went up in flames. But other than a shaky line, there's nothing else separating the Bears from Super Bowl contention, and Cutler will be expected to overcome whatever problems there are up front. He's already said if the team has to keep extra guys in to protect him, so be it. The weapons are here, and the running game is here, and there can be no more excuses about the remnants of the Mike Martz offense not having enough artillery to go downfield now that Marshall and Jeffrey are in house. Basically, even if Cutler gets sacked a lot, there won't be excuses for him not to have the Bears playing deep into January.
Brandon Marshall, wide receiver. Smith was eloquent to me in his defense of Marshall the person and his excitement about Marshall the player. Smith's always been a player's coach -- tough but willing to bend over backward to help his guys. Marshall, plagued through his career by erratic behavior (he has been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, which is characterized by severe mood swings), lost much of his support from coaches and players in Miami and was dealt to Chicago for two third-round picks before the draft. He's been on his best behavior here, but obviously it's early. At his peak, he's a 100-catch Pro Bowl cinch. But the Bears have to figure out how to get the best out of him -- former Denver teammate Cutler should help, because Cutler has always praised Marshall. So far, so good.
The bad: Dried out, leathery roasted chicken breast. The good: A fruit salad (blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, cantaloupe) a Tahitian resort would be proud to serve. Moral of the story: When the fruit looks that good and the breast that sketchy, skip the entrée; double up on the fruit. Grade: B-minus.
Tough short week after the opener, with a Week 2 Thursday-nighter at Green Bay. And a tough road to finish: at Minnesota, Green Bay, at Arizona, at Detroit, which negates much of the potential late-season edge of playing at Soldier Field in the weather. But if the Bears are as good they appear, roadies at Arizona and Minnesota late shouldn't be a disadvantage.