Postcard from camp: Bears
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
Observers do their best to entertain themselves throughout
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
• 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.
• 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
• 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
• 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