By Don Banks
August 14, 2009 has dispatched writers to report on the 32 NFL training camps across the country. Here's what Don Banks had to say about the Bears' camp in Bourbonnais, Ill.. For an archive of all the camp postcards, click here.

For most of this decade, the Bears have trained at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Ill., about an hour south of Chicago and not far from Kankakee. One of my brothers is a long-time Chicago resident and Bears fan, and he informed me earlier this month that for the few weeks camp is in swing, Bourbonnais is re-christened "Bearnaise,'' which I think is kind of clever. This year, however, the only name that fits is Cutler-ville, because at Bears camp 2009, everything revolves around new Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler.

1. The thing you notice right away about Cutler is that he makes a defense defend every last inch of the field.Rex Grossman wasn't accurate enough to do that, and Kyle Orton didn't have a big enough arm to make opponents worry about every blade of grass. But Cutler can reach the corners from anywhere, and with his deep ball, he can even overthrow a blazer like Devin Hester. That's going to be noticeable in Chicago this year, where the underneath passing game has largely doubled for the passing game for quite some time now. Offensive coordinator Ron Turner can now actually use everything in the playbook.

"It was harder for [Turner] to do that in the past because we were limited by some things we couldn't do,'' Bears general manager Jerry Angelo said. "Jay allows you to maximize everything you have, the whole playbook. Now you make them defend the whole field. When a quarterback and a coordinator have that trust in the play-calling, it's what you see when you watch an Indy or watch a New England. They'll do anything at any time.''

2. When you cover the NFL for a living, you get asked a lot for your Fantasy Football advice. That'swhether you know what you're talking about or not when it comes to that particular American mania. I try to not over-think things when it comes to doling out drafting insights, but this year I'm telling everybody the same thing: Take Chicago tight end Greg Olsen. You'll be glad you did.

Cutler and Olsen have almost a telepathic connection already, and they look so in sync -- both on and off the field, I'm told -- that when one of them itches, the other one feels it too. I saw Cutler throw maybe six or so passes in Olsen's direction during the Bears practice I witnessed, and every one seemed to hit the big guy between the 8 and the 2 on his jersey. I not only expect Olsen -- a receiver trapped in a tight end's body -- to lead the Bears in catches this season, but also he coud easily top 80 receptions.

With the Bears receiving corps lacking that true No. 1 threat, Cutler is going to look for Olsen early and often, and I think the third-year pro will be the first guy opposing defenses try to take away. Look for Chicago to creatively move Olsen around, even lining him up wide or in the backfield in search of the best possible matchups.

3. The notion the Bears are an elite defense is a bit out-dated. You can't be considered elite coming off a season in which you ranked 30th in passing defense and 21st in overall defense. Chicago might improve dramatically on its 26th overall ranking on offense this season, but if it doesn't do more defensively, specifically in terms of the pass rush, it might all be for naught.

The Bears starting defensive ends, Alex Brown and Adewale Ogunleye, combined for just 11 sacks last season, with Brown leading the team with a mere six. All told, Chicago's 28 sacks ranked in the bottom third of the league. There's no secret to good pass coverage in the NFL. It starts with creating pressure up front, and the Bears defensive line didn't do that last season.

The hope this year is built around the belief that defensive tackle Tommie Harris will return strong from knee surgery, fourth-year veteran end Mark Anderson's impressive camp will translate into sack production from his spot in the line rotation, and both Brown and Ogunleye will enjoy bounce-back years. Lastly, new assistant head coach/defensive line coach Rod Marinelli is one of the best in the league at teaching his position. He has made increasing the pass rush his top preseason priority.

With no first-round pick thanks to the Cutler trade, the Bears rookie spotlight isn't trained on any one player. But I made sure I watched third-round defensive tackle Jarron Gilbert some during practice, because he's the guy who created a pre-draft sensation by posting that YouTube clip of himself jumping flat-footed out of the shallow end of a pool (don't try that at home, kids).

Angelo told me while Gilbert has plenty to learn about how to play the defensive line in this league, the "arrow is pointing up,'' and Gilbert is finding his way into the Bears backfield fairly often so far. As for the pool stunt, one of Chicago's PR guys told me that Gilbert said he still gets asked about it in interviews more than any other topic by far.

If veteran offensive left tackle Orlando Pace can deftly protect Cutler's blindside all season long, they might try to rename him "Chicago'' Pace in the Windy City. At 33, coming off three injury-shortened seasons in St. Louis, Pace isn't the dominant shut-down tackle he was for most of his 12 seasons as a Ram, but the seven-time Pro Bowl selection and No. 1 overall draft pick in 1997 has looked a bit rejuvenated so far by the change of scenery and the chance to play for a contender once again. It's also thought that his presence will help show right tackle Chris Williams, the team's first-rounder in 2008, how to be a better pro.

By far the strangest moment of my entire 10-stop camp tour occurred while I was in Bourbonnais, at an afternoon Bears practice. I was scheduled to get a little time with Angelo at some point during the practice, but instead of him coming over to me on the sideline, where I was watching Cutler and Co. go through their paces along with the rest of the media, Angelo, who I've known since 1990, when I was covering the Bucs, waved for me to come to him. So I did, joining him on the field, just a few yards behind the line of scrimmage as the Bears went through 11-on-11 team drills.

After every play, without interrupting a question or an answer, Angelo would lightly grab my arm and lead me up the field to a new spot just behind the line of scrimmage, where we would continue our talk about the '09 Bears. It felt a bit like being behind enemy lines out there on the field, and I thought I saw the occasional player or two shoot me a "what's-he-doing-here?'' look when they saw me standing just off Angelo's left shoulder. If I've ever conducted an on-field interview in the midst of a live practice before, I really don't remember when. All at the same time, it was both kind of cool and more than a little uncomfortable.

• The Bears reportedly made an attempt to sign Andrew Walter after he was released by the Raiders, but he unsurprisingly opted for New England instead. That's a decent indication that Chicago doesn't feel completely comfortable going into the season with the lightly experienced Caleb Hanie as its backup. No matter what Bears decision-makers might say publicly.

• I still don't know how middle linebacker Brian Urlacher makes himself almost disappear when he drops into pass coverage. I watched him pick off Cutler in practice and take it to the house for a touchdown, and it was as if he were invisible until he had the ball in his mitts. And I've seen him do that little number beaucoup times over the years.

• If he can stay healthy -- something that has proven difficult so far in his nascent NFL career -- second-year cornerback Zackary Bowman is going to be a play-maker. He's one of those guys who always seems to find the football.

Earl Bennett didn't catch a pass as a rookie last season. But I'm betting that Cutler will help make his former Vanderbilt teammate a 55-catch receiver this season.

• I wouldn't want to be a Bears beat writer these days and have to learn how to flawlessly spell the names of Juaquin Iglesias, Devin Aromashodu, Will Ta'ufo'ou, Pisa Tinoisamoa and Israel Idonije on deadline. For some reason, I've always been able to handle Adewale Ogunleye without looking.

You May Like