Camp Notes: Bears Practice in Full Pads, Secondary Vastly Improved, Braxton Jones Continues to Impress

The Bears practiced in pads for the first time on Tuesday, but the offense wasn’t as strong as the coaches were hoping for. It’s clear that Luke Gesty still has a lot of work ahead, as does Justin Fields. Here are your Wednesday morning Camp Notes.

  • It’s important to remember that the offense is a work in progress. The same can be said of Fields. He has to unlearn a lot of the bad habits he picked up last year, and quickly understand the intricacies of the new offense. Right now, the coaches are more concerned with things like footwork, release time, and pocket awareness than they are with results. Things will ramp up pretty rapidly though. The Bears open the exhibition season with a game against the Chiefs in 10 days. The team will be on red alert if the offense is still struggling this much on August 13.
  • Chicago’s biggest area of improvement from last season has been in the secondary. The unit got an immediate boost when the team selected defensive backs Kyler Gordon and Jaquan Brisker with its first two draft picks. But Jaylon Johnson and Eddie Jackson are playing with renewed vigor, too. Johnson said he and the rest of the secondary have been physical even without pads. “I feel like we all have something to prove,” Johnson said. “I feel like it’s bigger this year, more than ever, especially coming off of last year and all the things that were said. And then we have some new guys too, some new additions that also have to come and prove themselves. So, we’re all really trying to work together and we all want to win; we all want to do our best. But I mean, we all really got to come in and work together as one unit. And we all got to be hungry and push each other.”
  • Head coach Matt Eberflus has made it clear that he’s experimenting with different combinations at multiple positions. That includes the secondary. Since the start of training camp, Gordon has been splitting reps between the outside and in the slot. After a temporary demotion to the second string, Johnson is the clear-cut favorite to be CB1 on the outside. Jackson and Brisker will start at safety.
  • The group has shown mad ball-hawking skills through the first week of practices and only Equanimeous St. Brown has been able to beat Johnson in one-on-one drills. Brown is 6-foot-5 and has a good 5-6 inches on the cornerback.
  • Eberflus is displaying an intensity that Bears fans haven’t seen since the days of Mike Singletary. “You’ve got to feel it out,” the head coach said. “But we’ve got to be a hard team, though. We can’t live soft and play hard. You just can’t do it. That’s not the way football is.”
  • Teven Jenkins took to Twitter to assure everybody that it’s silly to believe everything that has been written about him.
  • By the way, and it’s becoming a daily mention, rookie Braxton Jones continues to impress at left tackle.
  • Jones has been making believers of the Bears’ coaching staff since his first practice with the team.

  • The Bears removed receiver Tajae Sharpe and cornerback Michael Joseph from the non-football injury (NFI) list and both are now eligible to practice. Safety Dane Cruikshank was removed from the NFI list earlier Tuesday.
  • Have you ever seen the movie Swingers? There’s one scene where Mikey (played by Jon Favreau) gets a woman’s phone number, tries to leave a message, messes it up, and then completely melts down trying to relay what he really wants to say. It’s excruciating and unnerving to watch, and that’s being kind. I usually swear at the TV and I’ve seen it a million times. Anyway, that scene reminds me of Lori Lightfoot’s attempt to keep the Bears in Soldier Field. Striving to keep the team in a home they no longer want makes no sense at all to me, and it’s excruciating and unnerving to watch.
  • Here’s your friendly reminder that the NFL’s oldest franchise has never owned its own stadium. That’s 102 years and counting.
  • In case you are unaware, the woman Mikey met also plays Shane Falco’s girlfriend in the underrated football movie The Replacements. That’s actress Brooke Langton. Falco is of course played by Keanu Reeves, and Favreau stars in it too.

Five Things

  1. Last season, the Bears struggled to defend the passing game, ranking last in the NFL with an opponent passer rating of 103.3. The defense was tied for third in passing touchdowns given up with 31 and recorded just eight interceptions. Because they are starting two rookies in the defensive backfield, and with Jackson and Johnson coming off of subpar years, the secondary was expected to be a work in progress. It no longer appears that way. It’s rare that rookies will make the veterans of the group better, but that is exactly what is happening. It looks like Gordon and Brisker could be turnover machines, and it’s becoming infectious among the entire group. The fact that they’re physical makes things even more exciting. Ryan Poles wanted faster, leaner, and more violent football players on his roster. Gordon and Brisker epitomize exactly what he wants.
  2. Poles has quickly become adept at managing Chicago’s salary cap. The first-year GM had little expertise on the financial side when he joined the Bears, and many thought Ted Phillips would continue to manage team salaries. That’s not the case, however. Riley Reiff is a great example. The team will pay Reiff a maximum amount of $12.5 million. Poles structured Reiff’s contract in such a way that it will count for just $3 million against the cap next season. Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune provided more details on Twitter, noting that the lineman will earn a $3 million base salary and another $4.5 million if he’s on the field for 10% of his team’s offensive snaps. Reiff has incentives tied to offensive categories and a playoff appearance as well.
  3. David Montgomery has been a standout as a receiving back through the first week of practices. You have to love the versatility, but if he’s the primary target on offense it means that Fields is struggling with the new playbook. We know Getsy envisions an offense that is built on the run, but a good running game should create more opportunities for the wideouts, and that hasn’t been the case – yet. It’s too early to worry, and most expect Montgomery to have a big year. Mastering slip routes and bubble screens simply means that Fields has already improved over last season. He’s shown no problems with the deep ball at any point of his professional career.
  4. Believe it or not, Montgomery is willing to work on special teams. That’s a rarity for a first-string, fourth-year running back, but the coaches are on board, at least from a learning perspective for Montgomery. It’s more than just wanting to learn something new though. That’s evidence that the team’s leaders are buying into the staff’s philosophy and are on board with the culture change. “That’s one thing that coach Eberflus stresses, is if a guy has on a helmet, he wants everybody working,” said special teams coordinator Richard Hightower. “He wants everybody to learn it and I’m all for that. He believes in special teams, as well as everybody here. That’s been outstanding and David wants to do some of those things too.”
  5. If you’re like me, you want the Jenkins issue to come to a resolution. I’ve heard too many times that Jenkins is the best tackle in camp but just too immature. He can say otherwise on social media, but there’s just too much talk from too many people right now. Even his college coach has mentioned that Jenkins struggles to find the right mindset. Eberflus sure looks like he’s testing the tackle’s resolve. Perhaps that’s a good thing, but if the Bears are truly listening to offers for Jenkins, maybe the staff just doesn’t see him as a fit for this squad.

Camp Quotes

  • “It’s like a puzzle. You’re trying to fit it together and put the best guys out there, and is this combination of corners better than this combination? You also have to look up matchup, so that’s a week-to-week thing. Sometimes it might look different week to week, where it’s based on a matchup situation we like, and then by down and distance. You might like a certain matchup better on third down in two-minute than you do on first or second down. So that’s all-encompassing.” – Eberflus
  • “It’s all about having the right mentality and understanding that everything we’re doing is to win. Basically, you don’t want to have to think, ‘I need to go hard.’ It needs to become a natural reaction. By doing it every day [in practice], on Sundays, it’s just natural and it’s like, ‘Wow, this dude played lights out. He played hard.’”Al-Quadin Muhammad
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