Training Camp: 5 Things to Watch as the Chicago Bears Head to Bourbonnais

AP Photo/Jim Prisching

AP Photo/Jim Prisching

Training camp is a wonderful time of year. It is the closest thing to real football that fans have had since the Super Bowl. Offseason minicamps just do not bring the same intensity without the pads. Training camp lets the linemen suit up and really go at it. It is when the real player evaluating begins, where jobs are won and lost. There are 37 players that will show up to camp and will leave without a roster spot, so they are going to give it their all. It makes for a great show

The best part about training camp is that it is open to the public. Fans are no longer forced to read second-hand reports on how practices went; they can go and see them for themselves.

The Chicago Bears’ 2013 training camp is going to be a special one. It is the first one under new head coach Marc Trestman. Not only will the football playing itself be different, but even the style of everything will be different. This will be the first non-Lovie Smith training camp since 2004. It has not even started yet, but the changes are already evident. For example, the majority of the practices will be in the morning. This is something Smith never did.

Of course, the majority of the changes will be on the football field. They will be installing a whole new offensive scheme with a new coaching style. Gone are days of laid-back Lovie and the “relaxed” practices. Trestman and co. are going to make these guys work, and when players mess up, they are going to be in their face about it. It may be a culture shock for some diehard fans, but a much needed one.

Still, there is a lot to keep track of at this new training camp and a lot of things to watch for. Here are five of the most important things to watch for at Camp Trestman.



Pace of Practice

If minicamps are any indication, Trestman’s training camps are going to be intense. He has had people on the move constantly at practices, getting as many plays in as he can to replicate in-game situations. He went as far as to pull people from positional drills to throw them into 11-on-11 drills, and then later return them to their positional drills to finish, according to Bear Report.

This high rate of intensity is having a positive effect on the players. They like it. Lots of reps are crucial for both young players to improve and veteran players to learn the system. Trestman’s style is making the players better. The coaches and players are on relaxed enough terms to get the help and coaching they need, but the respect is there to run an intense practice, and the players respond well to it.

Training camp should not be much different in this sense. Players will be on their toes and ready to go at all times. It will make them better players and benefit the team as a whole. The fiery intensity that Trestman brings will rub off onto the players and really give them an edge. It is going to be fun to see someone out there getting the team riled up.


Defensive Alignments

Continuing the theme of transitioning from Lovie Smith, the defense we see on the field will no longer be the strict 4-3 defense of years past. New defensive coordinator Mel Tucker has experience coaching both 3-4 and 4-3 defenses, and he is bringing that versatility to the field. The Bears will still be a base 4-3 defense, and they plan to run a lot of the familiar Cover-2 schemes, but they have been experimenting with moving players around up front.

We saw the team do some of this last season with Rod Marinelli, but it sounds like Tucker wants to take it a step further. He has reportedly had Shea McClellin, Corey Wootton, Henry Melton, and Julius Peppers all rush from a two-point stance at different times and has experimented with bringing more cornerback and safety blitzes. Both McClellin and rookie sixth-round pick Cornelius Washington played outside linebacker in college, so they give Tucker even more versatility to work with.

These versatile schemes are great for throwing off opposing defenses, and it will be interesting to see how often the team uses them. Training camp will be a great window into the defense to see a lot of what they are planning. Fans will get to see some lineups and personnel groupings that would have never fit under Lovie Smith. It will be interesting to watch to say the least.


Quarterbacks Not Named Cutler

Jay Cutler is a great quarterback, and much of the team’s 2013 success is dependent on his performance. But training camp is not going to show much about Cutler that is not already known. It is the other quarterbacks that will really be on display. They are Josh McCown and Matt Blanchard

Because of Cutler’s injury history, the backup quarterback position has been one of great scrutiny in Chicago. McCown is the primary backup for this season, and many have questioned whether he is capable of being the number two quarterback. A more in-depth evaluation of McCown’s backup quarterbacking ability is available here.

Still, McCown is 34 years old, and he has not seen significant action since 2007. Training camp will be a great venue to see what he brings to the table. He will work with the second team, but that won’t diminish the throws he needs to make. Whether he is throwing to Brandon Marshall or Devin Aromashodu, the ball still needs to be there.

Training camp will show whether he is good enough to be the primary backup. The Bears have faith in him, but a poor showing at camp could change that.

The last quarterback on the roster is the developmental prospect Blanchard. He was an undrafted free agent from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, and he was impressive in the preseason last year, earning a spot on the practice squad. He is a fan favorite and many people are hoping he continues to improve.

Many were expecting the Bears to draft a quarterback in the 2013 draft, but they opted not to and even did not sign any undrafted free agent quarterbacks. Blanchard will use training camp to show the team that their faith in him is justified and hopefully earn a roster spot.


Special Teams

Gone with Lovie Smith is special teams coordinator Dave Toub. He is one of the best in the league, keeping the Bears unit among the top three in the league for most of his tenure. After his departure, the Bears hired Joe DeCamillis from the Cowboys to take his spot. His special teams units in Dallas did not always rank favorably, but he did enough to get the job.

Many fans were disappointed when Toub left and were even more concerned when DeCamillis was hired, but so far the Bears’ players have had nothing but great things to say about him. Punter Adam Podlesh noted that DeCamillis and Toub share many of the same philosophies which has made the transition easier. Still, for most fans, seeing will be believing.

DeCamillis has also been put up to the tough task of resurrecting Devin Hester‘s career. He will no longer be taking snaps on offense so he can focus completely on special teams, but 2012 was an awful season for him in the return game and he looked like a different guy out there. If Hester continues to struggle, DeCamillis will likely receive some of the blame, unfairly.

Training camp will be a great opportunity to see how Hester is doing in his new, focused role. However, there are also 10 other guys on the field when he is returning a kick. It is up to his blockers to create holes for him to run through. Hester is quick and elusive, but his blockers have to give him something to work with. Toub’s units consistently blocked well on returns, so it will be interesting to see if DeCamillis can have the same success.

Special teams drills can sometimes be overlooked by fans at training camp, but all it takes is one big return to get the fans going. There is not much more exciting than seeing Hester running down the sideline to the endzone, even if it is a practice. Trick plays could be on display too, as they have been at minicamp. Special teams is definitely something to watch closely.


New Leaders

The Bears’ biggest departure this offseason was Brian Urlacher, who was the leader of the team on and off the field. He ran the show and was essentially the quarterback of the defense. Now gone, the team needs someone to take his place. D.J. Williams was signed to take his snaps on the field, but he doesn’t bring the leadership that is missing.

The player that will most likely take his leadership role will be Lance Briggs, but it will be interesting to see who else steps up. Obviously fans will not be able to see inside the locker room, but at training camp they can see who leads on the field. When the players step up and act like coaches on the field, it makes the whole unit better.

Which veterans are going to be the ones that go over and help out the rookie who is struggling with his stance? Who are going to be the guys giving the speech in the team huddle?

The new coaches are also new leaders. As previously mentioned, it is going to be a different style of practice and a new style of leadership. How will the players respond? These questions and others can be answered at training camp.

Sometimes it is the little things that need to be watched for. Watching the actual drills is important, but it is also worth noting what the players do when they are not on the field. This is when fans can see both leadership and character.

Some players stand on the sideline and laugh with teammates, which is fine. They are having a good time; there is nothing wrong with that, especially for veterans who have a good feel for the game. Other players use their time off the field to focus intently on the players on the field, learning from their successes and failures. It is these players that tend to be more successful.

Training camp is a great time to see a lot of things that are not usually easy to access. Fans get to see the players and coaches up close and personal. For the coaches, they get to see their players in pads for the first time during the offseason, and they really get a lot of the playbook installed. With all the changes in Chicago this offseason, this training camp has a lot to see. It is going to be a great one to see.