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Listening to players important to Tice

Posted by Larry Mayer on July 31, 2012 – 8:31 pm

There’s no mistaking who’s in charge of the Bears offense, but first-year coordinator Mike Tice believes in listening to input from his players before making key decisions.

“I think it’s very important to have a line of communication with the quarterback and the running back and the wide receivers,” Tice said. “Why call things they’re not comfortable with?

“If we’re calling things they’re not comfortable with, they’re not going to make the tough throws. If we’re calling runs the running back doesn’t like, he’s not going to hit it up in there. If we’re calling routes the receiver doesn’t like to run, he’s not going to run it with any type of authority or any type of confidence.”

Quarterback Jay Cutler has enjoyed working with Tice.

“Mike probably has one of the toughest jobs on the field just being able to take everyone’s input, different ideas, and being able to dissect it and figure out what the best is for this offensive football team,” Cutler said.

“We’ve got a lot of bright minds out here, a lot of guys that have been in a lot of football games. He’s doing a great job. He’s accepting that role and really relishing it.”

To learn more about Cutler, Tice no doubt is leaning on quarterbacks coach Jeremy Bates, who helped the Vanderbilt product develop into a Pro Bowler during three seasons together with the Broncos.

“I’ve been with Jeremy before,” Cutler said. “He has a really good understanding of what I like, what I dislike. I don’t really have to say much to ‘JB’ about a certain play. It’s just kind of a look here and there.

“Mike, we’re trying to explain everything to him. I’m trying to give everything that’s on my mind, what I dislike, what I like, what I love, what I hate, what I think is going to work. That’s why he’s got a tough job. He’s got to take it all in and figure out what’s best for us offensively.”

One aspect of the offense Cutler especially likes is the freedom to audible at the line of scrimmage.

“I think it makes everyone’s jobs a little bit easier because we can put ourselves in a good play,” Cutler said. “If we’ve got something bad and the defense is going to take it over, then we can go ahead and audible and get out of it and get into something that hopefully we can execute.”

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Tice wants do-over on fourth-down play

Posted by Larry Mayer on July 31, 2012 – 8:00 pm

First-year offensive coordinator Mike Tice is already being second-guessed for his play-calling decisions, but you may be surprised where the criticism is coming from.

After backup quarterback Jason Campbell threw an incomplete pass on fourth-and-one in a two-minute drill Tuesday, it was Tice himself who publicly questioned the call.

“I should have run the quarterback sneak,” Tice told reporters. “You’re a little greedy in practice. Nothing’s really on the line. You’re just working your stuff. I should have run the quarterback sneak. I’ll get better at that and the guys will get better at their things. So if we all get better at something each day collectively, we’re going to make a big jump—and that’s what we’re looking to do.

“The first day we set the bar very high. If you’re going to achieve that, then you have to come out here every day and get better at something. And that’s all we’re asking the guys to do.”

Tice is pleased with the progress the offense is making, but he has little tolerance for mistakes like the handful of low shotgun snaps that veteran center Roberto Garza made in Tuesday’s practice.

“I thought some parts of practice were very good and I thought at the end when we had the ball on the ground with the exchanges, I thought we finished sloppy,” Tice said. “But we hung in there and kept working.

“The guys are working extremely hard. I know this: If you work hard, there’s nothing you can do but get better. The only thing you can do is get better when you’re working hard, and the guys are working hard. We’re proud of them for that, but we continually have to clean things up. That’s just the way it goes.”

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Bears a special team for Costanzo

Posted by Larry Mayer on July 31, 2012 – 2:08 pm

Seeing how much importance the Bears place on special teams brings a huge smile to Blake Costanzo’s face.

“If they didn’t, I wouldn’t have a job,” said Costanzo, a veteran special teams standout who signed with the Bears in March as a free agent. “It’s awesome to come here and for them to put an emphasis on it and value it the way they do. It allows us to go out there and do our job and have some fun doing it.”

After spending his first five NFL seasons with the Bills (2007-08), Browns (2009-10) and 49ers (2011), Costanzo is enjoying his first training camp with the Bears, especially the time in walkthroughs and practice devoted exclusively to special teams.

“It’s been awesome,” Costanzo said. “The guys that we have here are into special teams. We’re just out there getting better, trying to form our personality as a unit. It’s one-third of the game and coach [Lovie] Smith believes it could help us win some games, so we spend a lot of time on it, and that’s why they’ve had success here.”

Under the direction of coordinator Dave Toub, the Bears have ranked at or near the top of the league in special teams the past six seasons, leading the NFL in 2006 and 2007 and finishing third last year.

In 61 career games, Costanzo has registered 71 special teams tackles with four forced fumbles and four fumble recoveries. Last season the 6-1, 235-pounder ranked second on the 49ers with 17 special-teams tackles and led San Francisco with four stops in the playoffs. In the 49ers’ post-season win over the Saints, he forced a fumble on a punt return and recovered a fumble on a kickoff return.

Toub and the Bears expect Costanzo to become a leader on special teams, a role he is easing into.

“You’ve just got to know your role and get to know the guys,” Costanzo said. “When you get on the field, you just play as hard as you can and kind of prove it that way and earn your way just by playing hard in practice.”

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Marshall aims to make most of chances

Posted by Larry Mayer on July 30, 2012 – 4:39 pm

It’s unrealistic to expect Brandon Marshall to replicate Saturday night’s spectacular performance every day in practice. But that doesn’t mean the Pro Bowl receiver’s mentality ever changes.

“One day you may get one catch, the next day you could have nine or 10,” Marshall said. “But the thing about it is controlling what you can control and taking advantage of your opportunities. So whether it’s one or it’s a million, take advantage of your opportunities.”

Marshall did that and more Saturday night in Bourbonnais. After landing awkwardly on his leg and crumpling to the ground in pain, he returned to individual drills and hauled in a long touchdown pass.

Later in practice Marshall stiff-armed safety Chris Conte to pick up extra yards along the sideline, caught a pass over the middle with nickel back D.J. Moore draped all over him, hauled in a laser beam from Jay Cutler while streaking down the left sideline, beat cornerback Charles Tillman on another deep pass and made a leaping one-handed grab over the middle.

While one of Marshall’s primary objectives is to improve his route running in training camp, the 6-4, 230-pounder works on a different aspect of his game in every practice.

“The first day I was slipping all over the place, so now I’m really paying attention to my footwork,” Marshall said. “I do cone drills and work on the routes that gave me problems the night before.

“So every day it changes. I usually take one thing a day and just work on it and get better at it. By the end of camp you’ve worked on so many things and so many different parts of your game.”

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Healthy knee giving Paea a boost

Posted by Larry Mayer on July 30, 2012 – 3:55 pm

Bears defensive tackle Stephen Paea gained valuable NFL experience last season as a rookie, but that’s not the only reason he feels like a much better player in training camp.

After undergoing offseason surgery on a knee that bothered him all of last season, Paea is finally healthy. He’s now able to push off his leg and utilize his tremendous strength and power.

“The difference is I can hold double teams this year even better than before,” Paea said. “I can take those. Even though I’m only at 285, 290, I can play like I’m 315, holding that double team, and be able to bull rush and be able to change direction during a pass and all that.”

Paea hurt his knee while practicing at the Senior Bowl, but that didn’t deter the Bears from trading up nine spots in the second round of the draft to select the Oregon State product.

Inactive the first five games of the season, Paea recorded a safety on his second NFL snap when he sacked Donovan McNabb in the end zone in a win over the Vikings. Paea finished his rookie season with 18 tackles, two sacks and two tackles-for-loss. But he never felt like completely healthy.

“I just got to rehab my knee almost every week getting ready for practice, and when it came to game time I was tired from practice,” Paea said. “But this year there shouldn’t be any excuses. I can do everything now. So let’s just say it’s 100 percent right now. I’m feeling pretty good about it, very confident, and just can’t wait to go.”

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Rodriguez’s comfort level is growing

Posted by Larry Mayer on July 30, 2012 – 2:39 pm

Bears rookie tight end Evan Rodriguez is much more comfortable on the practice field in training camp than he was during the offseason program, and it’s beginning to show.

“Minicamp was my first time being out there with the vets, so I really didn’t know what to expect and that really prepared me well for camp,” said the fourth-round pick from Temple.

Working with the No. 2 offense, Rodriguez made an impact over the weekend, reaching high to snare a Jason Campbell pass deep down the middle Saturday night and catching a perfectly thrown touchdown pass that Campbell dropped over linebacker J.T. Thomas Sunday.

The reception Saturday night came after Rodriguez had allowed a short pass to squirt through his hands.

“Every time you catch the ball your confidence goes up,” said Rodriguez, who feels that he has improved his fundamentals, footwork and route running. “Every time you drop the ball you have to go back to square one like, ‘why did I drop the ball,’ and focus in.”

In three seasons at Temple, Rodriguez caught 69 passes for 871 yards and seven touchdowns in 37 career games. The 6-2, 244-pounder had 35 receptions for 479 yards and two TDs last year as a senior.

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Davis expected to have expanded role

Posted by Larry Mayer on July 29, 2012 – 2:36 pm

With Mike Tice replacing Mike Martz as Bears offensive coordinator this season, it’s no secret that tight ends are expected to be more involved in the passing game.

“Tight ends are the No. 1 reads and the No. 2 reads on a lot of passing plays now and a lot of the quick-game stuff will be good for us,” said tight end Kellen Davis.

The likelihood that Davis would be more involved in the offense was a big reason he chose to re-sign with the Bears in March after attracting serious interest elsewhere in free agency.

“I enjoy getting the ball,” Davis said. “It’s always fun and it amps me up, but I like run blocking too, especially if we can open up a big hole. Anytime we can get big plays, I’m up for that, especially when they’re going to me.”

Used predominantly as a blocker and a red-zone threat as a receiver last season, Davis led the Bears with five touchdown receptions while catching only 18 passes for 206 yards.

The 6-7, 267-pounder has appeared in all 64 games with 20 starts in four seasons since arriving in 2008 as a fifth-round pick from Michigan State, catching 28 passes for 300 yards and nine touchdowns.

Coach Lovie Smith is a big Davis supporter, saying during the offseason that he boasts great size, is a great in-line blocker and is “skilled enough as an athlete to be able to move outside and do some things.”

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Marshall benefiting from facing Tillman

Posted by Larry Mayer on July 29, 2012 – 1:47 pm

Bears receivers coach Darryl Drake isn’t the only one helping Brandon Marshall become a better player.

“He’s competing against one of the best corners in the NFL in Charles ‘Peanut’ Tillman, and Peanut is making him work,” Drake said. “It’s only going to make him better as time goes on. I’m very excited about what Peanut’s doing to get Brandon ready.

“Brandon welcomes that challenge and understands and knows that it’s only going to get him better. The thing that I don’t want him to do is get frustrated because Peanut’s going to win some of those battles. I expect [Marshall] to win every battle, but at the same time I have a lot of respect for [Tillman].”

Drake also has a lot of respect for receiver Earl Bennett, who is often overshadowed by Marshall and Devin Hester despite consistently making plays, especially in key third-down situations.

“He’s underappreciated by a lot of people because he’s very consistent,” Drake said. “He does what everybody wants him to do, but I don’t think he will get overlooked in this offense. He’s an integral part, a big part because he does all the subtle things, all the little things. He does all those things right.

“The quarterback has a great rapport with him. He knows where he’s going to be, and the thing about it is Earl’s going to make the play.”

Rookie receiver Alshon Jeffery, a 6-3, 216-pounder, has also made plays early in training camp. Drake especially likes the second-round pick’s size, hands and ability to get in and out of breaks.

“As he learns to use his body and body up people and do those things, he’s only going to get better,” Drake said. “But I do like his ability to catch the football and his ability to run routes. He’s gotten so much better and you still seethe improvement that he’s made since Day 1.”

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Battle for starting spot a ‘dogfight’

Posted by Larry Mayer on July 29, 2012 – 1:15 pm

The most hotly-contested battle for a starting job at training camp is being waged by J’Marcus Webb and Chris Williams at left tackle. The two are dead even and splitting first-team reps in practice.

“It’s going to be a dogfight for those two guys,” said offensive coordinator Mike Tice. “I’m not going to put up with any crap as far as turning [pass-rushers] free and not protecting the quarterback. We have too many athletes to not be able to throw the football explosively.”

Webb, a 2010 seventh-round pick from West Texas A&M, started all 16 games at left tackle last season after opening 12 games at right tackle as a rookie.

General manager Phil Emery feels that Webb possesses the ideal body-type for the position with good length, feet and range as well as the right temperament.

“He needs experience and he needs to show consistency as he gains experience,” Emery said. “He came in here and he played right tackle, so last year was his first year as a left tackle, and as a first-year left tackle did he make progress? Yes, I do believe he did. I think he made progress.

“Does he need to make more to be a consistent starter, that when we line up on Sundays we know that our left tackle is a consistent starting NFL player? Yes, he needs to make progress.”

Williams, a 2008 first-round pick from Vanderbilt, joined the Bears as a left tackle before being moved to right tackle in 2009. He returned to left tackle late that season before switching to left guard in 2010. Williams started the first nine games at left guard in 2011 before sustaining a season-ending wrist injury.

The ability to pass block with consistency will be a key factor in determining the starter.

“We’re going to keep the heat on both of them,” Tice said. “What we want to see is who’s going to block our good pass rushers. I know they can both run block, but we’re not going to go out there and run the ball 50 times a game. So you’ve got to be able to protect. If you can’t protect, you can’t play for us.”

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Tough to evaluate linemen without pads

Posted by Larry Mayer on July 28, 2012 – 4:05 pm

After the Bears opened training camp with a non-padded practice Thursday, offensive coordinator Mike Tice was asked to assess rookie tackle James Brown.

“He’s a good singer. He can dance a little bit,” Tice joked, no doubt referring to the more famous individual with the same name, the late Godfather of Soul.

“We’ve only been in shorts. So for me to sit here and analyze and try to tell you where our offensive line is at right now, it’s a joke. We need to get in pads, we need to compete against each other and we need to put them in some stressful situations, and then we’ll see where they’re at.”

Those stressful situations will begin Saturday night when the Bears conduct their first padded practice.

“Now we get into the real work for us,” said veteran center Roberto Garza. “It was good to get those two days of knowing the plays and kind of getting a feel for training camp. But now the real fun begins, and now it’s time for us to see where we’re at and what we need to work on.”

Assessing an offensive line in non-contact drills is like evaluating a hockey team before it steps on the ice.

“Everything we do is about hitting people; getting the pads on, knowing where your target is, where your footwork is, and going out there hitting somebody and having to move them,” Garza said. “The intensity picks up and that’s when you want to see where everybody’s at and what we need to work on.”

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