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Forte shows burst in first practice

Posted by Larry Mayer on July 26, 2012 – 8:23 pm

In the Bears’ first training camp practice Thursday, Matt Forte didn’t look like someone who had suffered a season-ending knee injury last year or skipped the offseason program during a contract impasse.

The Pro Bowl running back resembled the same player who led the NFL in yards from scrimmage last December when he got hurt in a loss to the Chiefs. On one running play Thursday, Forte displayed his patented explosiveness and quickness, bolting through a hole and racing to the end zone.

“The one he hit today was pretty clean, and he took it a long, long way,” said offensive coordinator Mike Tice. “It shows you what we can do. When you have a back that can take it to the house from anywhere on the field, it certainly changes what the defense can do to you.”

Forte was happy to be back on the practice field with his teammates.

“It felt like normal,” he said. “I missed OTAs and all that stuff, but it felt good to get back out there and be able to do football. You can only work out so much. It felt good to be back out there with everybody.”

During special teams drills Thursday, Forte spent time with quarterback Jay Cutler and quarterbacks coach Jeremy Bates working on pass-protection responsibilities in Tice’s offense.

“I’m just getting it under my belt,” Forte said. “It’s coming to me very naturally. The running game is basically the same as what we did last year. I just have to get the protections down … and know who I’ve got to get and how to get them. It’s been fun. It was a fun practice today. Hopefully the rest of camp is like that too.”

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Tice not happy with offense’s execution

Posted by Larry Mayer on July 26, 2012 – 7:53 pm

Quarterback Jay Cutler looked sharp in 7-on-7 drills in the Bears’ first training camp practice Thursday, completing 11 of 12 passes to six different receivers.

But first-year coordinator Mike Tice wasn’t pleased with how the offense performed overall after witnessing two fumbles, a false start and two botched exchanges between the center and quarterback.

“Can’t put the ball on the ground. Cannot put the ball on the ground. And can’t jump offside,” Tice told reporters. “I know it’s the first day and we’re working a lot of things on the line of scrimmage, but we’re also coming off an offseason of a bunch of practices and a bunch of times that we did it and we did it right. We can’t come out the first day and look like we never did it before.

“We’re not going to put up with that. We’re going to have a higher bar than that. We’re going to set the ceiling a lot higher than that. So we’ve got to get that cleaned up right away. We’ve got to stay up when we’re downfield running routes. We’ve got to do things a little bit better at times. But I thought the energy was good and the focus was great.”

In 7-on-7 drills, Cutler completed three passes apiece to receiver Brandon Marshall and tight end Kellen Davis, two to receiver Devin Hester and one each to receiver Earl Bennett and running backs Matt Forte and Michael Bush. The defense, however, outplayed the offense in 11-on-11 team work.

“I think they had a better 7-on-7 than they did team,” Tice said. “I think everybody got excited in team trying to make an impression. I thought we were a little bit off in team. But it’s the first day. I know the guys after being around them for several months. They all want to do well.”

Tice singled out Hester for doing “some nice things” in the practice. Running back Kahlil Bell and rookie receiver Alshon Jeffery both fumbled. J’Marcus Webb opened practice with the starting unit at left tackle, but shared first-team reps with Chris Williams.

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Williams thrilled to be back on field

Posted by Larry Mayer on July 26, 2012 – 2:04 pm

Back at his original position, Chris Williams is looking forward to competing with J’Marcus Webb for the Bears’ starting left tackle job. But after missing the final seven games last season with a wrist injury, Williams likely would be just as enthusiastic if given a chance to play wide receiver.

“I am just excited to get back on the field,” said the 2008 first-round draft pick from Vanderbilt. “I got hurt about Week 9 last year, so I am just excited to actually play ball again.”

Williams joined the Bears as a left tackle, but was moved to right tackle in 2009 after the team signed free agent Orlando Pace. Williams returned to left tackle late that season before being switched to left guard in 2010. He then started the first nine games at left guard in 2011 before getting hurt.

Although Williams will be battling for a starting job this summer, his mindset will remain the same.

“I am just here to work,” Williams said. “I come in every day and work hard. The competition will take care of itself. I’m not really changing my approach to training camp at all.”

If Williams doesn’t win the competition, he could serve as the third swing tackle or end up at another position.

“Chris has been a good football player,” said coach Lovie Smith. “He’s been that way since he’s been here. Injuries have slowed him down. But what we’ve seen from him is a big, athletic guy that can play a lot of positions.

“It’s our job to get him in the right position. Exactly where he ends up, that’s what you come to camp for. We have options with Chris. We can make a case that he can play just about every position on the offensive line.”

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Steltz’s versatility provides a boost

Posted by Larry Mayer on July 26, 2012 – 1:11 pm

Few Bears players are more versatile than safety Craig Steltz, a special teams standout who excelled on defense late last season after injuries sidelined Major Wright and Chris Conte.

“You want to be able to do whatever they ask you to do, whether that’s on defense—whatever situation they put you in—or on special teams,” Steltz said Thursday at training camp. “A lot of crazy things happen during the season and during games and being able to adapt to that helps us win.”

Inserted on defense after Wright hurt his shoulder last Dec. 4 in a loss to the Chiefs, Steltz recorded 37 tackles in the final five games, third on the Bears behind only Pro Bowl linebackers Brian Urlacher (44) and Lance Briggs (41).

Steltz forced fumbles in back-to-back games against the Chiefs and Broncos, the second coming on a sack of Tim Tebow that turned into a takeaway when defensive end Israel Idonije recovered the loose ball.

Steltz, a 2008 fourth-round draft pick, has continued to improve as he has gained NFL experience.

“You can do a ton of things in practice, but a lot of that is scripted,” Steltz said. “In the game, there are situations that you’re prepared for, but they’re unexpected. You never know what’s going to happen in the game. Just getting as much experience and getting used to situations is the biggest difference.”

Steltz ranked fourth on the Bears with 12 special teams tackles last year despite seeing little if any action on the coverage units after joining the starting lineup over the final quarter of the season.

Special teams coordinator Dave Toub raves about Steltz’s emergence in that aspect of the game, something the fifth-year pro from LSU takes very seriously.

“It [requires] extremely high effort,” said Steltz, who signed a two-year contract with the Bears in March after becoming a free agent. “We take a lot of pride in it. Being able to continue to work on it has been the difference.”

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