After a dismal first preseason game that resulted in a 31-3 loss to the Broncos, word around Bears camp was that the practices have been longer and more intense on both sides of the ball. The defense really showed up on Sunday, picking off five passes through the duration of practice. Safety Craig Steltz had two interceptions, while Tim Jennings, Major Wright, and Charles Tillman each had one. Jennings also broke up a touchdown pass to Earl Bennett with a diving deflection that had the crowd cheering in satisfaction.
Head coach Lovie Smith was also content with how the defense performed after practice. “Defensively, we’ve had some guys really step up. A guy who’s having a great camp is Tim Jennings. He’s making plays, and really getting confidence in his play. Craig Steltz has been around here a long time. All he does is continue to show up and play his role.”
One of the highlights of camp was an intense blocking drill that had defensive backs rushing against the team’s running backs. The defensive backs got the better of the matchups, highlighted by a menacing juke from none other than Steltz again. Smith continued praise of Steltz after practice: “He’s a great special teams player. When you’re a backup safety, you need to be a core four-phase special teams player. He does that, but we would be comfortable playing him at the free or strong position. He’s a coach on the field and a valuable part of our team.”
Another defensive player who has drawn high praise from Smith is defensive rookie Shea McClellin. While he has been continuously criticized by the media throughout camp, he showed some promise with a sack against Denver. ‘‘I’ve been impressed with him throughout camp,’’ Smith said after practice Sunday. ‘‘He had a lot to learn, and he’s doing that. He played well in the game, and once you say ‘Hey, I can play this game,’ it gives you a lot of confidence. He’s a guy with confidence right now. We like him. We’re are getting him more reps with our ones. He’s going to help us win games this year.’’
Despite the strong showing on defense, some of the main questions surrounding camp on Sunday were injuries to key members of the defense. Stephen Paea, a second-round pick last season and project starter at nose tackle, suffered a sprained ankle and was seen at practice in a walking boot. Moreover, Brian Urlacher has been sitting out practices due to a sore knee that could keep out for the rest of camp. Urlacher addressed the media Sunday and confidently stated that he will be ready for the start of the season. “Sept. 9, I’ll be ready to play for sure. That’s really all that matters to me. Preseason games, all these practices … I’d love to be out there, but I’m not going to put myself in jeopardy of missing the first game.”
By Gary Wang
Jay Cutler completes a pass to Brandon Marshall at practice.
Jay Cutler hands the ball off to Matt Forte at practice.
Jay Cutler has his pass picked off by Tim Jennings.
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