Commentary

Smith excited for training camp

Coach says Urlacher will be back to form

Originally Published: June 17, 2009
By Jerry Bonkowski | ESPNChicago.com

LAKE FOREST -- Bears coach Lovie Smith can't wait for training camp to begin July 31 in Bourbonnais, and who can blame him, after his team came up short of a playoff berth for the second consecutive year.

"It's been another great offseason for us," Smith said after Wednesday's organized team activity. "Going in, we had some questions we needed to get answered about how some of our new additions would fit in, how some of our veteran players would come back, and I think we have a better idea about a lot of those things."

The Bears completed 14 OTAs during the offseason, the last being Wednesday at Halas Hall. The team now has roughly six weeks to rest up and prepare for the rigors of camp, which lasts until Aug. 21.

[+] EnlargeBears OTA
Jerry Lai/US PresswireBears quarterback Caleb Hanie (12) throws a pass during organized team activities at Halas Hall.
"We still have to come together as a team," Smith said. "I feel good and realize that once you finish OTAs, we still have to come together as a team. I'm excited about what we've done in shorts, but we need to get in pads. We'll find out a lot more about our football team, especially with some of the linemen that we've brought in. But at this stage, I think we've done about all we set out to do heading into this next phase of training camp."

Like a waiter reading from a 20-page menu of today's specials, Smith could barely contain his enthusiasm and excitement about his lineup on both sides of the ball.

If you wanted a personalized, in-depth scouting report from the coach, here is how Smith sees the 2009 Bears shaping up:

Quarterback Jay Cutler: "Of course, everybody wants to talk about Jay," Smith said. "Jay did a super job. Everything we've asked him to do, he's been able to do. He's been here every day, working hard. Each day, he worked to move into more of a leadership role, and I don't think there's any question what his role will be on our football team this coming season. He performed well. … We're excited about what he can do. I understand he hasn't played a football game [as a Bear], and we'll go from there. I feel pretty good about what I see."

• Former NFL coach Tony Dungy, now a broadcaster, recently questioned Cutler's maturity and readiness to lead the Bears. To that, Smith responded: "It goes with the territory. Jay realizes that. He's going to get criticized. It's no big deal if Tony or anybody else does it. That's just a part of it until we play, and we'll go from there. But I would just say go on what Jay has done here, and I don't see anything negative that he's done. He's shown up every day, done everything we've asked him to do, and talk to his teammates and see what they say about him. It's all positive and we're all excited about him being our quarterback this year. I don't think there's anybody complaining about what he's done."

Tight end Greg Olson: "I really like what Greg was able to do this spring. We know his talent, but I've really seen him move more towards being a dominant player always, so he should be a big part of what we're going to do."

Running back Matt Forte: "It's his second year in the system. It's great to have Jay here, but we're [still] a running football team. Matt can really dig for us, and we got a lot of work done with that."

; The offensive line: "Olin Kreutz leads our offensive line. Orlando Pace came in ready to go. He's a true veteran, a guy that'll be in the Hall of Fame someday, and that's how he's performed each day for us."

Wide receiver Devin Hester: "I don't feel like I have to answer a lot of questions about his growth as a wide receiver. He's a legitimate No. 1 receiver, and I think we'll all see that this coming season. I like the progress he's made throughout."

Running back Kevin Jones: "He's really stepped up, and we feel like he's really healthy for the first time in a while. … It's a tough position. We're a running football team. We're going to pound the ball quite a bit, and you need more than one good running back."

The defensive line: "I talk a lot about [defensive line coach and assistant head coach Rod Marinelli] being one of our most important free agents that we've gotten in the offseason, and I think that held true. He's done a super job with the line. I've seen improvement in all of our linemen: Adewale [Ogunleye], Alex [Brown], Mark Anderson, Israel Idonije, all of our inside players. Tommie Harris, we've kept out a little bit [to recover from lingering injuries], but he should be fine. There shouldn't be any issues with him."

Linebacker Brian Urlacher and others: "Old Brian, I'll just say that. He has a little nick right now, but nothing major. I like what we've seen from him, Lance Briggs, Pisa Tinoisamoa has come in and fit into the group right away, bringing energy. I know what type of football player he is. … Once you've gone through an entire offseason, a lot of players have sore muscles, no more than that. I'm putting Brian along with quite a few other players that we have right now. We try to take precautions with the guys at this point of the season. As far as Brian's play, when I say back to old form, we haven't performed the way we need to, period. Brian has been a part of that, but all you can do in the offseason is get your body to go. There's no issues with his neck, back, anything like that. He's excited about where our football team is, we feel like we're going to be pretty good, and he's one of our leaders."

Safeties: "We feel comfortable with all of our positions right now. Kevin Payne has played a lot of football for us here. Craig Steltz should be put in that category of guys that have really made a lot of improvement. Even today, he's out there making plays for us, so we feel good about him. Signing a guy like Josh Bullocks and Al Afalava has really come around, too. We feel like our safety position in time will just be one of the other positions that they can play towards."

Wide receiver Earl Bennett: "It's a big year for Earl. He's made a lot of progress, and we feel good about his role on our football team."

Others: "Some of the guys that have really stepped up and made the most improvement [include] Zach Bowman. He's made a play, it seems like, just about every day we've been out here, as has Jamar Williams. I really like what both of those two players were able to do."

Leaving the offseason workouts fairly healthy: "We don't have any major injuries, which is always a plus, too, when you go into the offseason. We're going to take some time off and get ready to go from there."

Jerry Bonkowski is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.

Jerry Bonkowski | email

Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
Award-winning sportswriting veteran Jerry Bonkowski returns to ESPN, having previously served as NASCAR columnist/writer for ESPN.com from 2001 to 2004. A lifelong Chicago native, Jerry spent 15 years with USA Today, where he covered all sports -- with heavy emphasis on Chicago-area teams -- and the past 4½ years as National NASCAR Columnist with Yahoo! Sports.

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