BOURBONNAIS — All the attention on the injuries Monday took away from another stellar defensive performance at Bears training camp. The offense took the early edge in a two-minute drill, but then the defense, especially the secondary, showed off its propensity for getting after the football.
The defensive backs scored several pass break-ups throughout practice, led by Charles Tillman. Tillman forced three incomplete passes by getting his hands on the ball. The aggressive cornerback put on a clinic getting into the passing lane.
“[Tillman]’s a very skilled athlete, he’s very competitive, he’s super smart, he really knows what he’s doing out there,” defensive coordinator Mel Tucker said. “He’s very, very consistent. What you see is what you get.”
Tillman’s ball skills rubbed off on his teammates. Quarterback Jay Cutler heaved a pass down the sideline for wide-open receiever Earl Bennett before safety Chris Conte came diving in to break it up. A couple of plays later, safety Major Wright dove to knock down a pass intended for tight end Martellus Bennett.
Defensive back Zack Bowman and Isaiah Frey also had passes defensed. Even in the run game, the DBs got to the ball, with Kelvin Hayden getting a big roar from the crowd when he ripped the ball away from running back Matt Forte.
“The guys feed on takeaways,” Tucker said.
Hot Start: Cutler’s first pass of the three opening practices have gone like this: Interception, interception, incomplete pass. On Monday, he opened with a screen pass to Forte for big yards.
On the next play, Cutler found receiver Joe Anderson, who made a touchdown grab in between cornerback Tim Jennings and Wright. “As far as the practice went today, the offense really jumpstarted. We had a competitive two-minute period to start it. We had two explosive plays and scored on the second play,” coach Marc Trestman said.
Dump offs in style: We know the running backs figure to be big parts of the passing game, which should play right in to Forte’s skill set. On Monday, several offensive plays resulted in swing passes to a running back. Whether it was a checkdown or by design, the quarterbacks are using that outlet to gain yards.
New role: Things have changed for Devin Hester, who no longer is working with the offense and putting his sole focus into returning. While the team did drills on the main field, he could be seen catching “kicks” from a JUGS machine.
Special teams coach Joe DeCamillis said Hester is taking the new role in stride.
“His attitude has been great,” he said. “He’s been great from the start. We talked early on. Again, it’s only three or four days of camp. We’ve got a lot of work to do, but (I) really like where his mental point is at.”
Hester also has worked at times with the unit blocking kicks, coming in off the edge. DeCamillis was asked about that new wrinkle.
“Yeah, we like a lot of things he can do with speed, but we’ll just have to wait and see how that works out.”