If anyone is ready for a break from the grind of a long offseason you would figure it might be coach Lovie Smith.
The Bears went headlong into revamping their defense in early January. Smith officially announced he was taking over the unit and put the assistants through boot camp on the dry erase board in the basement at Halas Hall. It was just the beginning of an exciting but long 5 1/2 months.
Yet there Smith stood Wednesday afternoon following the final OTA practice as energetic as ever. He didn't look ready for training camp. He looked ready for the start of the regular season. So, coach, looking forward to some time away now?
"You never get that far away from it,'' Smith said. "I am having a blast being involved a little bit more like that. I have time throughout, there are certain periods when I am looking at the offense, seeing it, getting a chance to go and watch all of the individual things. That part of it, I am excited.
"But that's not going to be why we're gonna come back. We're going to come back because of what our assistant coaches, defensively, what they've done. Jon Hoke, Rod [Marinelli], Bob [Babich], Gill Byrd, what they have been doing with their individual groups."
*** We wouldn't read too much into Corey Graham playing nickel the past two weeks, not with a tight hamstring sidelining Danieal Manning. But Graham did play nickel for two games last season and it is another option for him to get on the field. If Craig Steltz continues to run with the first team at free safety and Nathan Vasher reclaims his job at right cornerback, that will eliminate two options for Graham.
"Right now we're just doing a little bit of everything,'' Graham said. "I've worked at corner a little bit, I've worked at safety, I've worked at nickel. I guess they are trying to get a feel for where I am going to be or whatever. I'm just learning more of the defense and the more I can do the better it is."
In the event Steltz and Vasher win starting jobs, yes, then we could see Graham giving Manning a real push for the nickel job. The circumstances thus far, though, have not given Graham much of a shot at claiming the free safety job.
*** The big winner among the draft picks this spring has to be fifth-round pick Johnny Knox. The wide receiver was one of the most consistent rookies on the field during OTA's and drew regular praise from the coaching staff. Knox has blazing speed but in shorts he was able to play fast and that's something not everyone can do. The next step is proving he can play fast with pads on in training camp. There have been a lot of stars in shorts who disappear when the gear goes on. Knox, though, could be one of the real surprises of the draft if he can continue his upward climb. He could carve out a spot as a slot receiver, especially if the team lets him just focus on one position.
*** He's probably not the first Bear you would figure to be a cover boy at this time of year but Orlando Pace graces the cover of the Sporting News that hit newsstands this week. He headlines a group of NFL players over 30 who have changed teams this offseason for the magazine.
"There's a real buzz in the air in Chicago about the Bears,'' Pace said. "It's something you can really sense. They held this Bears Expo at Soldier Field and there were a lot of fans who showed up. I probably hadn't seen such excitement in the offseason since we went to the Super Bowl in St. Louis.''
*** Here's an undrafted free agent to look for in training camp and preseason--Dahna Deleston. The safety from Connecticut didn't appear a lot on defense but he was the first one downfield in a lot of special teams situations. He's going to need to improve his standing on defense in camp.
*** Hit the golf course with kicker Robbie Gould, the mini golf course, on July 9. Gould is hosting a "Play Nine with No. 9" event to benefit his charity The Goulden Touch Foundation, which is dedicated to supporting research and providing support for families affected by Essential Tremor. The event will be held at The Green at Grant Park from 6-10 p.m. Tickets are $75 for adults and $40 for children and include a buffet dinner and four-hour open bar. For information call (630) 315-2964 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.