BOURBONNAIS, Ill.--The countdown has ended.
The most anticipated training camp in the nine years we've been on the beat (that doesn't say a lot, but there is far more buzz now than in 2007 after the Super Bowl) has finally arrived. Let's jump into a couple of issues real quick. I'll be Tweeting throughout the day, follow me at BradBiggs, and expect some blog updates here and there. Remember, you can also find the Twitter feed on the right hand side of the blog.
Issue 1: Devin Hester wants Jay Cutler to get in his face and get on players.
"We want that,'' Hester said. "That's what we need. At the end of the day, it's not about the coaches, it's about the players. And whenever you get a guy like that that steps up as far as Olin Kreutz, Jay Cutler, Brian Urlacher, those types of guys--they're the ones that need to be coaching. They're the key guys and that's who the players are going to look up to and we're going to listen to them. At the end of the day we're out there playing with them. You can't hear the coaches on the field [during games], so when those guys step up and get on a player, it really helps our team and that's what bonds the players and brings us to a family, a unit. Whenever you get a quarterback like Jay, when he gets in his groove and then when he starts speaking up and feels a little more confident, that's when our offense is going to start clicking.''
Our spin: Makes sense. Cutler is going to be a take charge quarterback and this is a young and inexperienced wide receiving corps that needs the quarterback to grab it by the horns from time to time. It's good to hear Hester saying this.
Issue 2: Matt Forte should face fewer eight-man fronts.
"It's a big thing but if they decide to do that still we can pass,'' Forte said. ``Pick your poison.''
Our spin: Forte had a terrific rookie season when set the franchise's single-season rushing record with 1,238 yards and scored eight touchdowns. He also had a team-high 63 receptions joining Edgerrin James as the only rookies in league history with 1,000 yards rushing and 60 catches. Forte still averaged 3.9 yards per carry, though, and that's more like Cedric Benson production. With more running lanes, he should go over four yards per carry this season and to be an elite back he has to top 4.0 and go a little further.
Quick hits: Lovie Smith said rookie safety Al Afalava is one player he is excited to watch. Afalava missed most of the offseason program because of rules for schools (Oregon State) that use the quarter system. It will be interesting to see how instinctive Afalava is because there is no question he can hit. Punter Richmond McGee will join the Bears in camp today and likely sign a contract as the 80th player on the roster. Keep an eye on projected swing tackle Kevin Shaffer. If he's the Bears' No. 3 tackle, they'll be better than most teams in the league at that position.
Going to join Sun-Times colleagues Mike Mulligan and Brian Hanley on 670-AM at 6 a.m. Tune in or follow in the Internet right here.