I've spent four weeks here analyzing some of the things I'll be looking when when the whistle blows at 3 p.m. Friday and the Bears get rolling with their first practice of the season. Now it's time to turn over some space to the trained eye of Tom Thayer, who lists his occupation on his IRS paperwork every April as a "football describer.''
Thayer, the color analyst for WBBM-780 AM, will be at training camp and will offer daily updates for the Bears' flagship station. Here is what Thayer offered:
"There are three things I will be looking at and one of them is the free agents, the newcomers, [Jay] Cutler, Pisa [Tinoisamoa], [Orlando] Pace, big Frank [Omiyale], [Kevin] Shaffer, [Josh] Bullocks, these guys that came in. I want to start looking at those guys and see if they really are what they are, if they're going to fit in, what they're going to do to the team and how they're changing it. Then, I have a key selection of veterans who have been here already who are on the roster who I really want to pay attention to to see if they re-emerge, if they're playing like they did last year, if they're not involved in the betterment of the football team the way they should be due to their position on the roster and with the team and all that. My guys here are [Nathan] Vasher, [Brian] Urlacher, Tommie [Harris], Kevin Jones, Wale [Ogunleye], Nick Roach.
"And then [Johnny] Knox, [Juaquin] Iglesias and D.J. Moore are some rookies I want to watch. I think Moore may have a place. He is one of the three guys of the rooks I am looking at who may need to come in and just provide interest. Just to see if they can help in any way. There is a specific group and positioning of players that I am interested in looking at first. Then I think if you are looking at a position specifically, I still have concerns about the safety position. I like Kevin Payne but there is a battle for all other interior defensive back positions. Payne is only going to be pushed by himself. He is a guy who has to stay healthy. You can go out there and Kevin Payne can show flashes of brilliance and then he can pop his head in there and come out, get dinged, and you're back to square one. My only issue with Kevin Payne is durability.''
There will be a good deal of focus on the secondary and rightfully so. Cornerback Charles Tillman will be an onlooker in camp while he recovers from back surgery. Danieal Manning was just switched back to free safety. These are legitimate storylines, but the key to the defense (and the secondary) improving is the pass rush. I asked Thayer if, in the absence of a real live pass rush, can he get a feel for how the defensive linemen are doing in camp?
"Yeah. You can,'' he said. "There is a whole different tempo to their hand fighting. Not only the initial burst off the line of scrimmage and the position and how you're going to fight your hands through, but there is an equal counter move that comes right back and I watch these guys. They are just repititiously going through the exact same thing. The one thing about offensive and defensive line play, if you're not positively reinforced on your fundamentals on an every practice basis, you're going to really slip at these. What [Rod] Marinelli is doing is giving these guys the ability to move to counter move. That's where these guys' athleticism will come into play, I think. You're not just going to come to a stalemate, there is going to be a counter move from the defensive linemen to help them advance upfield.''
*** I'll be pointing the car south toward Bourbonnais later on today. Players will be arriving up until the midnight deadline. They'll be given physicals upon arriving. The players who show up too late at night will have to get out of bed first thing in the morning Friday to complete their physicals. Remember, that is when running back Thomas Jones suffered a pulled hamstring when he was a late night arrival in camp in 2006. Jones had to take a physical first thing in the morning and blamed that, in part, on his injury.
The expectation is that linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer will be cleared to return after missing the entire offseason program while he recovered from surgery to repair a sports hernia. There is a numbers crunch at linebacker and another guy feeling that will be Joey LaRocque. The special teams performer from last season missed the majority of the offseason program with a lower back injury. He's going to be hard pressed to make the roster and needs to get on the field as soon as possible.
I'll be sending out updates via Twitter from training camp and all season. My Twitter feed is BradBiggs. Follow along. It's also in a column on the right side of the blog page.