A beautiful night for football attracted a nice crowd that included Rev. Jesse Jackson -- standing behind the fence with the rest of the fans -- at Bears training came at Olivet Nazarene University on Thursday.
With the NFL players ratifying the new 10-year collective bargaining agreement, the 2011 NFL season officially began, and free agents signed since the lockout ended were finally able to participate in practice.
The crowd seemed to be looking for Roy Williams to put on a show. But the first pass to him in the 7-on-7 drill, from Jay Cutler, was broken up by Tim Jennings. Cutler seemed to miss Williams again -- a pass so far off the mark it might have been intended for Earl Bennett. But Cutler and Williams finally connected on a short buttonhook route in the flat against Jennings.
In the ''team'' drill, Caleb Hanie tried to hit Williams downfield, but Charles Tillman broke it up. Williams seems to be drawing everybody's attention even in training camp drills. Must be a player.
Williams seemed to be getting more reps than Johnny Knox, but probably because the Bears are as anxious as everybody else to try to develop a passing combo Bears fans have only been able to dream about since Cade McNown-to-Marcus Robinson in 1999. Or maybe Ed Brown-to-Harlon Hill in the mid-1950s is more like it.
For what it's worth, Dane Sanzenbacher also seemed to be taking reps from Knox the last time the Bears practiced in pads at night on Monday. Sanzenbacher, by the way, still got his share of reps with the first unit. He had a bad drop on a pass from Cutler over the middle in the team drill. But Hanie went right to him on the next play and the rookie from Ohio State made the play. The kid's going to get every chance to make it.
Hanie, the No. 2 quarterback, was rusty looked pretty good for not having played since the NFC Championship game. His first pass, in the 7-on-7 drill, was a perfectly threaded ball down the seam to tight end Desmond Clark.
Roberto Garza looks like he's getting the hang of it playing center. His battle with newcomer Chris Spencer might be interesting to watch -- especially if Lance Louis continues to look improved at right guard.
Matt Forte continues to look strong running the ball -- or as strong as a running back can look running against his teammates in training camp.
Sam Hurd is ticketed for special teams, but he made a couple of nice catches in tight spots, including one reaching grab along the sideline against Zack Bowman in 7-on-7.
Cutler completed his first six passes in the ''team'' drill, including one on a nifty catch by Knox along the right sideline. But on the next play, Cutler was intercepted by Craig Steltz on a ball that was deflected by Hurd.
Marion Barber looked fresh and strong and seemed to set the tone in the 9-on-7 running drill. When he carried the ball, you could hear his pads thumping. But he fumbled on one carry, with Bowman recovering.
Rookie wide receiver Kris Adams beat Joshua Moore down the left sideline for what probably would have been a 46-yard touchdown pass from Hanie in real life. Adams beat Bowman for another completion on the next play.
But the highlight of the night was a thread-the-needle pass over the middle from Cutler to Devin Hester between Jennings and Major Wright for a 40-yard gain if not a touchdown. Only 38 more days until the Bears face the Falcons on Sept. 11 at Soldier Field.