There was a threat of rain, but it ended up being a really nice night at ONU.
The practice had a lot of high energy, although we're starting to see what happens after more than a week of practice. Players are getting nicked up and missing practice. Second-round pick Stephen Paea sat out, with a sleeve on his right leg, and receiver Johnny Knox is nursing a sore back. Defensive tackle Anthony Adams didn't finish practice, with his left leg wrapped.
The offense made its share of plays. But the evening belonged to the defense. The highlight was an outstretched interception by middle linebacker Brian Urlacher, who dropped back into coverage. He picked off a Jay Cutler pass intended for receiver Roy Williams.
Being a savvy veteran, Urlacher hauled in the ball and lateraled it to cornerback Tim Jennings.
D.J. Moore also made an impressive pick. Rookie safety Chris Conte tipped the ball, and Moore made a shoestring catch of a Caleb Hanie pass.
But, Cutler and Hanie also had plenty of highlights. Cutler connected with Devin Hester on another deep ball, he had a great sideline hook up with tight end Kellen Davis, and he tossed a pair of touchdowns to his former Vanderbilt teammate, Earl Bennett. Hanie, meanwhile, made a great deep throw that Onrea Jones, a first-year receiver out of Hampton, collected for a 30-plus yard gain.
"There's a lot of competition at some positions, most positions - defensive line, offensive line, receiver, secondary, so it should make for a great preseason schedule," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "We're excited about getting a chance to play Buffalo [on Saturday]."
* Against the first team defense, the Bears starting offensive line opened up some nice running lanes. It seemed, though, Chester Taylor was the one running through most of them.
* Rookie safety Chris Conte continues to make plays. It's hard not to notice. Meanwhile, Major Wright has been relatively quiet, so far. It's not alarming yet, because it's still very early, and Wright isn't a disaster out there.
* The Bears may have some real tough choices at running back. Matt Forte is looking as fit and explosive as ever, Marion Barber is running with authority, and Chester Taylor is consistently making plays during camp.
* Defensive tackle Matt Toeaina has often been paired with Julius Peppers in two-on-two drills against the offensive line. Peppers is Peppers, of course, but Toeaina has made left guard Chris Williams look pretty bad, too. Toeaina's always been known for his power, but he looks quicker now.
* Other than Charles Tillman, I'm not seeing the other cornerbacks vying for the starting spot making a whole lot of plays. And I'm not just talking about interceptions. There's nothing wrong with some tipped passes.
* Andy Fantuz, a CFL star, looked like a sleeper to make the team when he was signed in the offseason. But he's hardly made an impression, and undrafted free agent Dane Sanzenbacher has clearly distinguished himself among unheralded receivers.
* Despite Mike Tice's assertion that his starting five is set, I'm still not convinced that the lineup is set. Roberto Garza has looked fine at center, but after they signed Chris Spencer, I would think he'd be a more natural fit at the position, since he's started so many games there. Garza could then swing back to right guard, to help rookie Gabe Carimi. And Lance Louis can push -- or push out -- Chris Williams at left guard.
GAME BALL goes to... Roberto Garza. He's a true pro, showing leadership and versatility. In practices, he's looked very solid. Olin Kreutz told me he was ready to take over the unit, and Garza seems to be handling that task just fine. Players like Chris Williams said Kreutz was irreplaceable. Still, with him officially with the New Orleans Saints, the Bears offensive line -- the most publicly criticized and targeted unit on the team -- has to move forward, and Garza seems to be doing a more than adequate job. Everywhere he goes, he's got a handful of the offensive linemen with him.