A crowd estimated at 12,000 watched the Bears' first practice in pads Saturday night at Olivet Nazarene in Bourbonnais. And after a momentary scare early when Brandon Marshall appeared to suffer a leg injury in a passing drill, the enthusiastic crowd was treated to an entertaining performance by the Bears in a spirited practice on a perfect night for football -- or almost any sport but hockey, actually.
Marshall beat Charles Tillman to catch a pair of bombs from Cutler, both 50-yards plus along the left sideline. The latter was the better example of what Marshall brings to the Bears -- adjusting to an underthrown ball and beating Tillman to the ball. On another occasion he plucked a high pass from Cutler out of the air with one hand and made it look easy.
''Brandon Marshall is a scholarship player, I think we'll agree with that,'' Bears coach Lovie Smith said. ''He made some big plays.''
The crowd loved almost every minute of it. The exception was when Marshall fell to the ground after failing to make a catch on a passing drill with no defender. The crowd groaned with Marshall tried to get up but went back down. He was helped up by training personnel and after being tended to for a minute or so jogged back to the passing drill and resumed his participation.
''Little acre there early on,'' Smith said. ''But of course there was nothing to it. But you always fear it when one of your best players goes down like that.''
It's difficult -- and often ill-advised -- to make judgments from even a padded practice. But for what it's worth, three rookies -- tight end Evan Rodriguez, defensive end Shea McClellin and wide receiver Alshon Jeffery -- looked like they belonged on the field.
Devin Hester sat out the practice after tweaking his ankle in practice on Friday. Smith said he is expected to practice Sunday.
Defensive tackle Brian Price, acquired in a trade with the Buccaneers on Friday, was in uniform but did not practice. Per NFL rules he will not be able to practice in pads until Tuesday.
Price, who had personal problems that hastened his departure from Tampa Bay, said he was looking to a fresh start with the Bears.
''That's what I needed. It was a great decision [to go to the Bears],'' Price said. ''It was hard to watch [practice] and not be a part of it. Just the tempo. Watching the guys. It's great. I'm happy to be a part of it.''
Though it was just the first day in pads, J'Marcus Webb seemed to have the edge in his battle with Chris Williams for the starting spot at left tackle. Webb got a majority of the first-team reps and at first glance appeared to handle it well.
The second-team offensive line was primarily Williams at left tackle, Chilo Rachal at left guard, Edwin Williams at center, Ricky Henry and rookie Nick Pieschel at right guard and rookie James Brown at right tackle.
The big crowd helped create an enthusiastic environment for a training camp practice. While, as Smith noted, it helped that it was a weekend night with excellent weather, it's also an indication of the general optimism about the Bears that fans have not had in several years.
''Here in Chicago we have great fans that come out,'' Smith said. ''It's a perfect night to watch good football. Weekend here in Chicago. But the crowd was into it. And we like that.
''We're going to play a lot of prime-time games. Our guys need to be able to play in an environment where they hear fans talking to them. So this was a good environment and I thought we put on a pretty good show for them tonight.''