Chicago Sun-Times

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Ran down some final thoughts on training camp in the paper today. There is only so much space in the print edition and with 79 players on the roster, well, plenty of tidbits were left out. We'll take a look at some impressions on some other players here:

Devin Aromashodu: Wide receiver flashed some ability at times during camp but the Bears have a catch-22 when it comes to getting him action with the first team in preseason. They're only doing so much with three-wide packages and building chemistry between Jay Cutler and starters Devin Hester and Earl Bennett is much more important.

Cody Balogh: Undrafted free agent from Montana last season is bigger and stronger than he was a year ago, and he's fit in well. He's got a good opportunity to get some solid game tape moving forward but with the addition of Kevin Shaffer he might be ticketed for a return to the practice squad.

Josh Beekman: Would be remiss in not mentioning that the arrow is pointing up for him. Probably projects as a center though because of his size.

Earl Bennett: Quietly had a solid camp. We'll see how that translates.

Alex Brown: The focus is on Tommie Harris and Mark Anderson returning to form but Brown might be better with Rod Marinelli on board. He did well rushing on Orlando Pace in camp.

Desmond Clark: Guy gets craftier as he gets older and still is smooth enough to run the seam route.

Rashied Davis: Got more work with the ones over the final week of camp.

Marcus Freeman: Will be looking for him in the second half on Saturday night. Didn't see a lot in training camp but it takes time for rookies to fit in, even on the practice field.

BOURBONNAIS, Ill.--The Bears have not been here a week this summer and they've already ensured they will return to Olivet Nazarene University next summer for three weeks.

Team and university officials made it official this morning when they signed a contract to bring the team back in 2010 in the option year for the two-year agreement plus a mutual option that the sides originally agreed to before 2008.

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Wanna get away?

That's the snappy slogan used by one airline, and the answer more NFL teams are giving is, "No, thanks."

ESPN.com's Mike Sando
breaks down the number of organizations that head elsewhere for training camp and finds that the Bears, who will be packing their bags for Bourbonnais, Ill., next week, are in the minority. Seventeen teams will remain at their home facility this summer. That ties the high for the last 10 years. According to the report, only four teams remained at home for training camp back in 2000, and that figure was in single-digits until 2003.

The advantages of staying at home are obvious. Players and coaches get to use the facility they're accustomed to working in for the entire season. Coaches, and in some cases players, can sleep in their own bed each night.

Some coaches talk about the camaraderie that is built during training camp, but as much control as clubs have over their players during the offseason these days, that's not such a big deal any more.

The Bears will be training at Olivet Nazarene University for the eighth consecutive summer, and the school and franchise have reached an agreement for 2010. This is after a 17-year run at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville.

Coach Lovie Smith has said he would prefer to remain at Halas Hall. But while some teams can host fans at their facilities, that's probably not a logistical option for the Bears at Halas Hall. Going away allows head groundskeeper Ken Mrock to ensure the teams two practice fields in Lake Forest are in optimum condition for use starting in late August. The Bears have the use of five practice fields at ONU, including Ward Field. Buffalo gets things going first on Saturday.

The Bears may have gotten together with officials from Lewis University about a potential change of venues for future training camps, but for the near future they will be at Olivet Nazarene University.

According to a source familiar with the situation, the Bears and the Bourbonnais, Ill., school have come to terms on an agreement for the organization to return there in 2010 for camp. The parties are expected to sign a contract soon. Next year was an option year and both sides have elected to extend their arrangement.

While most other NFL teams are slowly reeling in the remainder of their draft classes with signings that are becoming more plentiful by the day, the Bears have had that business wrapped up for more than a month. The season is fast approaching and the Bears' first training camp practice at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Ill., is two weeks from today. We've already put in our request for an 80-degree day with full sunshine and a light breeze. Individual game tickets go on sale a week from Saturday on July 25 at noon via Ticketmaster phone and Internet outlets.

As our 30-day countdown to camp marches on with little news, we're going to jump around with a few different items this morning. But first, we have a little news.

According to a source with knowledge of the situation, the Bears and Olivet Nazarene have reached an agreement for the team to leave camp following practice on Aug. 20. The contract between the club and the school allowed the Bears to occupy campus through Aug. 21 but school officials asked the team to leave a day earlier to allow them time to prepare for the arrival of the student body of 2,500 beginning Aug. 22. That means the Bears will be at another location for their Aug. 21 walk through in advance of their second preseason game Aug. 22 at Soldier Field vs. the New York Giants. For a complete training camp schedule, go here.

*** KC Joyner was able to sidestep much of the Jay Cutler firestorm he's been at the center of recently in another chat on ESPN.com. It's Joyner's opinion that this could be a better team than the one that went to Super Bowl XLI following the 2006 season.

"Wouldn't you know it, I only get one question in and a Cutler comment gets posted. I'll say this about the Bears - they get a lot of turnovers and have the next Brian Westbrook in their backfield. They went to the Super Bowl with less talent than what they have now. Cutler will hurt them at times but many teams have won with QBs that have high bad decision rates, so they have at least a 50/50 shot at the division."

That is high praise for running back Matt Forte that we detailed here. No one seems up in arms with that comparison by Joyner. By the way, later on in his Thursday chat he clarified that he has Minnesota as the favorite to claim the NFC North, but called them a 51/49 favorite over the Bears.

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It's been a while since we went through the mailbag so we'll knock out more than four questions this morning in Four Down Territory as we take a little break from the position-by-position previews that have been running in our 30-day countdown to Bourbonnais. Here we go.

Q: What about a contract extension for Danieal Manning? He's slated to have an uncanny season at kick returner which means, of course, that the Bears will need the extra money to give him an extension and convert him to wide receiver.

Mike, Parts Unknown

A: Looks like we have a jokester here. Is that Manning switch right after Brian Urlacher is moved to free safety and Chris Zorich is re-signed to play middle linebacker? It's a good question when it comes to Manning. Not sure what he is going to have to do to have an "uncanny" season. Manning would have made the Pro Bowl last season if he had replaced Devin Hester as the kickoff returner about a month prior to the move that was made in Week 11. He averaged 29.7 yards per return, the club's highest total in nearly 35 years, and became only the fifth player in franchise history to top 1,000 yards for a season. Now, consider first that Manning didn't see all of the gimmicks (bloops, squibs, sky kicks, you name it) that Hester did when he was the primary kickoff returner. Opponents will likely pay more attention to Manning this coming season but special teams coordinator Dave Toub is quick to adjust and his schemes have proven the test of time. Defensively, Manning was on the field one-third of the time in 2008, getting 370 snaps out of the 1,111 total. He seemed to make progress as a nickel back, particularly in the second half of the season. Manning was in that role during the spring until a hamstring injury, one of many suffered on the roster, sidelined him and Corey Graham took his place for the last two weeks of OTA's. It looks like Manning will remain in that role entering training camp but if Nathan Vasher nails down the right cornerback job and Craig Steltz winds up being the free safety, the coaching staff might give Graham more of a look at nickel, where he played one game last season. Is there a possibility the club re-signs Manning, who is entering the final year of his contract? Sure. He probably should have been on the list of players we made. But a kickoff returner who does or does not double as a nickel corner isn't going to get a huge contract.


Q: You didn't mention Lance Louis in your preview of the fullbacks. Is there a reason why? Didn't the Bears say he could play tight end as well as fullback when they selected him?

Oscar T., Chicago

A: There is a somewhat popular notion that Lance Louis will reprise the role of William Perry and do some heavy duty work in the backfield. We don't see it happening. We don't see Louis playing any tight end, either. The Bears don't have a spot at tight end for him with Desmond Clark, Greg Olsen, Kellen Davis and Michael Gaines. They don't need a project at the position because they already have one in Davis. Louis, who was issued No. 60, which is an ineligible number, is going to have a hard time making the roster as a seventh-round pick. He'd have an even more difficult time making the 45-man gameday roster, and it's unlikely he'd be active for a possible gimmick play involving him lining up at an eligible position.


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Switching to defense for our second positional breakdown in our daily countdown to training camp, we'll examine the roster at defensive end.

Projected starters: Alex Brown, 6-3, 260 pounds, 8th year, Florida; Adewale Ogunleye, 6-4, 260, 8th year, Indiana

Others

Mark Anderson 6-4, 255, 4th year, Alabama
Ervin Baldwin 6-2, 260, 2nd year, Michigan State
Joe Clermond 6-2, 250, 1st year, Pitt
Israel Idonije 6-6, 270, 6th year, Manitoba **** listed on Bears official roster as a DT
Henry Melton 6-3, 260, Rookie, Texas

Projected depth chart

Right end: Brown, Anderson
Left end: Ogunleye, Idonije****

2009 salary cap numbers

Mark Anderson $1,054,339
Ervin Baldwin $390,200
Alex Brown $2,882,514
Joe Clermond $315,200
Israel Idonije $3,448,533
Henry Melton $437,808
Adewale Ogunleye $6,464,056

Number of defensive ends on 2008 roster at start of the season: 3/4 (Idonije was listed as a DL at the start of the 2008 season)

Projected number of defensive ends on 2009 roster at start of the season:
5 (including Idonije)

The skinny: Basically you're looking at the same group from 2008 with the addition of Melton, a fourth-round pick out of Texas who is a project. The Bears have to get more production from this unit in terms of the pass rush. Idonije looked to be headed back outside as he dropped weight, but every time you turned around during the offseason program, there he was lined up at defensive tackle. There were a handful of players on the inside who were rested--most notably Tommie Harris and Marcus Harrison--and that was probably a big reason for Idonije's whereabouts. It's probably fair to say at this point that he'll play both spots and that could spell trouble for a tackle when it comes time to make final cuts. Ogunleye is entering the final year of his contract and knows that a strong season will position him for a pay day. Brown could be in line to hit double-digit sacks for the first time in his career and the hope is new line coach Rod Marinelli has the same kind of effect on Mark Anderson that the team believes Jay Cutler will on the team's wide receivers. The Bears used a strict three-man rotation at defensive end last season, so it will be interesting to see how this plays out. Ogunleye (878), Brown (853) and Anderson (490) combined for 2,221 snaps in 2008. There were 1,111 total snaps so some two-man combination of those three players was on the field for all but one play over the course of the entire season. That's why we're not sure where Idonije and Melton will fit in. Obviously, if Melton shows some strong pass-rushing capabilities, they'll make time for him to get on the field. Stay tuned here.

Thought it would be interesting to turn back the clock a year and look at some of the storylines surrounding the Bears at that time and how they turned out.

We ran a list of 10 issues facing the organization entering training camp in the print edition last July. We'll include a short synopsis of each one.

1. QB derby. Amid swirling rumors that the Bears may have interest in Chris Simms as a No. 3 quarterback, we still don't know who the No. 1 will be. Leave it to the Bears to do this.

ONE YEAR LATER: What a difference that one year makes. The addition of Jay Cutler via trade with the Denver Broncos makes this the most-anticipated training camp in years. While quarterback carousels dominated camp news in the past the hope is that Cutler will lock down the position for close to a decade. That doesn't mean Cutler won't be a daily storyline in camp. Prepare for QB stories written every which way.

2. Defense first. The Bears plummeted to 28th in team defense last season and it's yet to be determined if it was an injury-induced aberration, or a signal that Bob Babich could be on the hot seat.

ONE YEAR LATER: That defense didn't perform a whole lot better in 2008 and injuries were not reason to blame. Babich has effectively been demoted and Lovie Smith will now call the plays on defense. This remains a valid question moving into 2009. Can the Bears' defense return to championship form? The Bears have tried changing players, they've invested heavily in many players and they've certainly shuffled through an inordinate number of coaches on the defensive side of the ball. Next to come under real fire could be the defensive scheme if things don't change. Rod Marinelli represents the fourth line coaching for Smith entering his sixth season as head coach. Babich will be the third linebackers coach in as many seasons. Jon Hoke becomes the fourth secondary coach.

3. Face of the franchise. This could all of a sudden become the No. 1 storyline if Brian Urlacher's ongoing contract squabble blows up. Even if he isn't in camp--and who knows what the chances are for this--he'll be game ready come the regular season because he's a workout warrior. Some have been concerned about a decline in play because he didn't make the Pro Bowl, but at the end of last season Urlacher was playing as well as any defensive player in the league.

ONE YEAR LATER: Urlacher's contract demands were met with an $18 million, one-year extension but Cutler could fast become the face of the franchise. Now two years removed from the Pro Bowl, Urlacher is being paid like an elite player. Perhaps he will benefit from Smith running the defense.

4. Line dance. None of the other rebuilding phases on offense will be particularly successful if the overhauled line doesn't mesh. Rookie Chris Williams will be the key and his development in the coming weeks at left tackle is critical.

ONE YEAR LATER: The Bears managed to do fine on the line last season and Williams had nothing to do with the success. Line coach Harry Hiestand has quietly done a terrific job for several seasons and there's another rebuilding project in the works that finds Williams on the right side this time. The key this time around could be keeping left tackle Orlando Pace healthy but the emergence of Williams is essential not just for this season but for the longterm. The good thing is the Bears have plenty of depth here.

5. Born to run. There certainly won't be a distraction this summer with Cedric Benson having to answer a myriad of questions unrelated to his failed efforts to live up to his status as the fourth pick in the '05 draft. Matt Forte certainly won't be under pressure to exceed Benson's production. It's about replacing Thomas Jones, remember him? Forte is a gifted runner who the Bears believe is a first-round talent.

ONE YEAR LATER: The Bears were on the money when they said Forte was a first-round talent. Preserving him will be key this season as he wore down by season's end. Forte can be one of the top backs in the league while still sharing some of the work with a rejuvenated Kevin Jones.

Officials at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Ill., are fully aware the Bears have had discussions with Lewis University about relocating training camp.

"If there was a much better opportunity all the way around for the Chicago Bears, we would trust they would be looking out for the best interest of their team and investigating,'' ONU spokesman Gary Griffin said. "We didn't feel that was a slap in the face to Olivet at all.

"My counterpart Brian McCaskey gave us a professional courtesy, gave us a heads up as to the meeting so we were aware of it. We view that as the Bears doing due diligence in taking care of their franchise.''

The Sun-Times reported earlier today that the Bears have a meeting with Lewis University next week. Griffin suggested a meeting between team officials and the school in Romeoville has already taken place. Lewis and the Village of Romeoville first reached out to the Bears. Team spokesman Scott Hagel called the talks "informal and they will remain that way.''

The Bears and ONU are entering the final year of a two-year contract this summer. There is an option year for 2010. Training camp is scheduled to begin July 31. Laws prohibit ONU from doing more than two-year contracts with the football team because the school uses community bonds to help finance some property, Griffin said. When the Bears spent their summers in Platteville, Wis., they signed three-year contracts with the University of Wisconsin-Platteville.

Now that the Bears have gotten negotiations done with all of their draft picks they can get to business of a different sort--considering a new training camp home.

Our colleague Mike Mulligan details here how the Bears are considering ending their stay at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Ill., in the near future.

Specifically, team officials will meet with representatives from Lewis University in Romeoville next week.

If the unveiling of new quarterback Jay Cutler on Wednesday at the team's first OTA of the offseason didn't get you in the mood for some football, then how about the training camp schedule for the organization's eighth summer at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Ill.

Players must report to camp 10 weeks from today and the first practice will be held at 3 p.m. on Friday, July 31. It will be the first of 16 practices open to the public at the school.

Here is the schedule:


JULY

Day Date Practice Time

Friday, July 31, 3 p.m. practice

AUGUST

Day Date Practice Time

Saturday, August 1, 7 p.m. practice

Sunday, August 2, 3 p.m. practice

Monday, August 3, Noon practice

Tuesday, August 4, 3 p.m. practice

Wednesday, August 5, Noon practice

Thursday, August 6, 7 p.m. practice

Friday, August 7, 3 p.m. practice

Saturday, August 8, Noon practice at Soldier Field

Sunday, August 9, OFF DAY

Monday, August 10, Noon practice

Tuesday, August 11, 7 p.m. practice

Wednesday, August 12, 3 p.m. practice

Thursday, August 13, 3 p.m. practice

Friday, August 14, Travel to Buffalo

Saturday, August 15, BEARS AT BILLS

Sunday, August 16, OFF DAY

Monday, August 17, 3 p.m. practice

Tuesday, August 18, 3 p.m. practice

Wednesday, August 19, 7 p.m. practice

Thursday, August 20, 3 p.m. practice

Friday, August 21, BREAK CAMP

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Here we go again with Four Down Territory. We're going to have one every day this week through Friday so get your questions in. Let's get started.

Q: Does the acquisition of Jay Cutler change the strategy for backup quarterback? Does it increase of decrease the need to sign a veteran?

Terry L. Boulder, Colo.

A: We wrote here on Sunday that nobody finds the backup quarterbacks like the Bears, listing Brian Griese, Jeff Blake and Chris Chandler as examples of solid quarterbacks who arrived at Halas Hall after they had become journeymen. There doesn't look to be a lot left on the scrap heap right now. Did you have someone specific in mind? J.P. Losman, Charlie Frye, Gus Frerotte, Trent Green, Charlie Batch and Brooks Bollinger are out there. New agent Drew Rosenhaus is shopping Rex Grossman for the minimum. Grossman will not be returning to the Bears. Looks to me like the Bears will stand pat with what they have. If they were comfortable--and Lovie Smith said as much at the combine--with Caleb Hanie and Brett Basanez competing for the No. 2 job behind Kyle Orton, why wouldn't they be comfortable with one of those two behind Cutler?

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This page is an archive of recent entries in the Training camp category.

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