BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- Following months of what John Fox refers to as “underwear football," the Chicago Bears conduct their first padded training camp practice on Saturday at 9:35 a.m. CST.
“Well, I think you know some of this stuff is very hard to duplicate, you know, padded football without pads,” Fox said. “So you know half that stuff, some of the flare-ups you see is because they’re getting tired of playing football that way [without pads]. So you know the game is a little bit more physical, a little bit more realistic, in my opinion, in pads. So we are all excited to do it. I’m sure the players are excited and so are the coaches.”
Bears linebacker Pernell McPhee thinks practicing in full pads reveals a player’s true football character.
“That's going to really show who's got the dog in them and who don't,” McPhee said. “That's what it boils down to at the end of the day on defense -- who's got the dog in them and who is going to be physical and violent.”
The Bears are scheduled to also practice in pads Sunday (11:15 a.m.) and Monday (9:35 a.m.) before taking a day off on Tuesday.
BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- Converted outside linebacker Willie Young paused when asked to recall the last time he covered anybody.
“It might have been about four days ago, I covered my son up when he went to sleep,” Young said.
Such is life for Young, who is moving from defensive end to outside linebacker after he led the Chicago Bears with 10 sacks in 2014.
To call outside linebacker unfamiliar territory for Young may be an understatement.
“I might’ve had two things to worry about at defensive end, regardless of how far out I was: keying the ball and getting the ‘strength’ call from my linebacker,” Young said. “That’s not the case no more. I gotta give a call, take a call, listen for a call and watch out and also key the ball.”
Young is eight months removed from a torn Achilles he suffered in Week 16 against his old team, the Detroit Lions. Surprisingly, Young did not open training camp on the physically unable to perform list (PUP), but he has yet to participate in team drills.
The picture at outside linebacker is crowded, with Pernell McPhee, Jared Allen, Sam Acho, Lamarr Houston and David Bass among the group of players working out at the position while Young remains limited.
Further complicating matters for Young is his $2.450 million base salary, part of the three-year, $9 million deal he signed on Jan. 3, 2014.
But Young refuses to get caught up in roster speculation.
“I'm not worried about all that, man,” Young said. “I came in as a seventh-round draft pick, and I started from the bottom so ain't nowhere for me to go but up. At this point I'm not worried about all that stuff. I'm not concerning myself with what might happen or what could happen. I've got too much ahead of me to worry about, you know.”
BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- Free agent pickup Pernell McPhee has one goal for the Chicago Bears’ 2015 defense.
“That’s what we’re going to do this year; put fear in other teams’ offenses,” McPhee said on Friday.
The Bears haven’t scared anybody on defense since Lovie Smith left town after 2012. In the two years under former defensive coordinator Mel Tucker, Chicago’s defense ranked near the bottom of the NFL in nearly every statistical category.
McPhee is determined to fix that.
“When they see us come out there, [we want them to think], ‘Whoa, those guys are playing, everybody flies to the ball, everybody’s being very aggressive,’” McPhee said. “Me and the guys talk and I’ll be like, ‘We need to be aggressive. We need to be the attackers, not the ones being attacked.’ That’s our mindset right now and that’s what we’re working toward.”
Part of a ferocious outside linebacker rotation in Baltimore alongside Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil, McPhee is comfortable being the star attraction in Chicago after signing a five-year, $38.750 million contract with $15.5 million guaranteed.
“That’s one of my goals is to come out and bring that image of being violent, being a leader, being a great guy, and that’s my focus right now,” McPhee said.
“My attitude is hey, I know what time it is; time to be a dog and every play I’ve got to be one.”
“Nah, it shouldn’t [carry over into the season] at all,” Jennings said. “We got everything resolved, so we kind of want to move forward.”
Jennings, who head coach John Fox excused from practice on Thursday for personal reasons, described his relationship with the organization as fine.
“It smoothed over just fine,” Jennings said. “I made them aware of what was going on. It went well. It went fine. We got everything resolved and we’re going to move forward.”
The two-time Pro Bowl cornerback recently entered a guilty plea for reckless driving and speeding that allowed for the dismissal of a DUI charge stemming from his arrest in Gwinnett County, Georgia, on Jan. 7, a spokeswoman for the Gwinnett County Solicitor’s Office said.
Jennings will not face jail time, but the sentence for the reckless driving charge is 12 months of probation, a fine of $800 and court costs. Jennings’ punishment also includes 40 hours of community service and mandatory attendance in risk-reduction classes.
He could still face disciplinary action by the NFL.
Jennings, 31, is looking to bounce back this year after he finished the 2014 season without an interception. The Bears signed Jennings to a four-year, $22.4 million extension in January 2014 that guaranteed him $11.8 million.
Based on what he observed in the offseason program, Jennings anticipates an expanded role in 2015 that might include playing nickelback when the defense brings in an extra defensive back.
Jennings said he is open to the idea of covering the slot receiver.
“With the defense we’ll be running now, it [nickelback] fits well to what I’m trying to do, what they’ll want me to do,” Jennings said. “I played a little bit [of nickel] last year, but I’m looking forward to playing more this year.”
BOURBONNIAS, Ill. -- The Chicago Bears signed offensive guard Tyler Moore to a three-year contract, the team announced on Friday.
Moore is an undrafted rookie free agent out of the University of Florida who started 14 games (six at right guard, two at left guard, five at right tackle and one at left tackle) over two seasons for the Gators.
Moore spent the 2011 season at the University of Nebraska.
BOURBONNIAS, Ill. -- A pair of Chicago Bears' defenders were unable to finish Friday's practice, as starting cornerback Kyle Fuller suffered a minor ankle injury, and rookie defensive tackle Eddie Goldman left the field early because of dehydration.
Neither situation is believed to be serious.
"[Fuller] tweaked his ankle," Bears coach John Fox said. "We did back off him some at the later stages of practice."
Fox announced he excused veteran tight end Dante Rosario from practice for personal reasons.
Friday's non-padded session featured the first scuffle of training camp. It began during a team drill when right guard Kyle Long took exception to defensive end Jarvis Jenkins' treatment of running back Jacquizz Rodgers after the whistle. Unhappy with Jenkins, Long shoved the defensive end, who in turn pushed Long, causing the two-time Pro Bowl offensive lineman to temporarily lose his balance. Teammates then stepped in to break up the altercation.
Minor fights such as these are commonplace at NFL training camps across the league.
"That [scuffle] is a good thing," Bears outside linebacker Pernell McPhee said. "That's just like we're all family. You know, brothers fight. It's just being competitive, being one of the guys out there. I don't know what it was before but I tell them all the time, 'we're dogs. I've got your back, go out there and fight and win, every brother.'"
Fox added: "I mean this is a combative game played by combative people. You try to discourage it, but I'm sure this won't be the last one, I can pretty much guarantee that."
PITTSFORD, N.Y. -- Buffalo Bills coach Rex Ryan says Pat Meyer's addition to his staff has nothing to do with offensive line coach Aaron Kromer being placed on paid leave for allegedly punching a boy in Florida.
Though the Bills announced Meyer was hired as a football operations consult on Friday, Ryan said the hiring actually took place in June. That was before Kromer was arrested and charged with battery following an alleged altercation on July 12.
Kromer was placed on leave two days later. Ryan said there was no update on the team's joint investigation with the NFL to determine what happened.
Meyer spent the past two seasons as an offensive line coach with the Chicago Bears where he worked under Kromer, who was hired by the Bills in January.
Ratliff, who turns 34-years old in August, has not played in 16 games since 2011 with the Dallas Cowboys. He's missed 26 games over the last three seasons, including five weeks for the Bears last year due to a concussion and knee injury.
"It's very important to play 16 games, especially at this point of my career," Ratliff said Thursday. "I do want to start strong, finish strong and hopefully get into the playoffs and play a little bit longer and still be strong. So that's the plan. Right now just taking it one day at a time and trying to get better."
Ratliff said he increased the frequency of his offseason workouts to better preserve his body.
"Well, this offseason, I never really stop working out," Ratliff said. "Even on vacation, find some gym, somewhere to work out. A lot of hips, a lot of explosion stuff, working on leverage, and those are things that I thought that I could definitely add on to my game last year to work on this year."
Bears general manager Ryan Pace identified Ratliff as a core member of the defensive line, but where exactly Ratliff lines up remains a question. A veteran of the 3-4 scheme from his playing days in Dallas, Ratliff has the flexibility to play nose tackle and end, provided he stays healthy.
"I'm not really worried about it. That will sort itself out, "Ratliff said. "Wherever I am that day, that's where I'm going to be. So, same story.
"Right now we're still getting everything together, but it's fun. It's providing a lot of freedom for the players, and the players get to take ownership for the defense. And once you have that it makes it way more productive. Everybody is enjoying it, as well as believing in it, and it's been good."
BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- Two-time Pro Bowl tailback Matt Forte does not expect a repeat performance of 2014.
“Catching 100 balls is not my goal as a running back,” Forte said on Thursday.
Forte broke the NFL record for receptions by a running back with 102 catches last season, but the Bears ran the ball fewer than 40 percent of the time.
Forte believes that ratio will change under head coach John Fox, who is known to be an advocate of a strong rushing attack.
“Coach Fox loves to run the ball and establish the run,” Forte said. “Plus if you’re running the ball and you can run it effectively you get to control the clock and keep other offenses off the field, which is what we want to do. If we can control the game, control the pace of the game, and grind out tough yards and score, then that’s what we’re going to do.”
Another 1,000-yard rushing season -- Forte is third in NFL rushing yards since 2008 with 7,704 -- greatly benefits Forte’s quest for a new contract, either in Chicago or someplace else. With his contract set to expire following the season, Forte enters camp knowing this could be his last year with the Bears, a reality the all-purpose back seems at peace with.
“No, it’s not weird. This is my eighth time in Bourbonnais,” Forte said. “So everything is kind of the same. When you’re out there on the field, you don’t really think about it being your last year. I’ve been here so long it just feels like I’m still going to be here next year. I’m just banking on continuing to produce like I always do and then at the end of the season or maybe during the season something happens then.
“The NFL is production-based. You produce, you get rewarded. But then sometimes when it comes time to be rewarded, it doesn’t happen and if you complain about it you’re a bad guy or something like that. I’m not worried about it because I’m at the end of my deal. It’s my last year in this deal and I was compensated correctly four years ago, so at the end of this deal we’ll see what happens.”
BOURBONNAIS, Ill. – Lamarr Houston declared himself completely recovered from the ruptured anterior cruciate ligament he suffered in October 2014, but the sixth-year defender did not participate in team drills during Thursday’s practice.
“I’m actually a lot better than I was before the surgery,” Houston said. “I’ve done a lot of great rehab and have great physical therapists and doctors to get me back where I was before, if not better.
“We’re cleared. I’m 100 percent. I’m just taking it day to day and working my way back into playing football the proper way. Everything is good. Just taking it slow. Rome wasn’t built in a day.”
Houston, who ex-general manager Phil Emery signed to a five-year, $35 million contract, is one of several players forced to make a transition to a new position to fit in defensive coordinator Vic Fangio’s 3-4 scheme. A starting defensive end for the Bears until he sustained his season-ending knee injury in Week 8 in New England, Houston is now classified as an outside linebacker, along with fellow pass-rushers Jared Allen and Willie Young.
“I believe I'm solid at linebacker, I'm kind of small to be a defensive end,” Houston said. "It's the same thing I was doing in Oakland. With the Raiders, we were more of a hybrid 3-4. It's similar, but a little different, but pretty similar for the outside linebacker, for what we were doing there and what we're doing here.”
Houston had four successful seasons in Oakland, where he registered 238 tackles, 16 sacks and 37 tackles for loss.
The Bears will need similar production from Houston if the team plans to see any return on its investment.
BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- Chicago Bears tight end Martellus Bennett said Thursday that he is no longer worried about his contract, a stark contrast to comments he made in June, when he actively pushed for a new deal.
"I'm not even worried about a contract right now," Bennett said. "It's just business. I have no hard feelings against anybody.
"Some business deals go the way you want. Some -- I have several business deals this offseason that worked and didn't work out. For me it's just another business deal, and then that's just the way it is. Some deals get done, some don't. Still got to come to work and do my job."
Bennett, 28, sang a different tune at the Bears' mandatory three-day minicamp in June after his efforts to secure a new contract by skipping the voluntary offseason program proved to be unsuccessful.
"I'm always working on a new contract. All sides of business," Bennett told reporters. "I think that everybody, even you guys, should be lobbying for new contracts. If your performance is at a high level and you're playing to a high level, then you want to be compensated for the level that you play at."
Bennett, who made his first Pro Bowl last season, has two years left on his contract and is scheduled to earn a 2015 base salary of $4.9 million. He will collect $5.085 million in the final year of his deal.
Chicago Bears two-time Pro Bowl cornerback Tim Jennings missed the first day of training camp Thursday because of legal proceedings related to a DUI charge in Georgia, a spokeswoman for the Gwinnett County Solicitor's Office said.
Jennings, 31, entered a guilty plea for reckless driving and speeding, said assistant solicitor Megan Matteucci. The plea allowed for the dismissal of the DUI charge and no jail time.
The sentence for the reckless driving charge was 12 months of probation, a fine of $800 and court costs. He was credited for the 24 hours he served in jail after the arrest on Jan. 7, 2015.
He'll also have to perform 40 hours of community service and attend a risk-reduction class, which Matteucci described as a "DUI school."
Jennings won't be allowed to consume drugs or alcohol while on probation, and he'll undergo random screenings for both, Matteucci said.
"Once he does everything, his probation terminates," Matteucci said.
The speeding charge resulted in a $250 fine, as police said Jennings was driving 99 mph in a 65 mph zone.
Bears coach John Fox said Jennings missed Thursday's practice for "personal reasons," but he expects Jennings back Friday.
Jennings is coming off a subpar 2014 campaign in which he contributed 50 tackles in 16 starts with seven pass breakups and one forced fumble. The team signed Jennings to a four-year, $22.4 million extension in January 2014. Jennings' deal was worth $11.8 million guaranteed and included a $3 million signing bonus.
He could face disciplinary action by the NFL.
Information from ESPN Bears reporter Jeff Dickerson was used in this report.
Coach John Fox said it was for "personal reasons," and he expected Jennings to return Friday.
Jennings is coming off a subpar 2014 campaign in which he contributed 50 tackles in 16 starts with seven pass breakups and one forced fumble.
The team signed Jennings to a four-year, $22.4 million extension in January 2014. Former general manager Phil Emery said the deal was "rewarding excellence" for a veteran who took on the responsibilities in 2013 as a No. 1 cornerback after Charles Tillman suffered a season-ending injury.
Jennings' deal was worth $11.8 million guaranteed and included a $3 million signing bonus.
ESPN Bears reporter Jeff Dickerson contributed to this report.
That gives Chicago's new-look 3-4 defense approximately seven weeks to mesh before facing one of the game's premiere passers.
Is that enough time?
"What's realistic is there is no timetable for that," Bears veteran safety Antrel Rolle said. "It happens when it happens. Sometimes it takes a lot longer than others and sometimes it might happen overnight. You just never know. But once it clicks there won't be any questions about it. You'll see it from the outside looking in and we'll definitely be able to feel it from the locker room. We have a very tough schedule ahead of us. I wouldn't have it any other way. You know I love playing the best of the best and having competition every single week. That's what you're going to get every week in this league."
Rolle, 32, smiled when directly asked about playing Rodgers, who once passed for 423 yards and four touchdowns in a playoff game versus Rolle and the Arizona Cardinals in Jan. 2010.
"I played against him where I think he's played his best game in the postseason," Rolle said. "This game still gives me nightmares to this day, but I've beat him a couple times. He's beat me a couple times. I love the match-up. I love going up against the best."
The rest of the Bears organization probably doesn't share Rolle's enthusiasm. In 14 career games against Chicago, Rodgers is 11-3, passing for 3,448 yards, 31 touchdowns and eight interceptions (109.8 quarterback rating).
"That's the way we started him in the offseason. He'll start there and I don't know where he's going to end up," Bears head coach John Fox said. "Players pick the roster; it's a performance-based business. We're all held to it. So talking about it doesn't do much."
One of the NFL's best interior offensive linemen, Long lined up at both left and right tackle the final two weeks of the offseason program; an indication the Bears may look to permanently move Long outside in the future.
"We're going to go into a game with seven linemen for five positions," Fox added. "How they cross-train, how they prepare to play different spots based on what happens -- I don't know what's going to happen, but things do. So we're going to have to be ready for that. So guys will line up in multiple spots in this training camp."
For his part, Long said on Wednesday that his main focus lies on improving the team's chemistry after a dreadful 5-11 season that featured dysfunction at every level.
"You can definitely tell that a lot of the walls that had been built for whatever reason in the locker room have been knocked down," Long said "It's kind of an open-air environment for a lot of guys. And between upstairs and downstairs; there's great relationships between players, coaches, staff, personnel. Everybody's really cool. It's nice to have that one goal in mind. Just trying to get better every day."