Scouting the Bears
5:22 PM CDT, May 12, 2012
The Bears rookies aren't ready for Sundays just yet after watching them practice during mini-camp this weekend.
That's normal (and expected) when they step on the field for the first time. I saw signs of technique, footwork, etc. that need to be cleaned up with pro coaching.
And conditioning is always something to keep an eye on when these players run through an afternoon in coach Lovie Smith's practice script. There were some heavy legs out there coming off of the pro day circuit.
The task at hand this weekend is installing basic system stuff (Cover 2 and Cover 3 on defense) with plenty of teaching on the field. It's an introduction to the NFL before the veterans show up.
However, with all rookies, I watch for talent and overall skill set — even in shorts and helmets. You can get a feel for where they are in terms of their development at this early stage of the offseason.
Alshon Jeffery, the second-round pick out of South Carolina, has the potential to be a solid player in this league. He has real size, length and a body that shows lean mass. With all the talk throughout the draft process about his weight, Jeffery looked the part of a size/speed player.
Before the wide receiver left with leg cramps on Friday, he was smooth in his release, showed the ability to glide down the field on the deep ball and was much better than I expected coming out of his breaks. At the top of the route stem, Jeffery needs to sell the cut (which will come through repetition), but the talent is there. That was on display during one-on-ones when he climbed the ladder and attacked the football.
With defensive end Shea McClellin, the work ethic is as good as advertised. The first-round pick plays hard. I could see that during drills. McClellin explodes with his movements, is violent with his hands and finishes with speed.
It is hard to get a good grasp of how he will project yet without pads and real contact at the point of attack. But knowing what the Bears look for in their edge rushers, I understand why Phil Emery valued him so highly in the draft.
I'm curious how the Bears will utilize tight end Evan Rodriguez because he is undersized. He practiced in a traditional tight end alignment during practice and also as a slot receiver removed from the core of the formation. Think of an athlete here from a scheme perspective with routes that work the middle of the field.
Rodriguez has to focus on his route-running ability throughout the offseason. At times, he overextends in his cuts and must gain better control of his body coming back to the ball if he wants to develop as a "matchup player" for offensive coordinator Mike Tice.
Safety Brandon Hardin will improve and gain more flexibility in his drop to the middle of the field. I can say the same in terms of development for rookie corners Isaiah Frey and Greg McCoy along with a group of undrafted free agents.
Remember, this isn't training camp or opening day versus the Colts at Soldier Field. No jobs are won or lost in shorts. That's a good thing for all of these rookies because they aren't at that level yet. They need time to be pushed around by the veterans, knocked down a bit and coached hard.
But for a first impression, this class has some talent to work with. Not bad for rookie mini-camp in the NFL.
Special contributor Matt Bowen, who played at Glenbard West and Iowa, spent seven seasons in the NFL as a strong safety. You also can find his work at nationalfootballpost.com.
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