Commentary: Wilson remains enigma to all

It’s unclear if Marquess Wilson gets it.

Even after a five minute conversation with the Chicago Bears rookie wide receiver, it’s easy to question whether he understands what it will take to succeed in the National Football League.

It might be a rush to judgement, but we’re talking about a guy who turned his back on teammates at Washington State University.

Add in coach Marc Trestman’s unflattering analysis of Wilson’s efforts on special teams following Sunday’s practice and how do you not ask the question.

“The truth of it is and the content of it is, he’s shown that he can do it and then he’ll fall off. Then we’ve got to pick him up again,” he said. “He’s got to understand it’s so important for him to be a special teams player for us if he becomes a fourth or fifth wide receiver.

“You can see what Joe Anderson and Eric Weems do for us. That’s part of the job of receiver who’s not one of the top three. He’s got to be an active special teams player and give us the kind of play that Joe and Eric give us.”

Not exactly a ringing endorsement for a player with the question marks that already surround Wilson’s commitment.

There’s a reason the 20-year-old was a seventh-round draft choice despite earning second-team All-PAC 12 honors in 2011 with a school record 82 receptions. NFL teams didn’t believe Wilson was mature enough and getting called out by your head coach in your first training camp isn’t going to calm any fears. Add in the fact that Trestman’s criticism came two days after Wilson hauled in four passes for 82 yards in the Bears’ preseason opener.

“It feels good, but in the back of my mind, nobody’s safe,” Wilson said Monday. “You’ve got to go out there and work hard.”

The hard work probably wouldn’t be questioned if not for his action’s last November. Wilson reported stormed out of a lengthy conditioning session and was suspended indefinitely two days later by Washington State coach Mike Leach for violating unspecified team rules.

By the weekend, Wilson announced he had left the team and accused the Cougars’ coaching staff of repeated “abuse” in an open letter to media — a move he has since admitted was a mistake.

Wilson reiterated Monday when asked about the incident: “I moved on from it and was ready for the next opportunity to play football.”

Trestman and special teams coach Joe DeCamillis are trying to give him that chance.

“We’re going to put him out there and see what he can do,” DeCamillis said of Wilson participating on special teams. “We’d like to see what kind of a contact player he is. We’ve all seen him run, but we need to see what kind of contact player he is.”

In other words: take a hit. Prove that your a team player.

Does Wilson understand?

“Definitely,” he said.

The Bears are saying prove it.

“He’s just starting to understand the importance,” Trestman said. “…he’s got to recognize how important it is because of where he would be on the roster presently.”

Sports writer Kyle Nabors can be reached at knabors@daily-journal.com or 815-937-3373. You can also follow him on Twitter @kylenabors.

Bears, Olivet Nazarene reach 9-year extension

The Chicago Bears and Olivet Nazarene University announced a deal Monday to keep the team’s summer training camp in Bourbonnais for the next nine years.

The agreement means the team’s three weeks of preseason practice will continue at the private university, which hosts more than 100,000 fans over the course of camp each year.

As part of the agreement, Olivet plans to renovate and expand the team’s locker room and athletic training facilities, as well as sod its four practice fields.

“This facility is second-to-none,” Bears general manager Phil Emery said during Monday’s press conference on Olivet’s campus.

The deal bucks a recent trend of NFL teams moving training camp to their own practice facilities, rather than going away to another location for camp. But Emery said camp in Bourbonnais is a “great touch point for fans,” meaning fans can connect with the team at Olivet in ways they wouldn’t be able to at Halas Hall in Lake Forest.

By all appearances, both Olivet and Bourbonnais are in an enviable position. The mayor of Romeoville and Lewis University have made pitches to Bears executives to bring the team to their town.

“They made an attractive presentation, and we had to look,” said Brian McCaskey, the Bears’ senior director of business development. “But we’ve always been very happy here. It was a no-brainer to stay here.”

The Bears’ deal with Olivet is actually a series of nine one-year contracts, which is necessary because of a technical detail: The school uses the village of Bourbonnais to borrow money with low interest rates, so it cannot make long-term deals with a for-profit company like the Bears.

Olivet president John Bowling admitted that, back in 2001, he didn’t think the Bears-Olivet relationship would be a long-term one. But he’s been pleasantly surprised.

The team’s practice Sunday at Olivet featured the largest crowd — approximately 20,000 fans — of any practice during its 12-year stay in Bourbonnais.

Return to Bourbonnais bring changes to O-line

Marc Trestman has preached accountability since taking over as the Chicago Bears head coach in January.

Apparently it’s not just talk.

Offensive lineman J’Marcus Webb fared poorly in Friday’s preseason opener against the Carolina Panthers. When the Bears returned to training camp Sunday in Bourbonnais, Webb found himself demoted to the second team.

Trestman said not to read too much into the move but the message was unmistakable — even to Webb.

“I’m willing to help at any position on the offensive line,” Webb said. “I’ll take a look at film and focus on getting better.”

The 25-year-old has made 44 starts over the last three seasons, including 16 at left tackle last season, but has shown few signs of progression. He transitioned to right tackle in the offseason and was beaten badly Friday on a sack of Jay Cutler during the first quarter by Carolina defensive end Charles Johnson.

“We’ve been very clear with J’Marcus about where we’re going,” Trestman said. “I said it last week that there’s been an up-and-down performance level with J’Marcus.”

Taking over Webb’s duties with the first team was rookie Jordan Mills.

The Bears selected Mills in the fifth round out of Louisiana Tech. Sunday marked his first reps with the starters, but Trestman said it likely won’t be his last.

“We think he’s performed well on a daily basis and we want to see what he can do against 1′s throughout the week without moving him around,” he said.

Trestman added that Mills could start at right tackle in the Bears’ second preseason matchup Thursday against San Diego.

Mills might not be the only rookie to earn a start this week. First-rounder Kyle Long played the most snaps of any Bear against Carolina and impressed his coaches. He lined up at right guard next to Mills on Sunday.

Long was on the field in the preseason opener for 51 snaps and admitted to having some ups and downs upon reviewing the tape.

“Some good looking, some really bad looking [plays],” he said. “That’s just how the football game goes. You just try to minimize the mistakes and learn from what you did wrong.”

Long is, however, feeling more comfortable competing at the professional level.

“A little bit of a confidence,” he said. “When you go against other guys, you realize you can do it. You try to bring it out to the practice the field and have that pay dividends in the practice.”

Long is in a battle with second-year lineman James Brown for the starting nod at right guard. Long is widely considered the better prospect of the two but with only five collegiate starts under his belt lacks the overall polish of Brown at this point.

But with nearly a month to go before the Bears open the regular season against Cincinnati, Trestman stressed patience with the offensive line.

“I wouldn’t draw any conclusions about what’s happened today,” he said. “It really has been a part of our plan to find the best five over the course of training camp. We’re not doing anything but working the plan at this point.”

Wideouts under microscope in preseason opener

From a fan’s perspective, the Bears’ preseason opener Friday against the Carolina Panthers amounts to little more than a formality on the way to the real deal in September.

From a coach’s perspective, however, that first game action is a much needed clue to what that final roster will look like a month from now when the Bears open the regular season against the Cincinnati Bengals.

Coach Marc Trestman and his staff will get their first full-speed opportunity to evaluate the progress made after two weeks of training camp at Olivet Nazarene University, That doesn’t mean much for the starters, but for guys looking to claim a roster spot, the trip to Carolina looms large.

“It sure does,” rookie Marquess Wilson said. “You’ve got guys in front of you, but you’ve also got to realize that everybody is out here competing. You’ve got to do your job and hopefully things will work out.”

Wilson, a seventh-round selection, is one of 12 wide receivers in camp and fighting for one of five, or possibly six, roster spots.

Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery and Earl Bennett occupy three spots, meaning wide receiver will be one the Bears’ focuses through the remainder of camp and preseason with so many players trying to create separation.

“We watch the tape everyday and we’ve got guys making plays,” Trestman said Wednesday after the team’s final practice before the preseason opener. “For receivers and the guys that are playing the perimeter positions, the preseason games do bring added value.

“We can see the guys who can win the contested throwing battle in the games. If they’re stepping up in practice, can we get them enough opportunities to make a play and show they can be that guy in the games as well.”

The game tape should be telling after two weeks of practice have failed to bring out any clear front runners.

Wilson has made his share of big plays in Bourbonnais but also has had trouble holding onto the ball — he had two more drops Wednesday.

With Bennett out since Saturday with a concussion, Joe Anderson and veteran Eric Weems have seen work with the first team. The Bears seem to like the 6-foot-1 Anderson but little stands out about the 2012 undrafted receiver out of Texas Southern.

On the other hand, there’s little not known about Weems. A seven-year veteran, Weems was signed by the Bears for his special teams abilities last year, but possesses minimal upside with Devin Hester returning to full-time kick and punt return duties.

Another veteran could be an option and it’s one Bears’ fans will be familiar with: Devin Aromashodu. The 29-year-old caught 34 passes from 2009-2010 while in Chicago and spent the last two seasons with the Minnesota Vikings.

And then there’s the young unknowns looking to make their marks: Josh Lenz, Jerrell Jackson, Marcus Rucker, Terrence Tolliver and Brittan Golden.

Only a couple, however, will be lucky enough to wear an orange “C” a month from now. Friday provides the first big chance to improve those odds.

“Those guys are going to get a lot of playing time over the next two to three weeks,” Trestman said. “They’re going to have a lot of reps in games and we’re going to know a lot more. But it’s important for them to, No. 1: know where to line up. Know where to go. That’s the first step.

“Quarterbacks and all of us have to be confident they know what to do. They’ve got to be able to adjust when time comes to adjust, and when there’s a contested throw we hope they’ll make the play. “

Bostic, Greene still face learning curve

Instability and linebackers aren’t terms usually referred to together when talking about the Chicago Bears, but the team might very well be enduring its biggest turnover at the position in recent memory.

Gone is iconic middle linebacker Brian Urlacher. Nick Roach, the Bears’ strong side linebacker for the last since 2008 is now an Oakland Raider.

Their replacements — D.J. Williams in the middle and James Anderson on the outside — are on one-year deals.

Lance Briggs will turn 33 in November.

It’s no wonder the Bears spent two of their six picks in the 2013 Draft on linebackers Jon Bostic and Khaseem Greene.

At the latest, the Bears will need their production next year. An injury or two — Williams has already spent the better part of a week in training camp in a walking boot — and the rookies could find themselves as major factors in the team’s 2013 success.

Both have already displayed tremendous upside as well as major flaws that leave concerns.

Bostic, a second-round selection, is farther along in his development as evidenced by his work with the first team during training camp with Williams sidelined.

A fantastic athlete, Bostic already possesses the abilities to take on blockers in the box and clog up running lanes. The biggest concern for the 22-year-old at this point is learning the Bears’ Cover-2 scheme as opposed to the Cover-1 he anchored while at Florida.

“It’s really just having vision on the quarterback,” Bostic said. “In man-to-man, you’re taking a guy away. In Cover-2, everybody has to be able to play together. Everyone has to know what their teammates are doing on every play.”

That vision plays a crucial roles in the Bears’ success on defense. The middle linebacker must make an almost instantaneous read to stay near the line of scrimmage or drop into coverage as deep as 20 yards down field.

Any hesitation can leave the defense susceptible to a tight end or receiver following the inside seam up field for a big play over the middle.

It’s a read that made Urlacher a perennial Pro Bowler and one defensive coordinator Mel Tucker admitted Bostic still needs to improve on.

“He’s going to get better with reps. It’s just having to see it,” Tucker said. “Certain things guy pick up quicker than other things. That’s one of those things he’s got to work on.”

Greene, on the other hand, has his work cut out for him near the line of scrimmage.

His playmaking abilities earned him Big East Defensive Player of the Year honors 2012 at Rutgers. Greene was all over the field in his senior year with 136 tackles, six sacks and six forced fumbles, but his propensity for the big play also led to some big mistakes.

Oddly, Greene might need to rein in his abilities at the NFL level. Greene’s has a tendency to take bad angles in pursuit or over-pursue early in a slow-developing play that leaves him out of position.

“You’ve got to, obviously, be disciplined. You’ve got to learn your assignment, learn your technique and then be disciplined with your eyes,” Greene said. “As I get more comfortable with that, it evolves into second nature. Right now, I’m just trying to build great habits and make everything second nature for me.”

Those habits take time and repetition. Luckily, the Bears don’t open the preseason until Friday, and even then have nearly a month before the season kickoffs against the Cincinnati Bengals on Sept. 8.

Until then, the rookies will lean on the very guys they could replace next fall.

“You’ve got your coaches who teach you tricks. You’ve got vets like Lance Briggs and James Anderson who teach you certain things,” Greene said. “I’ve got the right guys around me to help me pick up a lot faster on it than I would if I did it by myself.

I’m listening to D.J., Lance and James as much as I can,” Bostic said. “They’ve played Cover-2 and they know how some of these quarterbacks in this league can make great throws and can put balls in certain places.”

Follow Kyle Nabors on Twitter @kylenabors for Chicago Bears news throughout training camp.

Frey making most of chance

More than a few eyebrows were raised when the Chicago Bears selected Isaiah Frey in the sixth round of the 2012 NFL Draft.

Most pundits had the University of Nevada cornerback listed as undrafted free agent, but the Bears were instantly enamored with Frey’s ability to find the football — a trait players such as Charles Tillman have made the organization famous for over the last decade.

In fact, Frey tied for the Division I FBS lead and recorded a career-high five interceptions during his senior season on the way to All-Conference honors in the Western Athletic Conference.

His biggest knock: how extremely raw his abilities were. Now, in his second NFL training camp, Frey is starting to flash the ball-hawking skills that the Bears have been counting on.

“He is making a lot of plays,” defensive backs coach Jon Hoke said. “He’s playing with a lot of confidence right now. He’s been here for a year and understands the system and what the position — especially nickel — has been asked of him.”

The latest came during Monday’s practice. Frey picked off a Jay Cutler pass intended for a slipping Martellus Bennett and returned it for a touchdown during 11-on-11 drills. It became the latest in a string of impressive plays for the 23-year-old.

Instead of just relying on raw athleticism, Frey is starting to understand how to read plays at the professional level.

“Sitting with coach Hoke in the meeting rooms last year, he taught us pass route concepts,” Frey said. “I’m able to see what’s coming before it’s happening now.”

It also didn’t hurt Frey to spend a year behind Pro Bowl defensive backs Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings.

“I think I know a lot more of the defense this year,” he said. “I was able to sit back and watch Peanut, Tim and Kelvin [Hayden] last year and I think I learned from those three.”

It remains to be seen if Frey has made enough progress to impact the Bears’ plans in the secondary, but he did receive a boost Saturday when Hayden — the team’s projected starter at nickelback — left practice with a hamstring injury and was deemed “week-to-week.”

With Hayden on the shelf, Frey found himself practicing with the first team Monday.

“He’s shown up each and every day,” coach Marc Trestman said of Frey’s opportunity. “Certainly with Kelvin down now and being week-to-week, his ability to play the nickel and play the corner and be part of the mix [when] finding the best group of [defensive backs] … is going to be very important.”

Of course, starting jobs aren’t won during training camp practices when the hitting is nearly nonexistent. The real test to Frey’s progression will come when the Bears suit up Friday in their preseason opener against the Carolina Panthers.

“He’s getting valuable reps because he is going against our first group,” Hoke said. “Hopefully we’ll see that carry over into preseason games.”

Monday’s practice moved up

Inclement weather expected Monday afternoon has caused the Bears to move practice to 11 a.m. The team was originally scheduled to take the field at 3 p.m.

Follow @kylenabors and @TDJsports on Twitter for further developments.

More injuries pop up at Family Fest

CHICAGO — Apparently the new look for Bears at training camp is to have a big ice wrap straddled around your leg.

Not season-threatening injuries, mind you, but nagging ones keep popping up on Bears players, including at Saturday night’s Family Fest at Soldier Field.

This time, it was defensive end Julius Peppers with a wrap around his hamstring, as he and second-year receiver Alshon Jeffery had tightness in the muscle and left practice for precautionary reasons.

Defensive back Kelvin Hayden also went with the wrap look for his hamstring, though he was put at a more serious status, leaning more toward “week to week.” He stayed wrapped up on the sideline during the team’s last meeting in the heart of the field after practice.

Peppers had his wrap off before the end of practice, but defensive end Cornelius Washington also suffered an elbow strain, and receiver Earl Bennett left to be evaluated for a concussion.

They were the latest battered Bears, which have also included linebacker D.J. Williams (calf), offensive linemen Jermon Bushrod (calf) and Jonathan Scott (knee), and defensive end Corey Wootton (hip).

At least Wootton, who was injured Thursday, returned to practice Saturday. The Northwestern grad was glad to be in Chicago, where an upbeat crowd of about 29,000 fans came out to Soldier Field on a beautiful, unseasonably cool night.

“The support in Bourbonnais has been great. But to come here to Soldier Field, to see the support here, it’s been great,” Wootton said. “And to see some of the young guys, the rookies that never experienced being at Soldier Field, it’s awesome, definitely.”

Wootton, who recorded seven sacks last year in making a big step forward in his third season, was optimistic on his health.

“Yeah, I’m feeling better,” said Wootton, who hopes to play in the preseason opener Fridy at Carolina. “I did individuals [drills] today. I just kind of tweaked it. I’m just trying to get back in the swing of things.”

With temperatures making it feel more like early September than August, first-year coach Marc Trestman made his debut at Soldier Field, giving fans a glimpse into his new system, which has elevated the pace of practice.

“We were trying to improve as a football team. I’m sure coming out here tonight, being with this big a crowd, helped our energy after seven practices,” Trestman said.

Quarterback Jay Cutler and receiver Brandon Marshall showed their usual chemistry, hooking up early in an 11-on-11 drill. Receiver Devin Aromashodu, back with the team after leaving after the 2010 season, also made a leaping grab in the end zone to get an early roar from the crowd.

The offense under Cutler didn’t look crisp later, but it’s only early August. No need to fret, at least for a couple weeks.

One unusual sight for fans getting their first glimpse of this year’s Bears was Devin Hester not working with receivers. He’s back to a strictly special teams role, and he of course ignited the crown during return drills.

Last year to close out Family Fest, Marshall made a bold prediction to the crowd, saying he had two words: Super Bowl.

There was none of that this year from Charles Tillman and Lance Briggs, who both addressed the fans.

While 29,000 was a healthy crowd, Briggs was ready for a real game, saying he was “excited for 65,000.”

Soldier Field doesn’t hold quite that many, but the full house that comes to see the Bears face Cincinnati in Week 1 would certainly like one thing: a full roster — with no more injuries getting in the way.

Tempers flare in camp’s 1st afternoon practice

So much for Martellus Bennett’s cheery attitude.

Just hours after describing himself as “always happy” on Friday, the Chicago Bears’ newest offensive weapon found himself in the middle of pile that looked more like a benches clearing brawl than a training camp practice at Olivet Nazarene University.

Bennett was taken to the ground by cornerback Kelvin Hayden during 11-on-11 drills and the two quickly became encircled by teammates as they wrestled before finally being separated.

“Everybody’s aggressive. Everybody’s a little tired. Everybody’s a little sore,” Bennett said. “Guys do something you don’t like and you just react.”

It was the tight end’s third run-in of the day as the Bears held their first afternoon practice of camp after morning storms forced practice to be moved from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Earlier in practice, Bennett and safety Major Wright exchanged words after the tight end threw Wright to the ground during 1-on-1 drills between the tight ends and safeties.

Fellow safety Chris Conte seemingly came to Wright’s defense a short time later as Conte gave a slight shove to Bennett during a down-field pass that ended with the two entangled before veteran Craig Steltz separated the pair.

“We’re a family. We’re brothers,” Conte said. “Brothers sometimes fight, but we’ll get through it.”

The chatter continued between Bennett and the defensive backs into full-team drills. Hayden soon drove the much larger Bennett into the grass in what the tight end felt was a contentious move.

“They’re aggressive with me. I’m aggressive with them,” Bennett said. “You come hard at me. I come hard at you. I don’t back down for anything, anyone. I never have. It’s just the way I play. It started feeling like a game, so I turned it into game mode.”

Bennett denied throwing punches when asked but video shot by media members during the skirmish clearly showed him swinging with his helmet off. It was unclear how his helmet came loose.

“I’m an aggressive football player,” Bennett said. I’ll never stop being one. I’m a blue collar football player. That’s what I’ll always be and I enjoy playing like that.”

Head coach Marc Trestman gathered his team following the scuffle and asked for cool heads to prevail, according to Conte.

Bennett walked alone down the practice field during the brief meeting but seemed to calm down after talking with teammates including quarterback Jay Cutler.

“Over the course of a training camp, these things happen,” Trestman said. “The guys kept their composure and moved on. That’s what we would expect.

“It’s going to happen in a game where somebody’s going to lose their mind. When one guy does, it’s not who he is. He just lost his composure for a minute and the team’s got to bring him along.”

Practice rescheduled for 3 p.m.

Friday morning’s practice at Olivet Nazarene University was washed out by storms shortly before practice was set to begin at 9 a.m.

The Bears will now hold practice at 3 p.m. with gates opening at 2:30 p.m.