What battle?

Lovie Smith says there will be battles at each position. If so, the punting competition already appears over.

Regular Brad Maynard blasted perfect spirals all day. Contenders Joel Stelly and Filip Filipovic couldn’t beat Maynard’s worst effort with their best.

Filipovic even dropped a snap.

Ringing in the year

The Bears gave their players NFC Championship rings Thursday night, with receiver Muhsin Muhammad and long-snapper Patrick Mannelly having input into the design.

The rings have a diamond encrusted "C" surrounded by a replica of Soldier Field. It also has each player’s name and the Super Bowl logo.

"We like the stuff that shines, catches the light and catches the eyes," Muhammad said. "We like that stuff.

"It’s a great accomplishment. There are players in the league who have played 10 to 15 years and never been to the Super Bowl. We can’t look at this ring and say it’s a failure. In the same sense, we know there’s something else bigger out there."

Goodbye to Tank

Lovie Smith said he had "a little contact" with Tank Johnson, the defensive lineman who was released after his arrest this summer for DUI in Arizona.

"It’s disappointing when you lose someone who has been part of your team the amount of time Tank was (three). Things happen. That’s a chapter in our life that we’ve closed the page and moved on," Smith said. "I’ll always care what happens with Tank, and hopefully he can get a few things straightened out."

Smith also said he doesn’t regret the effort the team put in to help Tank. "We make decisions that we think are right at the time," Smith said. "We can’t look into the future. You hope things turn out. "We do things the same way. I believed that Tank would make some changes in his life. It didn’t work out, but that’s how life is sometimes."

Contact staff writer Reed Schreck at 815-987-1381 or rschreck@rrstar.com.


You win the NFC Championship and make it to the Super Bowl, fans have a way of noticing.

A crowd estimated at nearly twice the size of last year’s training-camp opener watched the Chicago Bears open its 2007 camp on Friday at Olivet Nazarene University. They gave running back Cedric Benson a louder ovation than maybe any player received walking out to the field last year. They were lined up 30 deep just to get mascot Staley da Bear’s autograph.

"There’s a lot of excitement," head coach Lovie Smith said of the turnout of perhaps three thousand fans. "We have a lot of great fans. We assumed and hoped they’d come out to training camp for a chance to see what their team would look like."

They liked what they saw. So, too, did Smith and quarterback Rex Grossman.

Smith mentioned first-round pick Greg Olsen, a tight end, and converted corner Devin Hester picking up the offense so impressively. He liked how the defense "ran around well," plus the fact there were no injuries.

"That’s the way you want to start off practice," Smith said. "A lot of emotion. I can’t wait to see Day 2, 3 and get our pads on see where we really are."

Grossman said it "was not a typical first day" where you shake away rust. "I thought it went great," he said after he connected with a myriad of receivers. "It felt like we came out here and threw the ball and caught the ball well. The running backs, the offensive line, everything was crisp coming out of the huddle.

"It wasn’t the typical first day I’ve been involved with, so that’s always a good sign."

Grossman was accurate with most of his passes, the most impressive a 45-yard hookup with Bernard Berrian to beat corner Charles Tillman. He also ran what amounted to a quarterback draw at one point.

Backup Brian Griese wasn’t as sharp, being picked off on consecutive throws by Dante Wesley and rookie Trumaine McBride. Griese also fumbled one snap.