CHICAGO — The Soldier Field grass was playable this year, and the Chicago Bears used that turf to provide plenty of entertainment to more than 25,000 fans Friday night at their annual Family Fest.
Giving their hometown fans an up-close look at their new offensive toys, especially star wide receiver Brandon Marshall, the Bears offered up plenty of offensive highlights.
The event was canceled last year because the field was deemed unusable. This year, the show went on during a pleasant night in Chicago.
Head coach Lovie Smith agreed his team gets excited coming to play in the energetic atmosphere.
"No doubt, when you get here," said Smith, whose club received Saturday off from training camp. "The guys hyperventilate almost just from getting on the field."
Among the new toys was rookie wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, who hails from South Carolina, which competes in the Southeastern Conference, one of the top college leagues in the country.
In an early drill, Jeffery beat second-year safety Chris Conte to catch a long touchdown pass from Jay Cutler.
Jeffery has said the speed of the game was the biggest change from college, and he suggested that again Friday night.
"The SEC is pretty fast, but it's not faster than this," Jeffery said.
While Jeffery is an offensive weapon fans were eager to see, the trade for wide receiver Brandon Marshall was the biggest splash the Bears made in the offseason.
Marshall made a great touchdown grab from Cutler in a red-zone drill, catching a pass just left of the field-goal post.
Marshall earned more applause when he addressed what was left of the crowd of 27,352 after practice.
Joking that what he was about to say was just "between us," he pumped out two words: "Super Bowl."
Marshall and kick-return specialist Devin Hester also caught touchdown passes during earlier drills in the red zone.
Later, Jeffery caught a touchdown pass on a jump ball in the right corner of the end zone.
Working from about the 20-yard line or closer was a focal point on the night.
Smith thinks the Bears have "a lot of weapons" when they're that close to scoring, also noting tight end Kellen Davis.
"We have some good players that can make plays down there," Smith said. "And once you get down there, you need to get points up; that's why we spent a lot of time down there (Friday)."
Other receivers making big plays included free-agent rookie Brittan Golden and veteran free agent Devin Thomas. Both receivers caught long touchdown passes during early drills.
Cornelius Brown obviously held on to Marshall's jersey as he tried to run down the sideline on one route.
But Friday night featured more than an offensive show.
Cornerback Tim Jennings made a noteworthy play for the defense when he dove in the end zone to knock away a pass intended for Marshall.
Marshall also beat Jennings on a pass in the early portions of practice, but he appeared to be out of bounds while trying to tap both feet down in the back of the end zone as he caught the ball.
The quality turnout in the stands was what Smith said he expected.
"We have great fans, and it's just a different environment when you come and you practice here as opposed to being on the practice field at Bourbonnais," Smith said.
But he didn't forget the crowds that turn out at Olivet Nazarene University, noting that about 12,000 fans have come out at times.
"They support us no matter what, and they're going to like their football team this season," Smith said.
Especially if the Bears deliver on Marshall's announcement.
— Urlacher update: Brian Urlacher was among the most-conspicuous missing from Friday's festivities.
Smith said his star linebacker's knee, injured in the last game of the season last year, remained sore, so Urlacher didn't practice. This is the third workout in a row in which he has missed all or most of the session.
However, Smith added, he expected Urlacher to be ready to go next week, with the Bears preparing for their preseason opener with Denver.
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