Bears

Hub Arkush: Rookie minicamps aren’t exciting, but every bit helps when starting a rebuild

Iowa State tight end Chase Allen runs a drill during the NFL Scouting Combine on March 3, 2022 in Indianapolis.

The Bears will commence their three-day rookie minicamp Friday, and I’m guessing many of you have heard about rookie minicamp hundreds of times but may not know exactly how this works.

Eligible attendees include all draft choices, undrafted rookie free agents the team has signed since the draft, undrafted rookie free agents without contracts but invited to try out, and first-year players – players who’ve signed with teams in past seasons but never earned a vested season in the league – invited to try out. Each team also may invite up to five veteran free agents.

Teams can work with players for up to 10 hours a day – practice, meetings, training, etc. – including meal times.

Two on-field practices are allowed the first two days but cannot exceed 3 ½ hours combined, no live contact is allowed, helmets only, and one of the practices must be “walk through” only.

Benefits include a chance for the Bears to introduce their 11 draft choices, and the 19 undrafted rookie free agents they are believed to have signed to date, to all their new coaches, each other, the facilities and the playbook. It’s also a chance for the players to make the best first impressions, where they can establish their individual identities, work ethic and special traits as they strive to make the team.

None of these kids are going to make the team in minicamp.

Another benefit for the team is the hope of discovering more talent and better competition from the large group of tryout guys they’ll see, and for those players another opportunity to create a chance for them to achieve their dreams of playing in the NFL.

Historically no more than two or three of the unsigned undrafted rookie free agensts and first-year players and maybe one to three of the veterans will get contracts.

It also is worth noting this isn’t it for the rookies until training camp.

The current collective bargaining agreement also allows for a rookie development program beginning the third week in May that can run up to five days a week, no weekends, and last for up to seven weeks.

These are eight-hour days with up to 3 ½ hours of “on-field” work allowed, but again, no contact, no pads.

This program runs concurrently with OTAs and veteran minicamp, allowing the rookies to participate in those as well, and the rookies are paid for being in the program.

Each rookie is entitled to airfare from and then back home to attend the program, room and board, and if not provided up to $250 a day to cover that expense, transportation to and from work each day and $148 a day for workouts and meetings.

When you do the math – almost $2,500 a week – it’s actually an awfully nice summer job for kids right out of school before joining the workforce full time.

So who should we be watching most closely?

Obviously, all 11 draft choices, and most notably cornerback Kyler Gordon, safety Jaquan Brisker and wide receiver Velus Jones, who are expected to be opening day starters. Also watch the four offensive linemen drafted, with a real opportunity for one of them to be the starter at right guard.

But watching them competing with their fellow rookies isn’t the same as when the vets get back in town, so you’re really just checking their presence, vibes and hoping to see a few special athletic traits.

Among the undrafted rookie free agents, names to listen for are tight end Chase Allen along with linebackers Jack Sanborn and C.J. Avery.

They are by no means the only ones, but all were highly productive college players with fifth- to seventh-round grades that for whatever reasons slipped through the cracks.

Allen is one of the best in-line blocking tight ends in this class, and Sanborn was a three-year starter, team captain and first-team All-Big Ten this past season at Wisconsin, which was one of the top-ranked defenses in the country. And he happens to be from Lake Zurich.

The weekend won’t be very exciting or definitive in any way, but it is another chance for the Bears to get better and will mark another important landmark in the foundation of the Ryan Poles-Matt Eberflus regime.

Hub Arkush

Hub Arkush

Hub Arkush is the Senior Bears Analyst for Shaw Local News Network and ShawLocal.com.