4 things we learned from Chicago Bears rookie minicamp

Bears conclude rookie minicamp Saturday in Lake Forest

Chicago Bears quarterback Caleb Williams, right, works with a coach during the NFL football team's rookie camp earlier this month at Halas Hall in Lake Forest, Ill.

LAKE FOREST – The Bears took the field for the first time since January over the weekend. The team began its on-field portion of the offseason with rookie minicamp at Halas Hall in Lake Forest.

The team’s five draft picks, nine undrafted free agents and two dozen rookie tryout players participated in two days of practice. It marked the first time that No. 1 overall draft pick Caleb Williams took the field in a Bears practice jersey.

Rookie minicamp wrapped up Saturday. Here are five things we learned.

1. Williams has studied Bears’ offense since April

Chicago Bears quarterback Caleb Williams looks to a throw during the NFL football team's rookie camp at Halas Hall in Lake Forest, Ill., Friday, May 10, 2024. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

Friday may have been Williams’ first time on the practice field, but it was far from his first time working with the Bears’ offense. He has been studying the basics of the offense since early April, weeks before the team drafted him on April 25.

Following his visit to Lake Forest in early April, Williams and the Bears were both pretty confident that this marriage was destined to happen. Bears offensive coordinator Shane Waldron was confident enough to give Williams’ private quarterback coach snippets of the offense and terminology to work on.

Throughout the pre-draft process, Williams worked with coach Will Hewlett in Jacksonville, Florida. Waldron and Hewlett have both worked with QB Collective, a private quarterback school, in the past.

“I think anytime you have a pre-existing relationship with somebody, you have a little more trust and understanding of how we’re going to work together,” Waldron said.

Waldron said it was no different than the communication he would have with his veteran quarterbacks during the portions of the offseason when players are not training at the team facility. Most players have their own private coaches they work out with during the offseason.

For Williams, any chance to get a leg up was a good thing.

“You always want to get ahead, if you can, and so with those things that they gave me,” Williams said. “I would take it to my QB training and we would use the cadence, we would use the drops, we would use all those things.”

2. Rome Odunze on punt return?

Chicago Bears wide receiver Rome Odunze catches a ball during the NFL football team's rookie camp at Halas Hall in Lake Forest, Ill., Friday, May 10, 2024. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

No. 9 overall draft pick Rome Odunze sat out practice Saturday due to hamstring tightness. It was likely a precaution. Odunze had been a full participant the day before.

When he was on the field Friday, Odunze clearly looked like the best receiver at rookie minicamp. That’s not really a surprise given how high he was drafted. His connection with Williams is already growing.

Odunze was also spotted fielding punts during practice Friday. He didn’t return a ton of punts in college, but he was quite successful when he did. He took one of his three punt returns to the house for a touchdown.

“Rome is an every down player,” special teams coordinator Richard Hightower said.

Asked if Odunze could earn himself the punt return job, Hightower declined to say much. But he’s clearly impressed with the athleticism he sees from the receiver out of Washington.

“Listen, he’s in contention,” Hightower said. “Alright? Just like everybody else. So best man will win. Cream rises to the top.”

Odunze, of course, will have a big responsibility on offense, lining up with veterans DJ Moore and Keenan Allen at receiver.

“He’s a really big guy, with a big strike zone and a big target,” wide receiver coach Chris Beatty said. “He’s got complementary skills to the guys we have now, so I think he can bring some things to the room that we don’t currently have in there as far as his length.”

3. Punts and kickoffs

Nobody was more excited when the Bears drafted Iowa punter Tory Taylor in the fourth round than Hightower. The Bears were the first team to select a punter or kicker in the 2024 draft. Taylor broke an 85-year-old NCAA record for punting yards in a single season last year.

“It’s rare,” Hightower said. “The strength in his leg and then the touch that he has.”

The Australian punter can do it all. He has a strong leg, but he’s also really talented when it comes to pinning teams inside their own 5-yard line. He showed that off Friday when he booted punts across the field.

It’s rare. The strength in his leg and then the touch that he has.”

—  Richard Hightower, Bears special teams coordinator

Taylor could also be a weapon on kickoffs. With the new NFL kickoff rule, directional kicking could be even more important than it has ever been on kickoffs.

“I want to be out there for as many plays as I can because I feel like there’s really only a certain amount of positions in football where you can manipulate the game how you want to manipulate the game and punting is one of them,” Taylor said. “I’m fortunate to be one of the guys on the field who has the ball in his hands, and that means at that specific period of time you’re in control of the game and obviously I want to win.”

Taylor became the first of the five rookie draft picks to sign his rookie contract on Saturday.

4. Raw talent isn’t so bad

Sure, fifth-round draft pick Austin Booker might be raw. The edge rusher out of Kansas hardly played any college football prior to last season. But Bears defensive coordinator Eric Washington sees massive potential.

“I’m not sure I met a rookie that wasn’t raw,” Washington said. “So what we want to do is take what he can do and really hone and shape that, develop him, inform him of all the things that will allow him to play as fast and as physical as he possibly can play. Just build a player. Build a person and build a player.”

Booker, who the Bears list at 6-foot-6, 245 pounds, is a lanky edge rusher. He’ll probably try to add 10 to 15 pounds of muscle to his frame, which will take some time. Nobody is expecting him to be a starter in 2024, but he has the tools to be a really good NFL player.

Washington loves the energy that Booker plays with. Booker said he’s always played hard.

“I’ve just always had that motor of wanting to get to the ball, wanting to make hits and get to the quarterback,” Booker said. “I’ve just always had that about me and I love the game.”

Sean Hammond

Sean Hammond

Sean is the Chicago Bears beat reporter for the Shaw Local News Network. He has covered the Bears since 2020. Prior to writing about the Bears, he covered high school sports for the Northwest Herald and contributed to Friday Night Drive. Sean joined Shaw Media in 2016.