The Chicago Bears remain a work in progress as training camp hums along. The team held its fourth practice of camp at Halas Hall on Saturday, continuing to work through the batting rosters and advance to next week when the pads come out.
Here are three things we learned from Saturday’s action in Lake Forest.
1. Rookie Kyler Gordon is eager to take over as the top corner of the defense.
Gordon was the Bears’ top pick in April’s draft, selected at No. 39 in the 2nd round. And it was clear from the start that the Bears were impressed with his feel for the game, his ability to change direction and his playmaking skills. After four practices in camp, Gordon appears to be settling into a role where he could play outside the Bears’ base defense while also sliding into the nickelback game in sub-packages.
The rookie not only accepted the challenge to play the slot, but raised his hand to do so.
“It’s very important if the players want to do what you ask them to do,” Bears defensive coordinator Alan Williams said Saturday. “Some guys are just easygoing. They’re like, ‘Hey coach, I’ll do whatever you ask.’ But when you have a guy who wants to do what you ask him to do, you get a little bit of an edge in how that guy performs.”
Gordon emphasized this week that he really enjoys playing in the slot and credits his experience playing at the University of Washington with learning to sharpen his vision and developing reaction skills that have helped him.
“I love nickel,” he said, “and I love what I can do there.”
Williams said he already feels Gordon is ready to take over the Bears’ top job, impressed with his quick athleticism, size and intelligence.
“There’s going to be a learning curve because it’s the NFL,” Williams said. “But we feel good about the direction he’s going in terms of lining up (right), where to look and then just playing.”
Williams also called Gordon a “ball magnet.” “For some reason, he’s always around football,” he said. “And when he is, he turns it around.”
2. Wide receiver Equanimeus St. Brown tries to use his familiarity with Luke Getsy’s offense to help his teammates.
St. Brown spent four seasons with the Green Bay Packers, including three when Gatsey was the quarterbacks coach and running backs coordinator. Getty contacted St. Brown right when free agency began, and St. Brown joined the Bears on a one-year deal.
That familiarity gave St. Brown a leg up in a crowded wide receiver room early in camp. St. Brown said that while Gatsey has added a few new wrinkles to the offense to make it unique, it’s similar enough that he feels very comfortable with it, even giving advice to teammates.
“There are little moments where coaches slip up, a receivers coach can slip up and I’ll step in or give my two cents on what happened in the game or what might happen when you’re actually out there,” St. Brown said. “Sometimes I step in and help.”
St. Brown had 37 catches for 543 yards and a touchdown in three seasons with the Packers before missing 2019 with an ankle injury. But St Brown said he was back on track and “ready to showcase his talent and take his game to the next level”.
Getsey said St. Brown’s best football is yet to come after watching him mature last season after initially not making the Packers’ roster out of training camp.
“I’ve seen the guy turn into a pro and his mentality, his toughness and the way he attacks every day, I’ve just been impressed with how he’s handled it,” Gatsey said. “I always liked the equalizer and I thought he was a good player and then I saw how he went through those difficulties and the way he dealt with all those things, that’s what all these guys are built on. This leadership and the experience he went through is great for us.”
3. Left guard Cody Whitehair feels a connection with new forward Riley Reiff.
Reiff has been a household name for the Bears over the past decade due to his nine seasons and 127 starts in the NFC North with the Detroit Lions and Minnesota Vikings.
Reif joined the Bears on a one-year deal in open training camp and is likely to be the starting left tackle, and Whitehair, the player next to him, likes the addition.
“Riley is great,” White Hair said. “From the moment Riley walked in, I felt like we had a connection. I don’t know because we’re both NFC North linemen or something. But Riley has the same mentality as me. A guy who’s going to work hard, a guy who’s going to learn and do the right thing.”
Due to his late signing, Rafe is ramping up his full participation in training. On Saturday, he repeated at left tackle with the first team, along with another new veteran, Michael Schofield, who was at right guard for some reps. Offensive tackle Taven Jenkins remained on the field with an undisclosed illness.
“Any time we can get competition out here, it’s good, especially guys that have a lot of experience like these guys,” Whitehair said of Rife and Schofield. “It’s only going to continue to make our room better and help us grow as an offensive line.”