The Chicago Bears kicked off their second week of organized team activities (OTAs) at Halas Hall.
Chicago conducted their fifth voluntary OTA practice on Wednesday, which was the second open session to media. So there was plenty to glimpse from the second week, be it through practice or interviews.
There were plenty of storylines that came out of Wednesday’s practice, including some standout rookies, attendance updates, Cody Whitehair’s transition back to center and how cornerback Jaylon Johnson is staying involved despite skipping OTAs.
Following the Bears’ fifth practice of OTAs, here’s what we learned:
It's a rep chart, not a depth chart
Bears defensive coordinator Alan Williams made it clear that it’s not about where players are running right now during voluntary workouts: “It’s a rep chart, not a depth chart.”
Simply put: It’s about making the most of the rep itself, not which team they’re lining up with.
“Make plays,” Williams said, via NBC Sports Chicago’s Josh Schrock. “Make plays, don’t give up big plays, understand the defense, communicate, and I would say with that, the list can go on all the above and that’s not just right now I don’t put any credence into who you see going there first now it’s a rep chart, not a depth chart.
“They’re getting reps and then what we do, we look at it in totally and see, first of all, who can do their job? Who can make a big play? Who’s not giving up big plays? That’s as important as making a play. So we look at it and then we go, OK. Then when we get to the fall and we see what guys are doing and we’ll make decisions as we start to play but right now, don’t really put any credence into who walks out there, who goes out there first.”
Which makes sense in a slew of unpadded practices. When training camp rolls around, that’s when depth charts start to matter.
Rookies Tyrique Stevenson, Tyler Scott making plays
There were a couple of standout rookies during Wednesday’s open practice: second-round cornerback Tyrique Stevenson and fourth-round wide receiver Tyler Scott.
Stevenson had the highlight of the day during practice when he intercepted quarterback Justin Fields during a team period.
Rookie Tyrique Stevenson picked off Fields in one team period. #Bears
— Zack Pearson (@Zack_Pearson) May 31, 2023
Scott also had some nice plays, according to Bear Report, including “a nice move to turn and get upfield on a play.”
Saw Tyler Scott make a few plays today. Nice day for the rookie. Had a nice move to turn and get upfield on a play. #Bears
— Bear Report (@BearReport) May 31, 2023
The Justin Fields-DJ Moore connection continues to thrive
The Bears are hoping Justin Fields and DJ Moore become a dynamic duo in 2023 and beyond. While it’s only OTAs, they’re working on building that rapport.
According to Bear Report’s Zack Pearson, the Fields and Moore connection was once again on display during Wednesday’s practice as there were “some nice throws and catches from the duo” in limited team periods.
The Justin Fields and DJ Moore connection was working again in the limited team periods at practice. Some nice throws and catches from the duo.#Bears
— Zack Pearson (@Zack_Pearson) May 31, 2023
Last week, Moore commented on growing that chemistry, calling it “a work in progress.” He expects to be in a good position with Fields when it comes to chemistry after OTAs and veteran minicamp.
Kyler Gordon back at nickel cornerback
Cornerback Kyler Gordon had a rocky rookie season, but the arrow is certainly pointing up for the second-year pro. Last year, Gordon juggled playing both outside and nickel cornerback, which is a struggle for anyone yet alone a rookie.
Bears defensive coordinator Alan Williams indicated Wednesday that Gordon will once again play nickel cornerback, but he’ll also get reps outside when Chicago is in their base defense.
#Bears DC Alan Williams said that CB Kyler Gordon is more relaxed this year. “His RPMs are not always in the red. He’s mentally alert, but physically calm.” Williams also said that the plan is for Gordon to play Nickel, though he will get reps at Outside Corner. #TheBigs #ItsUS pic.twitter.com/SDn7mTh5YB
— Herb Howard (@HerbHoward411) May 31, 2023
According to Mark Grote, Gordon “admitted that he misses playing on the outside” but he’s “fully embracing the nickel position.”
The nickel cornerback is one of the most important positions in Matt Eberflus’ defense, and Gordon now has a full season under his belt.
It's been a smooth transition from guard to center for Cody Whitehair
The Bears overhauled the offensive line this offseason, which included the additions of rookie Darnell Wright and Nate Davis. But they also shuffled returning veterans, including moving Cody Whitehair back to center.
Whitehair has played every position along interior of the offensive line since being drafted by the Bears in 2016. So making the switch from left guard to center this offseason has been a smooth transition for the eight-year veteran.
“I’ve kinda done this my whole career,” Whitehair said Wednesday at OTAs, via Patrick Finley. “… I’m used to it.”
Whitehair said he was informed earlier this offseason that they were moving him back to center. Whitehair appreciated the heads up as it allowed him time to work on the consistency of his snap.
“It’s kind of like riding a bike,” he said.
Khalil Herbert has been working to improve his blocking
Khalil Herbert is now the primary running back following the departure of David Montgomery in free agency. While Herbert was one of the most effective running backs last season, averaging a league-high 5.7 yards per carry, he needs to improve in the passing game and pass protection.
#Bears RB Khalil Herbert says he's been training in the offseason to specifically improve his blocking.
— Mark Grote (@markgrotesports) May 31, 2023
Herbert said he’s been training this offseason to improve his blocking. In fact, he took up boxing to help him in pass protection. Per Alex Shapiro, Herbert “tried to use boxing to help time his punches better when engaging blockers.”
According to NBC Sports Chicago’s Josh Schrock, there were four players who weren’t present during Wednesday’s practice: safety Eddie Jackson, wide receiver Darnell Mooney, cornerback Jaylon Johnson and guard Nate Davis. All four players weren’t present during last week’s open practice.
While Jackson hasn’t been spotted on the practice field, he’s been rehabbing at Halas Hall, per NBC Sports Chicago’s Alex Shapiro. Mooney has also been rehabbing.
Chase Claypool battling soft tissue injury
Receiver Chase Claypool was among a group of players who were in attendance at Wednesday’s practice but didn’t participate. While Matt Eberflus isn’t required to disclose injuries during the offseason, he indicated Claypool is battling a soft tissue injury.
“Sometimes you get some soft tissue stuff and there’s no reason to risk it at this point,” Eberflus said.
Jaylon Johnson staying involved while skipping OTAs
Cornerback Jaylon Johnson’s absence at OTAs has been one of the bigger headlines in an otherwise quiet offseason. Considering they’re voluntary practices, it’s not cause for concern.
In fact, defensive passing game coordinator Jon Hoke indicated Johnson is staying involved despite not being in attendance. Hoke told Adam Hoge that Johnson has participated in meetings via Zoom and watches film from practice. He also texts questions on a regular basis to Hoke.
Per #Bears defensive passing game coordinator Jon Hoke, Jaylon Johnson has been involved in meetings via Zoom and watches practice film. Johnson texts "almost every other day" with questions.
"I think he'll be here sooner than later," Hoke said.
— Adam Hoge (@AdamHoge) May 31, 2023
As for whether Johnson will be in attendance at mandatory minicamp on June 13, that remains to be seen. But Hoke sounded optimistic.
“I think he’ll be here sooner than later,” he said.
Matt Eberflus not ruling out a veteran edge rusher addition
After Khalil Mack suffered an injury in 2021, Gipson was thrust into the starting lineup alongside Robert Quinn. Gipson racked up a career-high 7.0 sacks, five forced fumbles and a fumble recovery that year. But his production declined significantly in 2022, without a star pass rusher opposite him. Last season, Gipson managed just 3.0 sacks in what was the league’s worst pass rush.
“Just keep competing,” Eberflus said about what he wants to see from Gipson this season. “We brought some guys in. We might bring some other guys in.”
Asked about interest in free agent edge rushers who are available. Eberflus said the Bears "are interested in a lot of guys at a lot of positions." https://t.co/NhOgtl6ECp
— Josh Schrock (@Schrock_And_Awe) May 31, 2023
Eberflus was asked about whether the team is interested in some free agent options, he said the Bears “are interested in a lot of guys at a lot of positions.”
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