What actually happens at Bears rookie minicamp? On-field practice just a piece of the puzzle

What actually happens at Bears rookie minicamp? On-field practice just a piece of the puzzle originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

The Bears rookie class, a handful of players trying out to make the team, and even a few veteran players are about to get together at Halas Hall for the first minicamp of the year. It’s the first professional, organized activity for most of the guys. It’s also a major evaluation point for coaches to consider.

The highlights of Caleb Williams completing passes to Rome Odunze will get the most play on social media and YouTube, but that’s just a small piece of the two-day minicamp. In fact, when the minicamp begins on Friday many of the valuable moments will happen off the practice field entirely.

One way to think of rookie minicamp is like a freshman orientation for the new crop of Bears players. There will be lots of time in the classroom where the players will be exposed to new concepts. Lots of new concepts. The players will also start learning the Bears’ vocabulary. Many ideas are similar from team to team, but the verbiage is not. It’s important that every player and coach uses the same words so that everyone’s on the same page, otherwise mistakes can happen on the field.

“They're learning a new language,” said head coach Matt Eberflus at last year’s rookie minicamp. “So, it's important that what we call protections, what we call schemes on defense, it's gonna be a big part of what we do and it gives them a foundation.”

Then the players will take what they’ve learned in the classroom and start applying it on the field. All of that work on the practice field will be filmed and evaluated so that guys can see what they got right, and what needs to be corrected. The field work also gives coaches an opportunity to evaluate how much information each player can absorb and retain.

For players like Williams and Odunze it’s an opportunity to start building chemistry. There’s no replacement for on-field reps when two players are developing a rapport, and the plan is for Williams and Odunze to play together for many years. There’s no doubt that each of them will be in the Bears' plans this year and beyond, but many players at rookie minicamp have no idea how long their professional careers will last– or if they’ll have a professional career at all.

It’s hard for undrafted free agents to make an NFL roster. When cuts start coming later this summer, they're often the first ones to go. It’s even harder for players participating on a tryout basis, since they need to impress the team enough to earn a contract. For several guys, the goal will be to simply stick around as long as possible. If they can land on the practice squad and continue developing, it's a great consolation prize. For those players, the weekend is an opportunity to make a strong first impression. If they show the ability to learn a lot, absorb the information, and make mistakes quickly they can make a case for a longer look throughout the summer.

This is also the first time that players will be exposed to the rigors of playing for an NFL team. It’s one thing for a player to hear about the standards he’ll be held to as a professional football player. It’s another thing entirely to go through it for real for the first time. That can be an important teaching moment as players learn what to expect and what’s required to meet that challenge.

The Bears will not win any games in 2024 because of some play they installed over rookie minicamp, or because of any particular drills that they run. But as the team gears up for its summer program, these two days will set an important foundation for the team’s newest players.

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