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Bears minicamp observations: Caleb Williams' up-and-down day includes key learning moment

Bears minicamp observations: Caleb Williams' up-and-down day includes key learning moment originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Caleb Williams saw the blitz coming as soon as he arrived at the line of scrimmage and knew how he'd combat it. The ball hit his hands, and Williams quickly turned and flung a side-arm pass to fellow rookie Rome Odunze for a quick blitz-beating play.

It was a moment that showcased the Bears rookie quarterback's arm talent, intelligence, and early progress during the offseason program.

Tuesday's opening day of mandatory minicamp at Halas Hall was a mixed bag for Williams and the offense.

Williams opened up strong with multiple connections to DJ Moore and Keenan Allen during the first 11-on-11 period. He went 5-for-5 in the opening period, which included a screen to Moore and a creative completion to Gerald Everett, on which Williams navigated a dirty pocket and delivered a jump pass to the tight end.

The 7-on-7 period featured a few impressive throws from Williams to Moore and Odunze, including an anticipatory dot to Moore on a deep comeback against Tyrique Stevenson.

However, the period also featured a big blemish from Williams.

The quarterback dropped back, went through his progressions, and tried to hit tight end Tommy Sweeny deep over the middle. The ball was late, sailed on Williams, and was picked off by safety Kevin Byard. Williams appeared to have both Odunze and Allen open elsewhere in the progression.

"Those are the experiences that he has to go through," head coach Matt Eberflus said of the interception. "He has to go through his progressions, which he did. He was right on his progressions. Then he took a hitch, and the ball should have came out, and he took two hitches, and it was late over the middle. That’s always dangerous when you do that.

"But that’s the learning experience in the process that a young quarterback has to go through, you know. You know, whenever his feet are timed up, when can he make those throws, and when can’t he make those throws? That’s just experimentation. We’re just doing a really good job of getting experience. Get him exposure. Let him experiment with his arm talent and the receivers that he has. Eventually, player development happens and the evolution of a quarterback happens."

The Byard interception was a turning point for the defense Tuesday as the full-strength unit finished the day by putting the proverbial clamps on the offense.

During the ensuing 11-on-11 period, Williams completed just two passes -- a checkdown to fullback Khari Blasingame and a screen to Odunze. The period also included a drop by Odunze, a sack, and a false start.

The defense's dominance reached a crescendo during the closing two-minute drill.

The offense was given the ball with 1:40 left on their own 20-yard line.

On first and 10, Williams dropped back and was immediately flushed and forced to throw the ball away.

Defensive end DeMarcus Walker and offensive linemen Braxton Jones and Teven Jenkins got into a shoving match after the play.

Gervon Dexter batted down Williams' second-down pass at the line of scrimmage. The ball floated in the air before Williams ran over to bat it down. Williams hit Everett for minimal gain on third down, which ended the drill and led to Walker yelling, "Ass whooping!' as the defense came off the field.

Williams and the first-team offense's second and final attempt at a two-minute drill didn't go much better.

Williams targeted Odunze on first down, but cornerback Tyrique Stevenson had the receiver blanketed and batted the ball down. Williams hit Nsimba Webster for a gain of 8 yards on second down, but his third-down pass to Khalil Herbert fell incomplete, ending the drive.

Here are other notes from Day 1 of mandatory minicamp:

-- The first-team offense had several false starts and a delay of game Tuesday. That's a product of a rookie quarterback still working to refine his cadence. That's a process that several Bears veterans have noted will take some time, but Eberflus would like the pre-snap issues cleaned up before the summer break.

-- The Bears had perfect attendance on the first day of the minicamp.

Defensive end Montez Sweat, who was not present for the voluntary OTAs, did individual work but did not participate in team drills. Eberflus said the Bears will ramp Sweat up and hope to get him some team work over the next two days.

-- Right guard Nate Davis was present but did not participate in team drills.

-- Dante Pettis, Collin Johnson, and rookie Kiran Amegadjie were present but did not participate.

-- Allen participated in the opening 11-on-11 periods and the 7-on-7 work but did not participate in the two-minute drill.

-- Tuesday was Allen's first work against the Bears' defense, and he got the full experience.

"They look like a top 5 defense," Allen said Tuesday when asked about the vocal defense. "They sound like a top 5 defense, too. Defenses are annoying, especially at practice. You just hear them every time they make a play. It's hooray celebration. These guys are running up and down the sideline. So it's annoying.

"Offense we get a first down. One guy just trots around. He comes back to the huddle. Everybody is like, 'OK, what's the next play?' You don't really see too much: "YEAHHHHHH!" You don't really get all that just because somebody did a rip-through and got back to the quarterback. So it is what it is. Their energy, the way they communicate, the way they get lined up,  definitely high-class."

-- Allen is in the final year of his contract. He is open to potentially signing an extension with the Bears but will use the 2024 season as a prove-it period for his next deal.

"I’m going to play as long as I can," Allen said. "As far as an extension, I’m going to let the play speak for itself, and if they offer me something that I like, we’ll go from there."

"That’s the goal right now is to go out and do what I always do and just try to remain who I am," Allen said. "And the market just got reset."

-- Undrafted rookie running back Ian Wheeler showed off his pass-catching ability and speed during second-team work in the two-minute drill.

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