Bears' rookies answer questions but more remain after minicamp

Bears' rookies answer questions but more remain after minicamp originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

Rookie minicamp had a different feel for the Bears in Year 2 of the Ryan Poles-Matt Eberflus regime.

Last year, the Bears' draft had two second-round picks in Kyler Gordon and Jaquan Brisker, no first-round selection, and several Day 3 dart throws. As a result, rookie minicamp was filled with countless undrafted free agents and minicamp tryout guys, many of whom were viable options for the Week 1 roster. Wide receiver Kevin Shaa made one memorable catch that had half the beat (present company included), thinking he'd make the 53-man roster. He did not, but the point stands.

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It was a sign of where the 2022 Bears' roster was in Year 0 of a full-scale teardown.

The 2023 edition, which took place over two days at Halas Hall this past weekend, was much more conventional.

There was No. 10 overall pick Darnell Wright and the Day 2 defensive tackles Zacch Pickens and Gervon Dexter sucking up most of the attention. There were undrafted free agents and minicamp tryout participants, but the first full draft class of the Poles era garnered almost all of the attention. Much is expected of the top-six picks in the class.

There's a chance one or two undrafted guys make the roster, but it's more of a long shot this year than last.


The Bears plan for the 2023 season to be the first of a long climb toward the top, with the 2023 class serving as the foundation along with quarterback Justin Fields, Brisker, Gordon, cornerback Jaylon Johnson, wide receivers Darnell Mooney and DJ Moore, tight end Cole Kmet, and linebackers Tremaine Edmunds and T.J. Edwards.

The 2023 draft class arrived at Halas Hall with questions surrounding it. The two-day minicamp answered some of those questions but also gave us more to ponder as we turned the page to OTAs.

Darnell Wright's readiness

The Bears drafted Darnell Wright because they viewed him as the best offensive tackle in the class who also has the highest ceiling.


Wright is expected to be the Day 1 starter at right tackle, with Braxton Jones manning Fields' blindside. Rookie tackles often struggle initially, but the Bears feel Wright is ahead of schedule in terms of technique.

"He knows what he’s doing," offensive line coach Chris Morgan said. "The game is kind of slow for him. That’s one of the things we really liked about him. Some guys, when the ball is snapped, they just play. Things look slow for him. He puts his hands where he wants to put them. He’s very controlled in his sets. He’s got good tempo. He does some really nice things.”

The Bears want Wright to spend the next six weeks of the offseason program learning their verbiage, becoming adept at digesting multiple calls in a huddle, and developing the ability to retain the information and recall it when things are set at the line.

Wright played in a no-huddle attack at Tennessee, where the play was often just a check at the line. The play calls are much longer and more complex in an NFL huddle. As long as Wright downloads the playbook and understands how the Bears want to fit their blocks in the play-pass, naked, and dropback game, he should be ready to roll come Week 1.


Question: Answered.

So, what's the deal with the DTs?

Poles used two of his three Day 2 picks on defensive tackles Gervon Dexter Sr. and Zacch Pickens. Dexter and Pickens are high RAS (Relative Athletic Score) prospects who lacked consistent production at the college level.

The Bears' defensive line was terrible on all levels in 2022. The need for a disruptive three-technique was atop the offseason wishlist, but that help never came in free agency, and the Bears opted to pass on Jalen Carter.

Poles said the plan was to add Pickens and Dexter to the interior defensive line rotation, with both prospects getting time at the three-tech and nose tackle spots.


Our first glimpse of the two prospects showed that Pickens' explosive get-off is perfect for the upfield disruption the Bears want out of their three-technique. On Day 1 of minicamp, Pickens took most of his reps at the three while Dexter mainly manned the one-tech spot.

Dexter is the perfect physical prospect at 6-foot-6, 313 pounds. But his get-off leaves much to be desired, and the Bears have already started re-working his stance and hands.

"If you look at yesterday's practice, he was kind of in that stance that he has been used to that he has played for three years at Florida," defensive line coach Travis Smith said after Day 2. "We made a couple little tweaks today. We're just kind of getting used to some of -- we talk about building a man from the ground up. Some of the things we started with our group was just how do we get in the stance? Where is our weight distributed? What's our first step doing? Where are our eyes at?

"It's not something that's going to come like that because he has been playing in a different system for three years. But it's something that he understood and he felt, which is if you can understand and feel it and know the difference, then we are already making improvement steps."


Dexter told the media that he was asked to play in a two-gapping, read-and-react role in Florida's defense last season, which is why his get-off appears slow. He admitted his get-off has to improve, but he thinks the Bears' scheme will allow him to be faster off the ball than he was in college.

The Bears are going to rebuild Dexter from the ground up. His potential is high, but there's a lot of work to be done. At this very early stage, it looks like Pickens will slot into the three-tech rotation with veteran Justin Jones while Dexter might be more of a run-stopping nose in Year 1.

However, there's a lot of time for the defensive tackle question to be answered.

The case for Tyrique Stevenson

The Bears traded up on Day 2 of the draft to select Miami cornerback Tyrique Stevenson in the second round.


Stevenson is a long, physical press-man corner who the Bears hope can win the starting outside corner spot opposite Jaylon Johnson.

It was only two practices, but Stevenson was the star (non-Wright category) of minicamp.

"He's done good," cornerbacks coach Jon Hoke said. "He's done a good job of learning the defense, it's been quick for him. He's done a good job of trying to understand the concepts we teach. We kind of knew his skill set and he's proven to have that, really excited about that. His length is big, he showed it today when he was in a position to do some things. Really, really excited about him. really excited about how in two days he's kind of figured out some of the concepts we try to teach and understand those and then just the new techniques we are trying to do."

Stevenson went up against Scott several times on Day 1 of minicamp and did an impressive job of using his physicality to swallow up the former Junior Olympian.


“Definitely did good," Stevenson said of facing Scott. "I know he’s quick and I know he’s fast. Me being able to get my hands on him a couple of times kind of threw him off. I’m a little bit bigger than him so I don’t he definitely don’t want me to touch him. But he definitely did good with his releases off the line. He gave me some work today and I gave him some work today.”

Another interesting note about Stevenson. While he has experience outside and in the nickel, Hoke said he would only work Stevenson on the outside. This comes one offseason after the Bears had to ask Gordon to learn both due to the state of their cornerback room.

It's more evidence that the Bears' roster has taken a step forward after cratering last season.

Stevenson will enter OTAs in a competition with Kindle Vildor and Jaylon Jones for the No. 2 cornerback spot. After a great first impression, I'd say Stevenson has a very early leg up in the competition.

RELATED: The plan to rebuild Gervon Dexter

Unclear RB vision

Khalil Herbert will enter OTAs as the No. 1 back on the Bears' depth chart. But the pecking order is unsettled with free-agent acquisition D'Onta Foreman and fourth-round pick Roschon Johnson firmly in the competition to take the lion's share of the carries.

"I would say the vision isn’t necessarily set yet," offensive coordinator Luke Getsy said. "But I think it’s a really cool and unique opportunity for a lot of guys who have a lot of experience. I think the competition in that room is going to be real. So we’re going to get to see the best come out of each one of those guys. And it’s super important for that position to have multiple guys who can do it, right? I mean, there’s not … I don’t know if there’s any team that can rely on one guy anymore with the pounding and the length of the season and all that stuff."

Just about everyone is a fan of Johnson. The Texas product bemoaned the unphysical nature of non-padded practices and noted his desire to punish defenders once the pads come on. He has been a quick study in the meeting room and has already started to establish himself as a culture-setter.

"You always know when you draft somebody, like when Ryan [Poles] picks him, and you get like seven text messages from special teams coaches from around the league, you know what, we made a great selection, and everybody was like, 'Dang!'" special teams coach Richard Hightower said of Johnson. "Just in terms of his attention to detail, we had pop quizzes this morning. He stood up in the room and got all of his answers 100 percent correct. So it shows me from a football standpoint that he's dialed in.

"And then when you see this guy play football, he is as violent as they come. He can almost be a linebacker. The way he covers some kicks are outstanding. I think he can help us in that area for sure. And he's a good running back as well."

The Bears enter OTAs with a crowded running back room. That's a good problem to have for a run-heavy attack. Herbert's one-cut-and-go explosion will mix well with Johnson's physicality. Keep an eye on Foreman, though. He's a physical runner with breakaway potential who is coming off the best season of his career in Carolina.

He may win the job come September.

UDFA standouts

Last season, linebacker Jack Sanborn, cornerback Jaylon Jones, and tight ends Chase Allen and Jake Tonges all made the roster after signing with the Bears as undrafted free agents in May.

The roster will be a little tougher to crack this time around, but a few UDFAs had a solid showing at rookie minicamp.

Delaware wide receiver Thyrick Pitts looked smooth in and out of his routes and made a few nice grabs. Defensive lineman Jalen Harris had a couple of nice moments as well.

Rookie tryouts Bralen Trahan, Josh Lugg, and D'Anthony Jones did enough to earn UDFA deals heading into OTAs.

Kicker Andre Szmyt looked solid, including nailing a 50-yarder with a lot of room to spare.

Quarterback Tyson Bagent had a rough showing, but part of that was attributed to the change in footwork. Quarterbacks coach Andrew Janocko said Bagent could have come out and completed a bunch of passes but instead elected to learn the footwork required for the Bears' scheme. The unfamiliarity led to some inaccuracies.

"It’s easy to come out here say, ‘OK, first day I’m just going to go out and revert back to what I’ve had success with and get a couple completions in a camp like this,'" Janocko said. "But if you’re looking to make a team, you’re looking to strive and a complete buy in and that was fun to see because yesterday there were some throws he missed and a lot of that was just trusting that we’re going to make those throws and then I think those throws that he missed yesterday, I think he made every one today."

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