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Bears OTA observations: Caleb Williams embracing every part of being franchise QB, leader

The first two months of the Caleb Williams era offered a glimpse at the Bears' new reality

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LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Caleb Williams has embraced every part of being the Bears' franchise quarterback. The No. 1 overall pick understands the pressure and expectations on his shoulders, but he welcomes everything that comes with the mantle of franchise savior.

"Being the Bears' quarterback is good for me," Williams said after the Bears wrapped up mandatory minicamp last week at Halas Hall.

Williams has spent time this offseason immersing himself in the Chicago community. He has attended Cubs, White Sox, and Sky games. A video of him partaking in "Green Bay Sucks" chants at Old Crow in Wrigleyville went viral.

"They’re great," Williams said of Chicago fans. "They’re always showing up, whether it’s the Sky, Sox, obviously Bears, Cubs, and things like that at Wrigley Field. They’re showing up, showing out and they put on a show every single time."

Embracing every part of the mantle of Bears' franchise quarterback is not something all of Williams' predecessors have done.

Williams has spent the first two months of his tenure as Bears quarterback downloading the playbook, experimenting with his arm talent, and building the connective tissue between him and his teammates.

When Williams arrived at Halas Hall, he said he would wait to develop his leadership style. The rookie quarterback planned to keep his ears "open" and mouth "closed" for the time being.

But it didn't take long for Williams to start to put his imprint on the Bears' franchise and take on the leadership persona required of a franchise signal-caller.

"He’s a leader, pure and simple," rookie wide receiver Rome Odunze said of Williams. "He leads through example. He leads vocally as well. To be around him as rookie to rookie, we’re both learning the process of this thing and both learning to be in this environment and this new setting, which is unique to both of us. But for him to be able to step in there with the veterans as well, command those guys, and be a leader for the whole team, in general, is impressive to me, and it's something that he’s been doing consistently.

"So we follow him and we go with him on whatever he wants to accomplish that day. Each and every day it’s excellence and determination, so it’s been an honor."

Williams isn't the only rookie who has opened eyes this spring.

Odunze has received rave reviews from head coach Matt Eberflus, offensive coordinator Shane Waldron, and several Bears veterans.

With Keenan Allen and DJ Moore on the roster, it would be fair to temper expectations for Odunze in Year 1.

The Bears won't do that.

“I don’t think we’re going too slow because we’re giving him a lot," Eberflus said of Odunze. "He’s playing multiple positions, and I really think that he’s going to be able to handle those concepts. We all know the benefit of being with the two veterans – seeing those guys, understanding how they operate during the course of a week, that’s going to be really good. They’re going to help him through training camp because there’s wisdom there with years of experience.

"I really believe that he’s going to have the ability to take off, because of the other players."

Williams and Odunze started developing a quick connection with each other even before they were officially teammates.

Odunze is armed with the same wiring to chase greatness as Williams, which should serve the rookie quarterback well as he begins what he hopes will be a march toward immortality.

"One hundred percent," Odunze said when asked if he has records in mind for both his rookie season and career. "I think that’s important for every player to set those goals and strive for the highest of the high. It’s unique in my situation because I went to school with Puka Nacua because I was following him and got to see what he did. So, absolutely, I’m chasing that. I think he’s around [1.500 yards], right? For that rookie season record. I’m absolutely chasing that. I think Brandon Marshall has the single-season record here.

"Chasing those records and I think that’s important because, and I said this at Washington, I’ll hopefully leave the Bears organization better than I found it and if I have my name on some of those records I feel like that’s just one facet of doing so."

Williams likewise doesn't believe expectations should be tempered for Odunze in Year 1. Williams doesn't plan to hide from the hype or expectations, and he knows Odunze doesn't either.

"The guy wants to play. As a competitor, as a player, being in this position, his position, you have great guys around you, you have all these things around you, tools, great coaches and great facilities, all these other things. Why would you want to necessarily wait?" Williams said of Odunze. "And things like that. You can grow throughout. You can learn from other people’s mistakes. I believe that’s been his mindset: ' I’m going to be able to play. I’m going to be on the field. But I’m also going to take in and soak in all I can from the guys like Keenan that’s been doing it for 12-13 years. That old guy.’

"His pace is smooth. Trying to learn everything is being smooth, just like Rome is. But he also understands that the time is now. And you gotta keep working, you gotta keep growing through all the growing pains, the bad days, the good days. I think that’s his mindset."

Here are more notes as the Bears' offseason program wrapped:

-- Bears rookie punter Tory Taylor continues to wow early in his career. The Iowa product has shown power and precision during punting drills, and his wide array of punts have Eberflus and special teams coordinator Richard Hightower thinking of the possibilities.

"That's cool," Eberflus said of Taylor's variety of punts. "He's like a trick shot guy. It's like wow the spin he could put on it. The one he almost had, he had a couple on the one of course, but the spin he could put on it. Really amazing. So, it's fun to watch."

Taylor arrives in Chicago after a storied career with the Hawkeyes. The talent is evident, but both Taylor and the Bears are working to perfect a lethal skill set.

"He was a great college punter," special teams coordinator Richard Hightower said. "The league is obviously different, but his skill set transfers. I’m looking for growth in open-field punting. I’m looking for growth in his catch-to-kick. Holding the ball. His different drops that he uses. Without me getting too nerdy up here on it, but just plus-50 punting, everything. I’m looking for growth in all of those areas.

"The first time we went out and we did plus-50 punting, I don’t know if you were all here or not, but he was 9-for-10 on a winning percentage of what we wanted. To him, that wasn’t good enough. When he came off, he was pissed because he wanted to be 10-for-10, and that’s what I want."

-- The Bears will arrive at training camp with a pretty good idea of what their starting offensive line should look like. However, the Bears do have a question mark at right guard. Starting right guard Nate Davis didn't participate in most of the offseason program due to what appears to be a minor injury. Matt Pryor and Ryan Bates took reps with the first team line in Davis' absence.

Eberflus said he "expects" Davis to be the starter, but the picture at right guard is unclear for the 2024 Bears.

“Don’t know yet. I really don’t know," Eberflus said about the plan at right guard. "We’ll see. We’ll see how it goes. I’m just thinking through my head a bunch of multiple combinations. I really don’t know exactly. Sure, we had Bates there. He’s played there. [Coleman Shelton] has played at center, of course. Davis has played there. Tev has been on the other side. Pryor has been in and been out.

"The versatility there has certainly been helpful. [General manager Ryan Poles] did a really good job of having those pieces in there so we don’t like last year or prior years, you know, a guy goes down and we’re like, ‘Oh, what are we going to do?’ At least we have that flexibility at the O-line position.”

-- Left guard Teven Jenkins enters a contract season with no extension offer "on the table" from the Bears just yet.

Every player approaches a contract year differently. Last year, cornerback Jaylon Johnson bet on himself, and the Bears rewarded him with the contract he coveted.

Offensive line coach Chris Morgan isn't concerned about how the uncertain future will impact the fourth-year guard's mindset this fall.

"Like Teven knows what he’s playing for," Morgan said. "You know what I mean? But really all these guys do? And whatever stage they are, year into their deal or anything like that, they know where they’re at and what they’re playing for. He’s in a really good place right now. And he’s continuing to make strides, so I’m really excited about his upcoming year. Really excited."

-- Williams has had several learning moments during the offseason program. During mandatory minicamp, Williams attempted to throw the ball late and over the middle a number of times, leading to interceptions by safety Kevin Byard and linebacker Tremaine Edmunds.

The Bears are OK with Williams making those mistakes. Some teams will put training wheels on their rookie quarterback during the early stages, but the Bears believe in Williams' talent and his ability to quickly learn from his mistakes.

"The goal is perfection in everything we're striving to do, but we know that there’s, you know that’s nearly impossible in this game," offensive coordinator Shane Waldron said. "I think to live or play with that fear of making a mistake is the wrong way for us to look at it and so, I love in 7-on-7, which we know there’s no defensive line, there’s no threat of a run. There’s a lot of things that aren’t totally realistic to the actual game, but it’s a great chance for quarterback to see what windows they can fit throws into it. It’s a great chance to time things up with their feet. See different voids in a clean picture with the final goal of that being -- OK let’s bank these reps. What works what doesn’t work."

Eberflus and the Bears' staff could have given Williams a softer landing in mandatory minicamp by mixing in reps against the second-team defense at times. But they know that won't help Williams get where he needs to go. They need to challenge him immediately, and the Bears believe that challenge is what will get the best out of him.

"Again, we could do things differently where I say, ‘Hey, we’re going to have the ones go against the twos and the twos go against the ones,'" Eberflus said. "But I don’t like that. I don’t like it. I think that Caleb is a talent. A very good talent. His game will go to where it needs to be. I want him to see that in front of him, the windows closing, the variation of what we do on defense, and I want him to see that day in and day out so that when he gets to play somebody else it will look, ‘OK, I’ve been there done that.’ That’s how we’re going to keep it.”

-- Williams has been open about his desire to catch and pass legendary quarterback Tom Brady's mark of seven Super Bowl wins.

Brady met with Williams and several other top rookies earlier this spring, and loves the ambition the No. 1 overall pick has as he enters the NFL.

"Everyone is going to find different ways for motivation," Brady told Tom Pelissero and Mike Garafolo on NFL Network. "That's a way Caleb can find it. I found it just in the ways that were useful to me. There's a lot that goes into winning. You've got to set your goals high and I would never tell anyone they can't achieve anything. Because if anyone had told me that I couldn't achieve something, that would have been discouraging. I don't want people to discourage young athletes.

"I think people should always reach for the stars. Certainly young quarterbacks in the league, they've got a lot of opportunity. But their career is going to be made by what they choose to do and by the work they put in and the relationships they develop with their teammates and the organizations they impact. They should have high goals but at the same time, they are going to have to work hard to achieve them. I really look forward to seeing that process unfold. That's really where the hard parts comes in."

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