Caleb Williams

Bears OTA observations: Caleb Williams, offense struggle against ‘salty' defense

The Bears' defense gave Caleb Williams some early NFL lessons at OTAs

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LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Bears veteran safety Kevin Byard said rookie quarterback Caleb Williams took it to the defense during the first day of Organized Team Activities (OTAs) at Halas Hall earlier this week.

That wasn't the case Thursday during the first media viewing session.

Williams and the Bears' offense struggled in both 7-on-7 work and an 11-on-11 red zone period, during which the rookie quarterback completed just four passes while being "sacked" five times.

The Bears' offense was without rookie wide receiver Rome Odunze (hamstring), as well as wide receiver Keenan Allen, right guard Nate Davis, and right tackle Darnell Wright, who were not present.

Williams had multiple completions to running back D'Andre Swift during the 11-on-11 period. He also linked up with tight end Gerald Everett once.

But Williams held onto the ball too long and had numerous passes broken up by a secondary that blanketed DJ Moore, Cole Kmet, Everett, Tyler Scott, and Dante Pettis.

The Bears' defense, which is always vocal, let the offense know they had their number today.

"We had a really good practice outside today. The guys were really flying around, really salty," defensive coordinator Eric Washington said after practice.

"I mean, we had a good day," Byard said. "I’m not going to sit here and lie about that. But to be honest, it’s to be expected. You have a returning top-15, top-10 defense, obviously going against a younger rookie quarterback who’s getting acclimated and learning things, that’s what it is supposed to look like."

As the incompletions and "sacks" racked up, the frustration mounted for Williams and the Bears' offense.

Wide receiver DJ Moore knows there will be "growing pains" with a rookie quarterback. Patience will be essential as they all work to learn a new offense and get Williams up to speed.

"It’s frustrating but we also know that we’re learning a new system," Moore said. "They’ve been in that system for what, like three years right now? And then they don’t make it no better that they’re out there having fun with it and we’re just frustrated because we’re not accomplishing what we want to. But on the flip side, we know that we’re still learning and coming together as an offense."

Moore makes sure to relay that need for patience to Williams, who is already showing "progress" in learning and operating the Bears' offense.

"You’ve got to because our defense can get pretty rowdy, as you all know out there," Moore said. "Just calming everybody down in the huddle and just refocusing is the best thing."

Williams linked up with Moore on a tight-window completion against Tyrique Stevenson in 7-on-7 work. But he was also almost picked off by Jaylon Johnson. The cornerback made a nice break on an in-breaking route and dropped a pick, leading to some sideline push-ups and sit-ups.

Williams did make a nice throw on a deep pass to tight end Stephen Carlson, but it was broken up by the combination of Byard and linebacker T.J. Edwards.

Early struggles should be expected for a rookie quarterback who is learning a new system and facing a defense that was one of the best in the NFL during the back half of last season. Shake days in May aren’t reason to panic. Days like Thursday should make Williams better in the long run.

The Bears it’s about finding the best way to help Williams progress consistently throughout the offseason so he’s ready to take off when the season begins.

Here are more notes from Thursday's OTA session:

-- Allen, Davis, Wright, Montez Sweat, Velus Jones Jr., and Jaylon Jones were absent.

Head coach Matt Eberflus said the Bears have had close to perfect attendance this offseason and that the players who weren't present Thursday have been in the building during the offseason.

-- Washington said Sweat has been in communication with himself and the staff during the offseason when he isn't in the building.

"I've been in contact with him, and he's been an active participant," Washington said. "I talked to him right before I went to Nashville, and we had a chance to visit, to debrief, and to just talk about where we are in the offseason. So he's stayed connected to the offseason. I'll be excited as he continues to take advantage of this offseason."

-- Odunze tweaked his hamstring at rookie minicamp and is still working his way back. The Bears believe he will be able to "ramp up" next week at OTAs. Odunze did some light walk-through work Thursday.

-- Allen was absent due to his wife and daughter's birthdays.

-- The Bears' defense will rely on second-year defensive tackle Gervon Dexter to take a leap this season. Eberflus and his staff noticed a difference when Dexter returned to Halas Hall.

"I noticed the body composition first. It was really good. He changed his body in the time he was off, so he’s much leaner now and he’s quicker," Eberflus said of Dexter. "He really looks good in terms of his get-off. That was one thing he had to work on and then pad level, because he’s such a big guy, tall guy. And he’s worked on those things. But his movement, his athletic ability is even better now because he really worked on his body.” 

-- While Moore knows there will be growing pains with Williams, he has been impressed with how the rookie is handling everything thrown at him during his NFL introduction.

"You can see that the natural leadership is there, the natural arm talent is there," Moore said. "Everything about him, it’s just always a positive thing. Even when he has a bad play, he’s looking to learn real fast right after. That’s all you can ask of him, for him to quickly forget but also learn at the same time."

-- The second-string offense had one highlight Thursday when Tyson Bagent hit undrafted rookie John Jackson III for a touchdown in red zone work.

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