LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Before the Bears broke for the summer after mandatory minicamp, head coach Matt Eberflus said he gave rookie linebacker Noah Sewell a list of things to work on, and the hope was that the Oregon product would push Jack Sanborn for the starting SAM linebacker spot in training camp.
Sanborn missed all of the offseason program while rehabbing the ankle injury that ended his 2022 season. He arrived at training camp fully healthy but left the first padded practice with what looked to be an ankle issue. Sanborn missed the following four practices before returning in a limited capacity Tuesday.
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Sewell has taken all the first-team reps while Sanborn has been out. The fifth-round draft pick has shown steady improvement each day at camp. Sewell flies around like he's shot out of cannon and always appears to be around the ball.
"He’s doing well," head coach Matt Eberflus said Wednesday of Sewell. "He’s very strong, right? He’s very instinctive. He’s got good ball skills. And he’s very instinctive. I just like the way he knows where the ball is. He can key read fast, and I think it’s a good competition. We’re leaving it there, and I know that Jack hasn’t had a bunch of reps to be able to fully compete in there, and I’m excited about when he gets back to be able to compete at that spot, and we’ll see where it goes."
Sanborn practiced in full Wednesday but ran with the second-team defense while Sewell played with the ones.
Veteran linebacker T.J. Edwards has spent two weeks manning the second level alongside Sewell. Sewell's ability to quickly digest the playbook and put himself in position to make plays is rare for a rookie just 12 days into camp.
“Understanding the playbook is one thing when you’re doing it on paper," Edwards said Tuesday. "It’s a little bit easier. But once you get out there and the bullets are flying, that’s when it gets difficult, and the biggest thing you see with him is just trusting it — him having the confidence in what he’s doing to go out there and execute and make plays, man. He’s making a lot of plays right now."
The Bears wanted Sewell to push Sanborn to add competition to an improved linebacker room and raise the floor of that unit.
Sewell's elite athleticism, downhill attacking ability, and capability as a blitzer should give him an edge over Sanborn. The Wisconsin product is a high-IQ linebacker who understands the scheme, is always in the right spot, and is a sure tackler. He's an excellent depth linebacker who can fill in at the SAM or MIKE spot if needed.
Wednesday was the first time Sewell received first-team snaps with Sanborn healthy and practicing. It was also the first time that Eberflus acknowledged a full-on competition for the starting SAM spot.
Sewell has made impressive progress in short time, but he'll have to keep trending in the right direction to take the job from Sanborn.