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Caleb Williams, 2024 Bears have critical questions to answer during OTAs, minicamp

Caleb Williams and the Bears have an important month ahead of them

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Phase One of the Bears' offseason program started on April 15, with veteran players being allowed to come into the facility for meetings, strength and conditioning, and rehab but no on-field work.

Phase Two of the Bears' offseason program will begin May 20 with the first OTA (Organized Team Activities) session.

However, the Bears' 2024 rookie class, including quarterback Caleb Williams, will get their offseason underway 10 days earlier when rookie minicamp takes place at Halas Hall on May 10 and 11.

With rookie minicamp this week and OTAs and mandatory veteran minicamp right around the corner, here's a quick primer on the storylines and questions the Bears need to start answering before they break for summer.

Caleb's learning curve

Williams will take the field at Halas Hall for the first time as the Bears' franchise quarterback this weekend during rookie minicamp. It'll be an opportunity for Williams to continue building a connection with rookie wide receiver Rome Odunze, but it will mainly serve as a soft launch into his offseason program.

The OTA sessions and mandatory minicamp will be vital for the No. 1 overall pick as he preps for a much-anticipated rookie season.

Following the 2024 NFL Draft, head coach Matt Eberflus laid out simple expectations for Williams during the offseason program. The Bears want to see Williams continue to develop chemistry with his top targets, but they also want the 22-year-old to become adept at digesting and relaying play calls in the helmet, something he did not have to do in college.

"It’s really just the operation, right?" Eberflus said when asked what Williams will be working on to start his career. "He’s gonna have to operate the offense. He’s gonna have to spit the calls. He’s gonna have to be clean with his cadence and just operate in the offense. If it’s in the huddle, from the no-huddle and all the situations, he’s gonna have to play point guard. That’s what he does. Distribute the ball."

Williams has already started working with DJ Moore, Keenan Allen, and Odunze during private throwing sessions in LA. OTAs and minicamp will help the chemistry grow and give us a good initial sense of where everything stands at the early stage of Williams' development.

Offensive line configuration

You can't learn much about the lines of scrimmage during OTAs and minicamp, but it will give a glimpse into the early pecking order on the depth chart.

Two years ago, Braxton Jones went from backup to starting left tackle in the middle of OTAs and never relinquished the role.

The Bears will enter Phase 2 of the offseason program with four starting spots locked up in Jones, left guard Tevin Jenkins, right guard Nate Davis, and right tackle Darnell Wright.

Center remains a moderate unknown as OTAs begin.

The Bears traded for center/guard Ryan Bates this offseason and signed center Coleman Shelton in free agency.

General manager Ryan Poles attempted to sign Bates two offseasons ago, but the Bills matched the offer sheet, and Bates returned to Buffalo. With Bates now finally in Chicago, the Bears plan for him to open the offseason program as the first-team center, but Shelton will have a chance to compete for the job.

After a year in which Lucas Patrick was statistically one of the worst starting centers in the NFL, the Bears made sure to solidify the middle of their offensive line in front of a rookie quarterback.

"Very important for a young quarterback to have that center experience," Eberflus said of Bates at the annual NFL league meetings in Match. "To be able to call and make adjustments to the protections, to help and assist that way. We thought it was critical to get that piece, and Ryan (Bates) fits that bill, and we’re excited to have him. He’s been a pro a long time, and he’s moved along the line inside there at guard and center, so it’s good to have the position flex(ibility) as well. But yeah, that’s a critical piece, for sure."

The Bates-Shelton dynamic will be something to watch during the next month, as will the early development of third-round pick Kiran Amegadjie. The Bears don't expect the Yale product to compete for a starting job in Year 1, but they hope he can provide valuable depth this season. OTAs and minicamp will give us a glimpse into where he's at and how he slots into the offensive line depth behind the starting five.

RB2 battle

After going with a true running back by committee approach last season, the Bears went out and spent top dollar to sign free agent D'Andre Swift to spearhead the ground game in 2024.

The addition of Swift leaves Khalil Herbert and second-year back Roschon Johnson jockeying for snaps as RB2.

The Bears still have high hopes for Johnson, but the Texas product needs to show more as a pass-catcher and pass-protector to earn significant play behind Swift.

Herbert remains a good change-of-pace back, but his pass protection was an issue in 2023. If he can't hang in there and protect Williams when called on, he won't see the field much.

Where do young WRs stand?

The Bears spent important draft capital on Velus Jones Jr. (2022 third round) and Tyler Scott (2023 fourth round), hoping that one or both speedsters would develop into a critical weapon for the passing game.

That has yet to materialize.

Jones struggled in 2022 and didn't improve much in 2023. Crucial errors on offense and special teams have piled up over the past two years, and he will likely enter training camp firmly on the roster cut bubble.

As for Scott, he showed glimpses of promise during his 2023 rookie season but not enough to keep the Bears from trading for Allen and drafting Odunze with the No. 9 overall pick. That leaves Scott as the fourth wide receiver on the depth chart entering the offseason program.

Scott's speed can still be a weapon for the Bears offense, and things should open up more for him this season, with Moore, Allen, and Odunze garnering most of the attention. Scott's route-running has to improve, but the Bears still believe Scott will be a valuable piece to the offense in a limited role.

The next month will show us how much both have improved during the offseason and if Dante Pettis and other veterans will be able to push them for a spot behind the Bears' Big Three.

DL depth?

Once again, there's not much to learn about the trenches during this time period.

However, the next month will at least show us how the defensive line rotation looks behind expected starters Montez Sweat, Andrew Billings, Gervon Dexter, and DeMarcus Walker.

Will Zacch Pickens be a backup nose tackle or three-technique? Where does fifth-round pick Austin Booker slot in? Will any of the veteran depth pieces -- Byron Cowart, Jacob Martin, Dominque Robinson, Khalid Kareem -- make a positive impression?

Or will it be more evidence that Poles needs to add one more veteran depth piece (Yannick Ngakoue?) during the summer?

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