LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Chase Claypool knows this is the biggest season of his NFL career. The fourth-year wide receiver wants to prove that Bears general manager Ryan Poles made the right decision in trading a high second-round pick for him. He wants to show that with a complete understanding of the offense and a genuine rapport with quarterback Justin Fields, he can be the big-time playmaker the Bears' offense needs to compliment star receiver DJ Moore.
Claypool knows that the contract extension he covets will find its way to him at season's end if he does that.
The Bears hoped Claypool would arrive at training camp fully healthy and show that he has the knowledge of the playbook and connection with Fields to be a reliable, big-body threat in the passing game this season.
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That version of Claypool has been present and accounted for during the first week of camp.
He got off to a slow start, but he has seen more targets from Fields over the last three practices and has been one of the early standout performers of an uneven camp for the offense.
"Chase has been doing his thing lately," Fields said Wednesday after a tough day for the offense. "I’m proud of him. He’s one of those guys on offense that he’s going to bring that energy pretty much every day. He’s an emotional player. He’s been doing good. Making contested catches. He’s such a big body where he’s a big presence out there. When he gets going on every route, it’s hard to stop him. Even in the running game, he’s crushing linebackers. It’s definitely great to have Chase."
Time on turf is the most crucial thing for Claypool this month. After missing most of the offseason program with minor soft-tissue injuries, the Notre Dame product needs to be on the field stacking reps with Fields. That's the only way that connection will continue to grow and be where the Bears need it come Week 1.
Fields and Claypool hooked up several times on intermediate routes during Monday's practice. Claypool ran clean routes, using his big frame to body cornerbacks Tyrique Stevenson, Terell Smith, and second-year nickelback Kyler Gordon. On Tuesday, Claypool beat Jaylon Johnson several times both in individual drills and the team period.
While the offense as a whole was terrible Wednesday, Fields still hooked up with Claypool for a massive gain in the first 11-on-11 period. Claypool ran a smooth drag route, caught the ball, and turned it upfield for a training camp "explosive." Then, in the two-minute drill, Claypool shook Jaylon Jones to get open and racked up yards after the catch to put the Bears' offense on the doorstep of the red zone.
There still is work to do, but the Bears are pleased with where the Claypool-Fields connection currently stands.
"It’s been good, especially from last year when he kind of got here a little late," wide receiver Darnell Mooney said Wednesday. "Not really knowing what's going on, the playbook is kind of hard, especially trying to fit it into a few weeks, but his confidence now within the playbook, it’s smooth. He knows where the right spots to be and Justin’s getting confidence with him as well. I think the first couple days he didn’t really have too many catches or whatever, and then like maybe yesterday or a couple days ago they were connecting a lot and Justin’s throwing the ball up to him, just trusting him. You can see that trust for sure."
According to offensive coordinator Luke Getsy, Claypool is now in the right spot a "majority" of the time, which has undoubtedly led to a boon in the rapport with Fields.
"It’s been pretty good. It’s just getting better," Getsy said of the Claypool-Fields connection. "I bet his targets have gotten more every practice, so there’s probably, obviously, some kind of comfortability that’s happening and it’s Chase being where he’s supposed to be when he’s supposed to be there as well, so that’s all comforting for the quarterback.”
The Bears revamped their passing attack this offseason, but that work started in earnest last November when they acquired Claypool. The move remains Poles' biggest gamble of his young tenure. The early returns were not good, but the Bears didn't honestly expect Claypool to arrive midseason and make an immediate impact.
The expectation is that the Claypool that Poles traded the No. 32 overall pick for will arrive this fall, and the Bears' offense will be better for it.
"Just a big-time playmaker," Claypool said when asked what he wants to be for the offense. "I think that’s easy to say. But being a playmaker on different parts of the field – boundary, field, slot, doing different things. Because I think that makes it easier to not only call plays, but for Justin to actually execute the plays. It doesn’t matter where certain guys are when you make a play."
The Bears' long-term vision for Claypool is slowly becoming a reality at training camp. But the work defining the most important year of Claypool's NFL life is just beginning.