LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- There is little to be gleaned from non-padded practices in the spring and early in training camp when it comes to defensive linemen. At least to the untrained eye. But to those who know special when they see it, Bears rookie Gervon Dexter is already opening eyes just months into his NFL career.
A second-round pick out of Florida, the Bears drafted Dexter knowing they'd have to rebuild his stance from the ground up. They believe he has all the physical tools to be an impactful three-technique in head coach Matt Eberflus' defense, but patience will be required.
Or so they thought.
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“Oh yeah, Big Dex. That’s a man right there," defensive tackle Justin Jones said of Dexter on Monday after the Bears' latest training camp practice. "He’s good. He’s a good player. I think once he really understands the X’s and O’s outside of just D-line, line understanding the whole defense and how offenses come and try to attack certain styles of defenses and certain styles of play."
Throughout the offseason program, Bears coaches harped on the belief that Dexter would need time to build a sturdy foundation before he could truly take off.
Maybe that's still the case. But Dexter's rare physical talents have been noticeable since he arrived at Halas Hall. He won't be a finished product in 2023. No one expects him to be. But perhaps the belief that he would need time to be an impactful part of the 2023 Bears was a bit of misdirection.
The Bears have already seen a different Dexter in training camp than the one that left Halas after mandatory minicamp. But they also know he is still early in his journey to reach what they believe is a sky-high ceiling. The next step in that journey could come Tuesday when the pads finally come on.
“I don’t think we’re done seeing him grow," Jones said. "I think what your seeing is the first glimpse of Gervon. As the intensity is picking up, he’s picking up. That’s how I see it. We get pads on tomorrow, so honestly, I would expect something huge out of him because he’s a real physical dude. So he’s going to be good.”
Veteran interior offensive lineman Cody Whitehair has spent seven years battling NFL defensive tackles. He knows the difference between a rookie with a lot to learn and one with the tools to be great.
Whitehair's early battles with Dexter have shown him that the rookie is ahead of schedule.
"I think the biggest thing that impresses me for a young guy is how he uses his hands and uses the offensive lineman's weight and leverage against them," Whitehair said Monday of Dexter. "You know, as a young guy, that's pretty impressive. Usually, it takes a couple, 2-3 years, to get to that point -- for guys to really figure out how to push-pull guys and kind of shed blocks. But he's gotten really good with his hands and knows how to use his leverage."
Dexter arrived with sky-high expectations. That comes with being a top-60 pick. The Bears have tried to temper those expectations with talk of stance change, hand usage, and weight distribution. But the things that made the Bears fall in love with Dexter, the physical tools, are the same things that might shatter their attempts to counter-balance those expectations.
"I think he’s going to be a real dominant player in this league," Jones said.