Bears Insider

Keenan Allen's Justin Herbert experience will be vital for Caleb Williams, Bears

Keenan Allen's value to Caleb Williams extends far beyond the field

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LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Keenan Allen has been around the block in the NFL. The veteran wide receiver, who is entering his 12th season, started his career catching passes from surefire Hall of Famer Philip Rivers before becoming the favored target of Justin Herbert when the Oregon product burst onto the scene as a rookie in 2020.

Allen saw special in Herbert even before the big-armed signal-caller took the Chargers starting job from Tyrod Taylor early in the 2020 campaign. The talent and intangibles were evident early on with Herbert, and Allen played a pivotal role in helping develop the young quarterback and prepare him for stardom.

The Bears expect Allen to play a similar role this season with No. 1 overall pick Caleb Williams.

"He’s obviously a guy who has tremendous talent, but it’s going to be a work in progress," Allen said of Williams last week at Bears mandatory minicamp. "He just came out of college. The huddle call, having new terminology. For myself, some of the plays are the same but the terminology is different. So you hear one word, and you automatically go back to what I was hearing last year, but you have to transfer it to this year. So it’s like same play, different word. So you’ve just got to mix and match it, and he’s going to have to grow to it. It takes a while."

Mastering the cadence is Priority 1A on Williams and the Bears' checklist. The 2022 Heisman Trophy winner hasn't worked with a verbal cadence since high school. He used a clap cadence during his three seasons in college at Oklahoma and USC.

Cadence issues are common for rookie quarterbacks, given the clap cadence's prevalence in modern college football.

Allen watched Herbert deal with it and eventually master it. Patience is the key.

"Absolutely," Allen said when asked about similarities between Herbert and Williams at this stage. "You've got guys, like I said, just the huddle call in itself, just being able to hear it and give it to the guys and knowing what you're saying, knowing what you're talking about, then going to the cadence and getting everybody on the same page with motions and seeing the defense, checking here. Safety comes down, you've got to know what to do. Yeah, it's definitely hard. Everybody goes through it. It's one of those things where you've got to go through it to get to it."

Williams will master the cadence. It will take time, but Allen and the Bears expect things to be polished by the middle of training camp.

Allen's experience with Herbert and Rivers will pay dividends in helping Williams navigate any rookie bumps this season. Allen has seen what made Rivers a future Hall of Famer and what fueled Herbert's rise to the upper echelon of quarterbacks.

Both shared a common characteristic. It's one Williams has in spades.

"I think the best thing is confidence," Allen said when asked for advice he'd give Williams based on his time with Rivers and Herbert. "Both Philip and Justin has tremendous confidence. They believe in their arm, they believe in their talent, and they believe in what they see. You've got to be able to see it and you've got to be able to make something happen right now. If you second-guess yourself just for a little bit and you hang on just too long, then something bad can happen. So understand what you're looking at and just make a play."

Williams has spent the offseason program adjusting to the speed of the Bears' defense and testing them with his arm talent. Mistakes have been made. Learning moments came on each of the first two days of minicamp when Williams threw late over the middle and was intercepted by safety Kevin Byard and linebacker Tremaine Edmunds.

That's all part of the early phase of the Bears' development plan for Williams.

They want him to experiment with his arm talent and see what he can and can't get away with in the NFL.

The Bears have seen Williams steadily progress during the offseason program.

Even on days when Williams isn't at his best, veteran Bears defenders have lauded him for his touch and ability to move defenses with his eyes, which is rare for a rookie at this early stage.

For Williams, the support he receives from Allen and other veterans, whether he has a good or bad day on the practice field, has allowed him to settle into his new reality as the Bears' franchise savior.

"Being the Bears QB is obviously good for me," Williams said. "Them being graceful and encouraging has been huge for me.

"Them just believing, seeing the vision that we all have, and being graceful with me knowing that I’m pretty tough on myself, but they see right through it and understand that. It’s been big for me, like I said, having these guys around me and them being graceful - texting me, reaching out, calling me. From the practice field coming over congratulating me when things go good and when things don’t go our way or whatever the case may be, coming over and saying whatever they have to say and being encouraging."

The Bears traded for Allen in March to give Williams another elite receiver whose skill set perfectly complements Moore's.

Allen's veteran savvy and route-running will prove valuable on Sunday. However, his experience onboarding a star rookie quarterback might be most important during a critical rookie season for Williams and the Bears' franchise.

For Allen, the onboarding process is not just about developing the on-field chemistry with Williams or helping him adapt and adjust to the NFL game. But also getting a feeling for the young quarterback's wiring, so he can push the right buttons if needed.

"Just understanding each other's energy," Allen said about spending time with Williams away from the field. "You know, like Kobe said, finding those ticks, how to how to get into his head, how to make him very competitive and know what makes him tick. You know what I'm saying? And just being able to hang out with each other, finding each other's rhythm, energy, and kind of emotion is everything."

Allen and Williams plan to throw off-campus during the Bears' summer break to continue building their chemistry and be ready to hit the ground running without any hiccups when training camp begins in mid-July.

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