Gervon Dexter

Where Gervon Dexter, Roschon Johnson, other Bears rookies stand after minicamp

The Bears liked what they saw from their rookie class, but there is work to do

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LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- The Bears' 2023 draft class is pivotal to Chicago's hopes of turning the page on a 3-14 season and starting an upward climb toward perrenial contention.

The plan is for this class, headlined by first-round pick Darnell Wright, to be part of the foundational floor of general manager Ryan Poles' rebuild, alongside quarterback Justin Fields, wide receiver DJ Moore, tight end Cole Kmet, and second-year defensive backs Jaquan Brisker and Kyler Gordon.

Poles focused on players with elite physical traits with sky-high ceilings. Some, like Wright and running back Roschon Johnson, have the tape to match. Others are only theoretical.

Of the 10-player class, the Bears need at least half to become key contributors, and they need Wright to live up to his All-Pro projection.

The work for the 2023 class started at rookie minicamp and concluded Thursday when the Bear wrapped up mandatory minicamp and headed into the summer.

It's impossible to gauge trench players and running backs during non-padded practices in May and June. Be that as it may, second-round pick Gervon Dexter was a constant topic during the Bears' offseason program.

The Florida defensive tackle is the great unknown of the 2023 class. At 6-foot-6, 313 pounds, Dexter has the size, length, strength, and athleticism needed to be an impactful NFL three-technique. But Dexter only showed flashes of dominance at Florida. The Bears believe that's due, in part, to the responsibilities he had in the Gators' read-and-react defense.

From the minute Dexter arrived at Halas Hall, the Bears started rebuilding him from the ground up, starting with his stance. Dexter flashed improved get-off during minicamp, where speed and burst win.

Dexter has a lot of work to do once the pads come on in training camp, but he has already got a crucial part of head coach Matt Eberflus' H.I.T.S (hustle, intensity, takeaways, smart football) principle down.

“He’s good," Eberflus said of Dexter on Thursday. "He’s doing a lot of pilates. He does a lot of those things. He’s working on his lower flexibility. We think that’s important for all the big guys to do. He’s really learning how to take off. At Florida, he was more of a two-gap guy. So he was more square, moving with the offensive linemen not moving off the movement and the ball in take-off position. He’s working on that. We elongated his stance a little bit to help him do that. We’ve moved him around a little bit. He’s playing nose. He’s playing three. We’ve moved him around some there.

"What I like most about him is his hustle. Man he hustles. He’s got his track shoes on and he is running out there, which is great to see from a guy who is [6-foot-6, 313 pounds]."

While Dexter is early in his NFL education, his veteran teammates already see the potential lurking under the raw surface.

"He’s going to be a force in this league," defensive tackle Justin Jones said. "I really do believe that. I haven’t seen anything like him in a very long time, and I don’t want to put anything in a box with him but the closest person I can see him as is like a leaner Linval Joseph. Just the fact that he’s a big, strong guy who can move. If you’ve ever seen him run in a straight line, and just like run, I’m pretty sure he’s probably beating a lot of people on our team. That’ll surprise you."

Like linemen, it's tough to learn much about running backs before the pads come on. That's especially true for a physical back like fourth-round pick Roschon Johnson. The Bears have praised Johnson since the second they called his name on Day 3 of the draft. He entered Halas Hall and immediately found himself in a running back completion with Khalil Herbert and D'Onta Foreman.

That competition will start in training camp, where Eberflus expects the best from Johnson.

"[Roschon], the halfback, has done a great job of picking things up," Eberflus said Thursday. "I’m excited to see him in pads because I think he’s really going to take off once we get the pads on."

Dexter, Johnson, Wright, Zacch Pickens, and Travis Bell all fall into the "wait until training camp" bucket of evaluation.

On the other side is cornerback Tyrique Stevenson. The Bears traded up to draft the Miami corner in the second round and are hopeful he will win the job to start opposite Jaylon Johnson.

Stevenson opened OTAs working with the second-team defense but quickly ascended to working with the ones. He had a nice interception during the second week of OTAs and has continued to improve as he stacked reps.

"We love where he is in terms of his length, his competitiveness and we know he tackles," Eberflus said of Stevenson. "We know he likes to hit. That’s why he’s here. Corners need to tackle. They need to really be a physical force out there, and he’s gonna do that. And we’re excited about that, getting the pads on. So I think he’ll take even a step up more when we get the pads on."

Meanwhile, wide receiver Tyler Scott has opened eyes on the other side of the ball with the blazing 4.21 speed that made him a Junior Olympian.

"His speed shows up, his suddenness shows up, and his moves and run after the catch show up," wide receivers coach Tyke Tolbert said. "He can catch a ball, make a guy miss, turn around, get going really fast. Like zero to 60. Obviously, he has deep speed. And his knowledge, he doesn’t make the same mistake twice. There are some things that we put in, everything’s new to him, and we’ll put in something that’s new, and he doesn’t make the same mistake twice. That’s always a good sign for any player, much less a receiver."

Scott got a lot of work in with backup quarterback P.J. Walker and the second-string offense during the offseason program. The Cincinnati product showed an ability to separate both on vertical and short in-breaking routes. However, Scott did have several drops during OTAs and minicamp, including a dropped touchdown from quarterback Justin Fields during Thursday's red-zone finale.

While the Bears were mostly healthy for the offseason program, one absence might have opened the door for a member of the 2023 draft class.

With second-year linebacker Jack Sanborn still rehabbing his ankle, fifth-round pick Noah Sewell ran with the first-team defense at strongside linebacker.

Sewell acquitted himself well during OTAs and minicamp, making several nice plays in coverage, including a should-have-been pick-six that he cold dropped on Day 1 of minicamp.

The Bears believe Sanborn will be ready to go for training camp. The Wisconsin product will enter camp as the first-string SAM, but it's then that completion begins.

"We'll see where he goes," Eberfluss said of Sewell. "With rookies, it's always know what to do first, so he knows his assignment so he can do it fast. He's getting better at it. We love his instincts. He's a very instinctual player. And so is Jack. Jack is a very instinctual player, plays multiple positions for us.

"But Jack will be the starter there going into it and then we'll see what Noah can do to press him."

The Bears will now break for 40 days before returning for training camp in late July. For the rookies, that's when the real work begins.

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