Rome Odunze-Caleb Williams Connection Drawing Rave Reviews from Bears Coaches and Teammates

If any other team drafted Rome Odunze, he’d be THE story of minicamp in that city. But the Bears drafted Caleb Williams first, so Odunze is essentially pick 1B, and he avoids the hype that Williams and other top-10 selections are getting this spring. Odunze was asked Friday if that takes some pressure off him.

“I wouldn’t say [it’s] easier,” Odunze said. “We’re both coming in as rookies trying to do our best to get involved with the culture [of] this organization and be the best teammates possible that we can be. I think [Williams is] doing that tremendously, and I’m trying my best at it, as well. It’s something that takes time and energy from both parties to be able to get done. I couldn’t say one or the other, but I think we’re both trying our best, for sure.”

Odunze looks like a polished veteran among his fellow rookies and Chicago’s offense will be fun to watch this season. The rookie wide receiver is third on the depth chart because Williams has plenty of weapons in his arsenal. D.J. Moore had a breakout season in 2023 and he’ll be joined by Keenan Allen. The Bears have two outstanding tight ends in Cole Kmet and Gerald Everett. Running backs D’Andre Swift, Khalil Herbert, and Roschon Johnson have differing strengths that complement one another.

That said, this weekend’s focus is on the rookies, and Odunze stands out among his peers. The quarterback-wide receiver connection was obvious on Friday.

“You see why he had, what, 1,500-plus [yards receiving?]” Williams said. “And a bunch of catches. He’s explosive for his size, explosive route runner, and things like that. He’s also really smooth in and out of routes and transitions. So working with him, it’s been great, it’s been awesome. I’m excited for what’s next.”

The budding bromance between the two is alive and well, and it’s not lost on Odunze.

It’s hard to imagine a better situation, honestly,” he said. “Coming in with a rookie quarterback allows us to grow together and learn this offense together, as well. When he’s studying, I’m there right next to him studying and getting his mindset on different routes and different concepts and learning his perspective on the whole offense. It’s a great way for me to learn because I like to [grasp] the whole concept and then, OK, let me detail it up and understand what I need to do within any specific scheme or concept. To be alongside him, it’s a blessing.”

The coaches and some of their teammates understand the potential of the duo, too. Check out some of their quotes after Friday’s drills:

  • “[Rome] had complete ownership from the beginning to the end. We put him on the board, talking concepts, talking film study. He was high level in terms of overall IQ, and communication skills. … The moving-piece part — he can also back up all three spots and be a versatile piece for us.”Thomas Brown, Passing Game Coordinator
  • “He’s really smart. He’s able to pick things up. And I think he’s got a grasp of a pro set that you get from being in a college offense that has some pro principles in it. So I think that gave [Rome] a leg up, but he’s one of those guys that picks things up very quickly.” – Receivers Coach Chris Beatty
  • “[Odunze]knows he’s not a finished product. He’s got a lot of improving to do as he gets into the NFL but his work ethic is elite. He worked himself into being that top-10 pick.” – Head Coach Matt Eberflus
  • “Caleb [can] throw the ball from any angle, body position, anywhere on the field, to any spot on the field. So you always have to be ready. Always have to be prepared anytime he is in the backfield, so it gives you the confidence that he’s going to put it on you when you’re giving him your best on the route.” – Odunze
  • “His anticipation. Caleb had the ball right there on the money before we even turned around. You can tell that he’s expecting us to be open at a certain time. That’s gonna be one of the things that’s better. Just gotta be on the same page with him going forward, [and’] it’s just gonna take some time. Maybe it’s gonna be fast, or it might take some time. But I’m hoping it’s fast.” – Moore

Lack of anticipation was a major critique of Justin Fields’ game and Moore’s observation is telling. GM Ryan Poles opted to move on from Fields to draft Williams, who has already been named QB1.

The infrastructure for Williams and Odunze to succeed is in place. The receivers’ skill sets align: Allen is a savvy veteran who increases a quarterback’s margin for error;  Moore is a one-man offense who can create after the catch or separate from anyone, anywhere on the field; Kmet has improved every season and is now considered among the league’s best at his position. Adding Ozune to that room gives the Bears one of the NFL’s most dynamic receiver groups, and a top-five ranking is not exaggerating.

The Bears also have the pieces in place to field a top-10 defense. Chicago retained star cornerback Jaylon Johnson a couple of months after signing edge-rusher Montez Sweat to a long-term extension. Tremaine Edmunds, T.J. Edwards, and Jack Sanborn are the best linebacking corps in the NFC North. Johnson, Kyler Gordon, Jaquan Brisker, and Tyrique Stevenson anchor an improving secondary.

Over the final nine weeks of the season, the Bears finished fourth in EPA/play, a measure of down-to-down effectiveness.

Williams and Odunze are therefore walking into a rare situation for two top-10 draft picks. Both are joining a playoff-ready roster that has postseason expectations rather than being the foundation of a rebuilding team. You can see why both are so excited to be Chicago Bears. Expectations are high, but the floor is already in place and nicely elevated, as well, for a pair of heralded rookies.

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