Rookies Opening Eyes at Halas Hall

It’s far too early to judge the first draft of new GM Ryan Poles, but Chicago’s rookies are opening eyes at Halas Hall. Injuries, lack of depth, and the one-man sideshow that is Teven Jenkins have thrust the first-year players into heavy rotation. The word is that nearly all have been impressive. Let’s take a look.

Kyler Gordon

Gordon has a great opportunity to earn starter’s time this season. His versatility has been on display all camp whether he’s been playing outside cornerback or nickel. The decision when to move Gordon from cornerback to nickel back this season will depend on multiple factors, including who’s available to play the other spots in the secondary, the opponent, and the game situation. Since the rookie minicamp back in April, the first draft pick of the Poles era has been a human highlight reel.

“[Gordon] is doing a good job so far,” said coach Matt Eberflus. “He’s really good with his assignments. He’s getting better with his techniques. There [are] a lot of techniques that you play with inside that you don’t play outside. So, there’s a balance there. He’s got to learn that, and he’s doing really well with that.”

Defensive Coordinator Alan Williams is impressed with Gordon so far, too: “He’s a ball magnet.”

When the coaching staff approached Gordon about playing nickel he couldn’t hide his enthusiasm.

“I had the biggest smile on my face,” Gordon said. “I love [the]  nickel and I love what I can do there, so it’s just been really fun.”

In the nickel package, Gordon will be asked to blitz at times. When asked about rushing the quarterback, he reportedly smiled and nodded. It’s a role he embraces.

“I just like to get back there quick, at that mesh point — get a tackle for loss, blow it up, get a fumble,” he said.

Jaquan Brisker

The second second-round draft pick looked like he was going to be a holdout, but Brisker and the Bears reached a deal right at the start of camp. Poles was absolutely giddy to get the safety on the field the first day.

“I gave him a big hug when I saw him,” Poles said on Tuesday. “He’s headed in the right direction and I’m excited to see what he does this training camp.”

The rookie adds mad ball-hawking skills to the secondary. Brisker has been lighting it up during the first week of practices. He and Gordon registered impressive interceptions this week. The safety showed his instincts when he jumped a route and picked off a pass intended for tight end Cole Kmet. In a game situation, that’s going to be a pick-six.

“It’s good,” Eberflus said of his two second-round picks making plays. “Like I said the other day, ballhawks, that’s what they are. That’s why we brought them here.”

Velus Jones Jr.

Jones was the most polarizing pick of Poles’ first draft class because of his age and because he was considered a bit of reach. The Tennessee wideout wasn’t much more than an average receiver until he was a sixth-year senior.

Jones is letting his play do the talking at the Bears’ preseason camp. He was one of the fastest receivers at the Draft Combine with a 4.3 40-yard dash time, which was on full display over the weekend. He’s great at creating separation, too.

The third-round pick recently revealed how offensive coordinator Luke Getsy plans to deploy him this season.

“Quite a few [ways]. They’re moving me from Z, F, X. They want me to know everything. So it’s been really fun getting to work with [Fields and Trevor Siemian] and stuff like that. They know my abilities, they know the reason why they drafted me. I am really good with the ball in my hands. Wherever they need me to be, I’m just going to be there and execute.”

Braxton Jones

The first-year tackle from Southern Utah is getting all teg reps at left tackle. Jones took all the first-team reps at left tackle on Wednesday, alongside Cody Whitehair. Sam Mustipher and Doug Kramer rotated at center, while Michael Schofield shuffled in and out at right guard. Riley Reiff got the majority of first-team reps at right tackle, although Larry Borom did see some action.

It sounds like the line is starting to resolve itself, and Jones could be a Day 1 starter. He’ll have to prove he belongs there when the exhibition season starts a week from Saturday. The fifth-round pick has been making believers of the Bears’ coaching staff since his first practice with the team.

Eberflus said Jones has executed well.

“He’s showing that it’s not too big for him,” the head coach said Wednesday afternoon. “Not to say that he’s been perfect. He’s a rookie, [and] he’s had his moments.”

Dominique Robinson

Another fifth-round pick who is getting reps with the ones – and doing it in impressive fashion – is Robinson. His journey to reach his potential might take a while. But it’s one the Bears are willing to wait on because of their belief in just how good he can be. Defensive coordinator Alan Williams said, “the sky is the limit for him.”

It is a quote by fellow edge rusher Trevis Gipson that made the rounds on social media during minicamp that indicates just how special Robinson may be.

“He’s a great player,” Gipson said at the time. “He’s a great student of the game, comes into work, never late, always has his playbook in his hand, is eager to learn. Sort of reminds me of me, honestly. A fifth-round pick, chip on his shoulder, dominating practice every day and still looking to get better anywhere he can.”

If Gipson is comparing Robinson to himself, that has to be a good thing.

Zachary Thomas

As I said, it’s still early, but Thomas is solidifying his position as Whitehair’s primary backup. Thomas played mostly tackle at San Diego State but is listed as a guard on Chicago’s depth chart.

Thomas is an athletic lineman who can block on the move very well. He shows good acceleration climbing to the second level and above-average mobility in pass protection. Thomas also shows promise in terms of his pad and low leverage at the point of attack.

Thomas was also the first in a string of three consecutive offensive linemen picks.

“You can never have enough offensive linemen,” Poles told after the draft. “It’s a position—at least from my experience—regardless of how it shakes out, it’s rare to finish a season with the starting five that you started the season with. So, anytime you can increase the volume of talent in that room, you’re getting better.

“The other thing I wanted to make sure we did is just increase the competition as well. It’s human nature to relax when you feel there’s no threat to your job, so I want these young guys to come in and compete for jobs. That’s going to lift everyone in that entire room to know that they’ve got to compete and be their best self to make the team, as well as to make the starting line.”

Trestan Ebner

Ebner may not make Chicago’s 53-man roster, but it won’t be because he’s not talented enough. The Bears opted to sign fullback Khari Blasingame, and he, David Montgomery, and Khalil Herbert are all locks to make the team. That means the rookie from Baylor will have to stand out on special teams. His value lies in his ability to catch passes out of the backfield, and he’s lightning quick. Ebner needs to have an outstanding camp to avoid a demotion to the team’s practice squad.

Doug Kramer

The Illinois center was drafted for depth and then entrusted to replace Lucas Patrick when he injured his hand. Patrick should be back for the season opener against the 49ers on September 11, but until then, Kramer will run with the ones. He’s transitioned nicely, too.

“Obviously, it’s a great opportunity,” Kramer said. “It’s still super early in camp, so right now I’m just trying to stay locked in, learn as much as I can, and try to go after that spot, for sure.”

Ja’Tyre Carter

Carter has been a pleasant surprise so far. He’s had a chance to work with the starters this week but Carter is seen as a project who could ascend to starter as early as next season. Some scouts said he was the most athletic lineman in this year’s draft. He allowed just three quarterback pressures in his final year at Southern University.

Elijah Hicks

Nobody was happier to be drafted by the Bears than Hicks. He has a good chance to break camp with Chicago because the team lacks secondary depth. Keep an eye on defensive backs who hit the waiver wire starting next week. If Poles isn’t actively shopping for safeties in that market, that could be an indicator that the front office and coaching staff believe in Hicks’s abilities.

Trenton Gill

The punter prefers to be called Trent, and he’s got a booming leg. With no competition in camp, gill is a lock to start the season as the Bears’ punter and the placeholder for Cairo Santos. He and Santos have already formed a strong bond, and the two may share kickoff duties, too.

Jack Sanborn

The Wisconsin linebacker signed with the Bears as an undrafted free agent and has been one of the team’s best camp performers so far. Sanborn intercepted Fields on Day 1. Outside of Roquan Smith and newcomer Nicholas Morrow, Chicago does not have a lot of depth at linebacker. Sanborn has a chance to compete for the backup middle linebacker role behind Morrow. He also could start at the SAM, where his only competition is Matthew Adams.

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