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Chicago Bears rookie camp rundown: Wide receiver Rome Odunze sidelined with a hamstring issue

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The Chicago Bears completed their rookie camp Saturday with a 90-minute practice at Halas Hall. Only three of the team’s five 2024 draft picks participated in the on-field session that also included nine undrafted rookies under contract, 27 tryout players and two players who have futures contracts. Rookie quarterback Caleb Williams remained the main attraction, of course. Here are the highlights from the practices and interviews of rookie camp.

News of the day

Receiver Rome Odunze experienced hamstring tightness after Friday’s practice and was held out of Saturday’s on-field work as a precaution. On the surface, it’s a minor setback for the rookie, whom the Bears selected at No. 9 last month. And the conservative approach makes sense. But Odunze’s status will be worth keeping on the radar when the Bears resume practicing at organized team activities on May 20.

The Bears are expecting big things as Odunze joins an impressive receiving corps that includes six-time Pro Bowl selection Keenan Allen and DJ Moore, who put up 1,364 receiving yards last season.

Odunze’s combination of size and speed has been evident. So has his ability to make contested catches. The Bears are optimistic those strengths will allow Odunze to quickly acclimate to the NFL.

On Friday, Bears coach Matt Eberflus complimented Odunze for his drive.

“It’s how he worked at his craft to master it,” Eberflus said. “He knows he’s not a finished product. He has 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.”

Odunze will push to get back to 100% to resume his offseason improvement efforts.

Caleb Williams watch

Photos: Chicago Bears rookie minicamp at Halas Hall

To be clear, there’s only so many big-picture conclusions that can be drawn from rookie camp practices, at which so much of the work is on an introductory level. Williams’ progress reports will become much more meaningful as the spring moves along through OTAs and minicamp. Still, it’s easy to recognize the quarterback’s high-level arm talent and ability to change speeds with his passes, to throw with accuracy and to make plays from different arm angles and while on the move.

Odunze’s early work with Williams has left him with a strong impression of the quarterback’s grace and precision.

“It’s really effortless for him,” Odunze said. “He can do a lot of things that other quarterbacks may think is hard effortlessly. He continues to improve every time I see him. And he’s very smooth. He can throw the ball from any angle, any body position to anywhere on the field, to any spot on the field. So you always have to be ready.”

In a setting like this, Williams didn’t have much opportunity to show off his superpower, which is his ability to extend plays and be dangerous as a passer off-script. Inside league circles, there’s curiosity to see how Williams can use that skill in the NFL while not becoming overly reliant on it. Asked about Williams finding that balance in the pro game, Bears quarterbacks coach Kerry Joseph smiled Saturday.

“That’s an easy one,” Joseph said. “Just look at the players around him. You don’t have to do it all.

“This organization did a great job of putting players in place. It’s the guys who were here, bringing guys in, the coaches who are here. He doesn’t have to do it all. Just utilize the people around you and watch it unfold in front of you.”

Player in the spotlight

Tory Taylor practices punting during Bears rookie minicamp on May 10, 2024, at Halas Hall in Lake Forest. (Stacey Wescott/Chicago Tribune)
Tory Taylor practices punting during Bears rookie minicamp on May 10, 2024, at Halas Hall in Lake Forest. (Stacey Wescott/Chicago Tribune)

Yep, we are indeed shining the spotlight on a punter at rookie camp. But for good reason. Tory Taylor, a fourth-round pick out of Iowa, became the first player in the Bears draft class to sign his rookie contract, agreeing to terms Saturday on a four-year deal. The Bears became enamored with Taylor during the predraft process after he was a consensus All-American and set a single-season NCAA record in 2023 with a 48.3-yard average.

On Friday, the Bears turned Taylor loose for an open-field punting period that offered the opportunity for the rookie to show off his high-level leg strength.

“He’s a big man,” special teams coordinator Richard Hightower said. “He’s all of 6-4, 200-plus pounds. And when he hits that ball, you can hear the sound, that thump of the ball.”

On Saturday, Taylor took part in a punting period from inside the 50-yard line, his opportunity to display his touch and ball placement. The Bears have been emphatic on how impressive Taylor can be with both his ability to boom punts when needed and to pin an opponent deep when touch is required. General manager Ryan Poles has talked about Taylor having many clubs in his golf bag as a punter, with Hightower describing Saturday as “the day we get to see his wedges.”

On that front, Taylor had a decent day, even as he acknowledges his need to understand the windy conditions in Chicago. Asked when ball placement became a focus for him with his kicking, Taylor noted his extensive background as an Australian rules football player during his growth through that sport back in his hometown of Melbourne, Australia.

“It’s been one of those things that I’ve always had that in the tool bag,” he said. “A lot of the time it comes back to practice. Again, that’s stuff I’ve been doing for 20 years. And it’s stuff I’ll be working on for the next 20 years hopefully too.”

Quote of note

Attending college at Iowa more than 9,000 miles from home, Taylor typically returned to Australia for a month or so at this time of year, shortly after final exams wrapped up. This year, he has a different schedule. “My mom’s always like, ‘When are you coming home next?’ ” Taylor said. “I said, ‘The longer I’m here, the better. So stop asking.’ ”

Seen and heard

Defensive lineman Austin Booker (94) stretches during Bears rookie minicamp on May 11, 2024, at Halas Hall in Lake Forest. (John J. Kim/Chicago Tribune)
Defensive lineman Austin Booker (94) stretches during Bears rookie minicamp on May 11, 2024, at Halas Hall in Lake Forest. (John J. Kim/Chicago Tribune)

Fifth-round pick Austin Booker certainly looks the part as a pass rusher, a sleek athlete with a natural ability to use his length as a weapon. The Bears saw tremendous upside in Booker during their predraft evaluations, choosing to trade a 2025 fourth-round pick to the Buffalo Bills for the chance to grab Booker as a developmental prospect.

Eberflus has lauded Booker for his motor and has also labeled him as “slippery” as a rusher, a description new defensive coordinator Eric Washington co-signed.

“When you talk about him being slippery, it’s just hard for the protection, either the person assigned to him or (another blocker), to get a solid shot on him,” Washington said. “He’s always rotating and flipping his hips at the right time so he can continue to advance toward the quarterback. He has that innate feel and ability.”

Injury update

Wide receiver Rome Odunze watches teammates work out during Bears rookie minicamp on May 11, 2024, at Halas Hall in Lake Forest. (John J. Kim/Chicago Tribune)
Wide receiver Rome Odunze watches teammates work out during Bears rookie minicamp on May 11, 2024, at Halas Hall in Lake Forest. (John J. Kim/Chicago Tribune)

In addition to Odunze’s absence Saturday, third-round pick Kiran Amegadjie missed his second consecutive practice and figures to be out until training camp at a minimum as he continues rehabilitating from a left quadriceps injury that ended his 2023 season at Yale. Amegadjie, a promising offensive tackle, needed surgery on his injured quad in October and is being brought along on a cautious timeline.

The Bears are hopeful Amegadjie can lock down the line’s swing-tackle role heading into the season with a chance eventually to compete with Braxton Jones for a starting job on the left side of the line. For now, though, Amegadjie’s focus is on getting healthy.

“We’ll see how everything plays out,” he said. “I’ll trust them and trust their guidance on this. I’m not a doctor. I know how my body feels and I’ll communicate that to them and we’ll see how it goes as time goes on.”

  • Bears quarterback Caleb Williams speaks at Halas Hall in on...

    Bears quarterback Caleb Williams speaks at Halas Hall in on April 26, 2024. (Chris Sweda/Chicago Tribune)

  • New Bears wide receiver Rome Odunze and quarterback Caleb Williams...

    New Bears wide receiver Rome Odunze and quarterback Caleb Williams pose for photographs at Halas Hall on April 26, 2024. (Chris Sweda/Chicago Tribune)

  • Quarterback Caleb Williams celebrates after being chosen by the Bears...

    Quarterback Caleb Williams celebrates after being chosen by the Bears with the No. 1 pick at the NFL draft on April 25, 2024 in Detroit. (Jeff Lewis/AP Images)

  • Quarterback Caleb Williams celebrates after being chosen by the Bears...

    Quarterback Caleb Williams celebrates after being chosen by the Bears with the first overall pick during the first round of the NFL football draft on April 25, 2024, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

  • Caleb Williams poses with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell after the...

    Caleb Williams poses with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell after the Bears selected him with the No. 1 pick of the NFL draft on April 25, 2024 in Detroit. (Gregory Shamus/Getty)

  • Quarterback Caleb Williams speaks with the media after the Bears...

    Quarterback Caleb Williams speaks with the media after the Bears selected him with the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft on April 25, 2024 in Detroit. (Gregory Payan/AP)

  • Quarterback Caleb Williams celebrates after being chosen by the Bears...

    Quarterback Caleb Williams celebrates after being chosen by the Bears with the No. 1 pick at the NFL draft on April 25, 2024 in Detroit.. (Doug Benc/AP Images for the NFL)

  • Caleb Williams arrives to the NFL draft at the Fox...

    Caleb Williams arrives to the NFL draft at the Fox Theatre on April 25, 2024 in Detroit. (Aaron J. Thornton/Getty)

  • Caleb Williams arrives at the 2024 NFL draft on April...

    Caleb Williams arrives at the 2024 NFL draft on April 25, 2024 in Detroit. (Jeff Lewis/AP Images for the NFL)

  • Quarterback Caleb Williams reacts after a throw during an NFL...

    Quarterback Caleb Williams reacts after a throw during an NFL Football Play Football Prospect Clinic with Special Olympics athletes on April 24, 2024 in Detroit. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

  • USC quarterback Caleb Williams warms up at the school's pro...

    USC quarterback Caleb Williams warms up at the school’s pro day on March 20, 2024. (AP Photo/Ryan Sun)

  • USC quarterback Caleb Williams warms up at the school's pro...

    USC quarterback Caleb Williams warms up at the school’s pro day on March 20, 2024. (AP Photo/Ryan Sun)

  • Quarterback Caleb Williams arrives for pro day at USC on...

    Quarterback Caleb Williams arrives for pro day at USC on March 20, 2024. (David Crane/Los Angeles Daily News)

  • USC quarterback Caleb Williams speaks at the NFL combine in...

    USC quarterback Caleb Williams speaks at the NFL combine in Indianapolis on March 1, 2024. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

  • USC quarterback Caleb Williams speaks at the NFL combine in...

    USC quarterback Caleb Williams speaks at the NFL combine in Indianapolis on March 1, 2024. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

  • USC quarterback Caleb Williams throws a pass against UCLA on...

    USC quarterback Caleb Williams throws a pass against UCLA on Nov. 18, 2023. (AP Photo/Ryan Sun)

  • USC quarterback Caleb Williams waves to fans while leaving the...

    USC quarterback Caleb Williams waves to fans while leaving the field after the Trojans’ 52-42 loss to Washington at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Nov. 4, 2023. (Gina Ferazzi/Los Angeles Times)

  • USC quarterback Caleb Williams warms up before a game against...

    USC quarterback Caleb Williams warms up before a game against UCLA on Nov. 18, 2023. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • Quarterback Caleb Williams runs for a touchdown against Utah on...

    Quarterback Caleb Williams runs for a touchdown against Utah on Oct. 21, 2023. (Keith Birmingham/Pasadena Star-News)

  • Quarterback Caleb Williams warms up for a game against Utah...

    Quarterback Caleb Williams warms up for a game against Utah at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Oct. 21, 2023. (Keith Birmingham/Pasadena Star-News)

  • Quarterback Caleb Williams gives the victory sign to the crowd...

    Quarterback Caleb Williams gives the victory sign to the crowd at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Sept. 9, 2023. (Keith Birmingham/Pasadena Star-News)

  • Nationals owner Mark Lerner talks with USC quarterback Caleb Williams...

    Nationals owner Mark Lerner talks with USC quarterback Caleb Williams before a game on May 20, 2023. (Greg Fiume/Getty Images)

  • USC quarterback Caleb Williams in action against Washington State on...

    USC quarterback Caleb Williams in action against Washington State on Oct. 8, 2022. (Keith Birmingham/Pasadena Star-News)

  • Quarterback Caleb Williams celebrates after a USC win over UCLA...

    Quarterback Caleb Williams celebrates after a USC win over UCLA on Nov. 19, 2022. (Keith Birmingham/Pasadena Star-News)

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Dan Wiederer , 2024-05-11 23:24:01

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