The Texas-El Paso defense appeared beaten. It was Sept. 19, and New Mexico State sophomore running back Larry Rose III raced through a gaping hole at his own five-yard line, sidestepped two safeties and headed for the end zone.
But defensive end Roy Robertson-Harris — one of the Bears’ newest members — chased him down for an 82-yard gain instead of a 95-yard score.
It was an impressive individual play. The Aggies ran away from Robertson-Harris and Rose, a rising star who ran for 1,651 yards and 14 touchdowns last season, reached the sideline.
“I just said, ‘What the heck?’ and ran as fast as I could to try and get him,” Robertson-Harris said. “I surprised myself when I actually brought him down.”
Did he know he was that fast?
“I actually did not,” Robertson-Harris said, laughing.
It was a play that resulted in even more NFL attention. Robertson-Harris, who is currently 6-6 and 260 pounds, turned his hips and broke into a sprint in a fluid motion.
But it’s also a play that represents the drive and determination that Robertson-Harris needs to exhibit often right now with the Bears after he went undrafted and signed a rookie free-agent contract.
“Everybody wants to get to drafted, but the draft is done,” he said. “I’m here in Chicago. I’m working to be the best I can be and working to be the best teammate I can be. And if I do end up staying in Chicago, I’m going to give Chicago my best.”
In many ways, it’s surprising that Robertson-Harris wasn’t drafted. He seemingly fits the mold for the typical late-round pick who fills a major need. He has sought after measurables (including the long arms that Bears general manager Ryan Pace covets), athleticism and a high ceiling.
The Bears hosted Robertson-Harris on one of their 30 predraft visits. He watched film with outside linebackers coach Clint Hurtt and met the Bears’ eventual first-round pick and current teammate Leonard Floyd in passing.
“Leonard is going to be a great player here,” “Robertson-Harris said. “He’s going to be one of the best defensive players.
“With him being a first-rounder, I obviously have a lot to work for, but if I end up staying here and continue to work hard, I think Leonard and I can end up being really good teammates.”
Similar to Floyd’s career at Georgia, Robertson-Harris’ run at UTEP didn’t feature eye-popping sack numbers. He made only 2 ½ last season.
But the Bears believe he has untapped pass-rushing abilities — and so do many other teams. His agents received up to 30 calls from teams after the draft. The Packers, Lions and Vikings were all in serious contention to sign him.
Robertson-Harris said the Bears felt best, and Hurtt was a main reason why.
“He’s just an overall great guy, a good person to be around,” said Robertson-Harris, who added that Hurtt sees his current 260 pounds as an ideal size for him.
Everything about being a standup outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense is new for Robertson-Harris. He buries his head into defensive coordinator Vic Fangio’s playbook with every free moment he gets.
But the physical part also is a transition after being primarily a hand-in-the-dirt end at UTEP. He said it helps to have veterans such as Sam Acho at Halas Hall to help with the nuances of his new position.
“It’s pointing my toe a certain way when I’m in my stance or making sure to look at coach when we’re doing drops and not to look back at where I’m dropping,” he said. “It’s technique stuff.”
On Friday, his learning process accelerates when rookie minicamp begins.
“I’m going to approach [my time with the Bears] with the fact that I have the opportunity of a lifetime,” Robertson-Harris said. “You’ve got to amp it up.”