Bears coach Matt Nagy called the conclusion of his first rookie minicamp at Halas Hall a “bitter sweet” moment.
“It’s an interesting time for these guys because they’re at a point now where some of these guys will never put the pads on again,” he said. “We mentioned to them that we can’t keep everybody but those that we do keep need to continue to keep working harder to keep that spot. And those that we do not keep, [they need] to stay motivated. You just never know what could happen.”
For the Bears’ 2018 draft class, it’s on to organized team activities with the veterans.
After their first three days with Nagy, here’s a look at what linebacker Roquan Smith and others said about their future roles with the team:
1. Roquan Smith is ready to play special teams if needed.
“I’m not thinking about just being a starter,” Smith said. “I’ll start on special teams, if that’s what they want me to do. I’ll do it. It’s not like I’m just saying, ‘Hey, I have to be the starter.’ You crawl before you walk.”
That’s a great approach and mindset for for Smith have. He certainly sounds determined to prove himself, even though he was the eighth overall pick in the 2018 draft.
But the Bears should line Smith up next to Danny Trevathan as a starter at inside linebacker and let him learn on the job. He was drafted to change the defense.
Let him do it on Day 1.
“I know what I can do, and I’m confident in my abilities,” Smith said. “I am who I am. I showcase what I can do. I can’t make things up. I am who I am.”
2. James Daniels still sees Eagles All-Pro center Jason Kelce as a model to follow.
“He’s an undersized guy,” Daniels said. “He’s way smaller than me. But he has to be perfect in his technique or he’s going to get beat.”
Daniels’ move to left guard won’t change his approach. He doesn’t believe in getting by through his athleticism and strength. He wants to have strong fundamentals, too.
Hence, his adulation for Kelce.
“The way he plays, especially in pass protection, the way he shoots his hands, is probably the best in the NFL,” Daniels said. “I really appreciate … how he plays.”
3. Anthony Miller considers himself a strong and willing blocker at receiver.
“You can’t be scared first of all,” Miller said. “And you just have to have the proper technique, the proper fundamentals. You’ve got to know where to place your hands. You’ve just got to position yourself the right way.”
Miller developed into a record-setting receiver at Memphis and an All-American, but he always remembered a message from former Memphis coach Justin Fuente (who is now at Virginia Tech) from his freshman season.
“He stressed if you don’t block, you don’t play,” he said.
Keeping that in mind will help him in the NFL. It also helps that Miller enjoys being physical.
“It’s an element that a player should want in their game,” he said. “I feel like the game’s not all finesse. You’ve got to stick your nose in there sometimes. You know what I mean? You can’t be a pretty boy.”
4. Joel Iyiegbuniwe is fully embracing having a role on special teams.
“I played kickoff, punt, kick return, while I was at [Western Kentucky,” Iyiegbuniwe said. “Whatever they need me to do.”
The Bears need to replace linebacker Christian Jones, a versatile reserve who was a stalwart on special teams.
Iyiegbuniwe, an inside linebacker in coordinator Vic Fangio’s defense, seems ideal for that role because of his speed and physicality.
“I’ve already talked to the different coaches about what they need me to do,” Iyiegbuniwe said of speaking with special-teams coordinator Chris Tabor and his assistant, Brock Olivo.
“So ‘Coach Tabor, if that’s what you need me to do, that’s what I’m gonna do.’ ”
5. Bilal Nichols feels that having more freedom in Fangio’s defense will benefit him.
“In Delaware, we were a lot more patient waiting for blocks,” the defensive lineman said. “Where, here, they want you to knock guys back and then get up the field. That’s something that I really like a lot.”
Nichols did play in a three-man front in his final season at Delaware, but being a five-technique end in the Bears’ base defense still is different.
“The main thing I would say is the verbiage is definitely different,” the 6-4, 290-pounder said. “That’s something that you’ve got to get used to as a player, switching over learning a new verbiage.
“But other than that, this defense is a lot more aggressive, which I love. I feel that it’s going to give me a real great opportunity.”
6. Kylie Fitts is comfortable dropping into coverage.
“Yeah, yeah, I’m very comfortable,” Fitts said. “The last four months of training that’s all I’ve been doing is that and pass rush. So I feel really comfortable dropping back.”
Fitts, an outside linebacker in Fangio’s defense, is experiencing an adjustment after playing in a four-man front at Utah. It includes the added responsibilities of pass coverage and playing in space against smaller, faster players.
But so far, so good.
“The transition has been pretty easy,” Fitts said. “[Outside linebackers coach Brandon Staley] has been really good with me. We’ve been working a lot together, watching a lot of film.
“Then on the field, he’s just been working really good with me, teaching me a lot of techniques on how to drop and different things like that. And [he’s] also helping improve my pass rush.”
7. Javon Wims views himself as more than a jump-ball receiver.
“I’m not just a jump-ball guy,” he said. “I can do many different things. Anything the team asks me to do I believe I can do it.
“If you want me to block in the run game, I can do that. I can take the top off. I can catch short passes. Anything the team needs me to do, I’d be willing to do it.”
As a seventh-round pick, Wims will have to prove that he can do all that he said he can. The Bears have filled out their receiving corps with undrafted free agents. It figures to be an intense competition featuring players with various skills.
Wims’ ability to stand out on special teams is very important.
“It’s new, but I’m an athlete,” Wims said. “I can adjust to anything.”