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First-and-10: Bears could hit the jackpot with motivated WR Emanuel Hall

Bears wide receiver Emanuel Hall shows good focus in catching a pass during the Bears' rookie mini-camp Friday at Halas Hall. The former Missouri wide receiver signed with the Bears as an undrafted free agent. | Nam Y. Huh/AP photo

Emanuel Hall enters the NFL as a draft process cliche — the spurned prospect with the humbling draft-day-party tale of woe.

Considered a second-round talent with a fourth-round grade because of injury issues, the productive Missouri wide receiver wasn’t drafted at all.

“I promise you it’s a feeling that I’ll never forget. That was one of the worst feelings ever, being undrafted,” Hall said at Bears rookie mini-camp Saturday. “It felt like the longest three days of my life. I had a draft party on the second day and the third day you’re just shaking everybody’s hand, ‘Thanks for coming.’ — no one wants to do that.

“It’s a motivational thing for anybody that goes through that. But it is what it is. I know what I can do. I definitely have a lot to prove and I have a huge chip on my shoulder.”

Hall’s speed (4.39 in the 40) and big-play ability made him an intriguing prospect in the draft. He averaged 23.5 yards per catch in his final two years at Missouri (70 receptions, 1,645 yards, 14 touchdowns in 22 games), with nine receptions of 50 yards or more.

But a history of minor injuries that kept him out of four games last season and prevented him from playing in the Senior Bowl played a part in getting overlooked in the draft.

“I believe everything happens for a reason,” Hall said. “I know I have the ability to play at this level. I have the ability to be very successful. I’m just excited to get to it. They had me moving around to just about everywhere, whether it’s special teams, playing the slot or outside. It doesn’t matter to me. I’m just ready to get back to it. I’m very happy the process is over and we’re back to football.”

2. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Hall’s journey is that as an undrafted free agent he didn’t cherry-pick the best roster opportunity, but quickly signed with a team that is pretty set at the starting wide receiver positions. The Bears return nearly 90 percent of their receptions and receiving yards from 2018 in Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel and Anthony Miller — and all three are expected to expand their roles in the second year in Matt Nagy’s offense.

But Hall embraced the challenge. He said he had “20-plus” offers after the draft, but chose the Bears in large part because of receivers coach Mike Furrey.

“He’s a super-genuine coach,” Hall said. “There are some coaches you can tell aren’t really into you. And there are some coaches that want the best for you. I think all the coaches want the best for me here. It’s a family, a family culture and that’s why this is a winning program. Who wouldn’t want to live in Chicago — it’s an awesome city.”

And if Nagy’s offense takes the next step in Year 2, even a niche role could be a big one for a player with Hall’s speed.

“It speaks to him as a player being able to recognize that,” Nagy said, “because sometimes when those guys are in that situation at the end of the draft, they’re really frustrated, they’re emotional. And then money becomes the No. 1 priority for them, and sometimes that can come back and get them. I was really proud of Emanuel to be able to make a good decision of going to where he wanted to go.”

3. The whole “winning culture” thing with the Bears is a shock to the system of those who witnessed the dysfunction at Halas Hall from the firing of Lovie Smith to the hiring of Nagy. But the Bears suddenly have become a destination team on both sides of the ball, believe it or not.

The Hall situation in particular highlights just how much has changed since Nagy arrived. A little more than a year ago, the Bears were in desperate need of wide receivers, and the decision to let Cam Meredith go in free agency was lamented by some as a bad move. Now, a player with Hall’s big-play credentials arrives and the question is why he would sign with a team that has an established receiving corps. Times have changed, indeed.

4. Rookie mini-camp is not the best evaluation venue, but it’ll be interesting to see how much of a chance the Bears give cornerback Duke Shelley to compete for the starting job at nickel. The Bears signed veteran Buster Skrine in free agency.

Shelley, a sixth-round pick, has the athleticism to excel at nickel and has a history of learning well. As a true freshman at Kansas State, he was ticketed for a redshirt season, but was pressed into a starting role in Week 5 because of injury and quickly won the job for good.

“He’s quick-twitch,” Nagy said. “He’s a happy-go-lucky guy — you can’t miss that smile he has. But he was doing some special-teams drills and you could just really feel the energy and how quick he is making his moves, and then doing some DB drills, flipping his hips real quick, turning them over and then actually finishing with the catch.”

5. And in this defense, almost anybody playing behind the Bears’ front seven is a candidate to over-achieve. Asked who he was looking forward to playing with, Shelley started with Khalil Mack (“because he makes my job so easy) and kept right on going.

“Roquan [Smith] … I’ve known him since high school. Have a good relationship with him,” said Shelley, who is from Tucker, Ga., outside of Atlanta. “And then on the back end — I call him the modern-day Ed Reed — Eddie Jackson. He creates turnovers and making plays. And Kyle Fuller on the outside — Pro Bowlers. It’s just ridiculous the talent that’s on this defense. So I feel like Im’ a good fit coming and ready for the opportunity to fit in with those guys and make plays.”

6. None of the eight kickers at rookie mini-camp emerged as even a solid favorite to win the kicking job — probably why only two are left. Elliott Fry seemed to have the consistency, leg strength and demeanor to win the job.

Fry, who made 75 percent of his field goals at South Carolina (66-of-88) from 2013-16, also was the only kicker with pro experience. He was 14-for-14 on field goals with the Orlando Apollos of the defunct AAF (Alliance of American Football) — 4-for-4 from 40-plus with a long of 47. Still, it’s probably 50-50 at best that the Bears kicker in Week 1 is on the current roster.

6a. The Bears acquired former Florida kicker Eddy Pineiro from the Raiders on Monday, Sun-Times sources confirmed. Pineiro signed with the Raiders as an undrafted free agent in 2018 and was 3-of-3 in the preseason — from 21, 48 and 45 yards — before suffering a groin injury and going on injured reserve. The Bears traded a seventh-round draft pick in 2021 to the Raiders for Pineiro — on the condition that Pineiro is on the Bears’ active roster for five games in 2019.

Pineiro’s resume is as strong as any of the Bears’ rookie mini-camp candidates. He made 38-of-43 field goal attempts (88.4 percent) in two seasons at Florida, including 5-of-5 on attempts of 50 yards or more. He made 29 of his last 30 field-goal attempts, missing only from 47 yards in the Gators’ 2017 opener vs. Michigan.

7. Another factor that complicates the process of finding a young kicker is projecting growth. Ironically, Robbie Gould himself might not have had the leg strength as a rookie to compete for the current job. Gould only attempted two field goals from 50-plus in his first four seasons with the Bears (a 53-yarder was short; a 52-yarder was blocked). But he developed into one of the most accurate long-distance kickers in the NFL — 23-of-29 (79.3 percent) from 50 or more yards since 2009.

8. For What It’s Worth Dept.: The competitors in the kicking derby attempted more than 400 kicks overall and only one attempt hit an upright and crossbar — and that was during warm-ups.

9. Canadian outside linebacker Mathieu Betts, signed as a priority free agent, will be worth watching when he faces veteran competition in OTAs and training camp.

The 6-3, 250-pound Betts, who was recruited by Purdue and Buffalo among others as a high school senior in Montreal, was a dominant player as a defensive end at Laval University in Quebec City. He was ranked the No. 1 player by the Canadian Scouting Bureau and chosen third overall in the CFL draft Thursday by the Edmonton Eskimos.

The last Canadian collegiate player to be ranked No. 1 by the Canadian Scouting Bureau was Manitoba defensive tackle David Onyemata, an eventual fourth-round draft pick who has started 10 games for the Saints over the past two seasons.

10. With most of their starting positions accounted for, the Bears seem to have stock-piled intriguing players in the draft — Shelley going from cornerback at Kansas State to nickel; FAU running back Kerrith Whyte, who played in the shadow of Devin Singletary; Hall with his big-play resume; Betts making the big jump from Canada to the NFL.

From a physical standpoint, Valdosta State cornerback Stephen Denmark might top that list. At 6-3, 220-pounds, Denmark already has an impressive presence as a defensive back. But he’s only played defense for one season after switching from receiver last spring. And he played at the Division II level. So he has a lot to learn. For what it’s worth, Valdosta State went 14-0 and won the Division II national championship after Denmark switched to cornerback.

“The sky is the limit,” said Denmark, a seventh-round draft pick. “I know there’s a lot they can pull out of me, that they’re going to get out of me. I’ll just open up to the opportunity and take advantage of everything.”