They say understanding an NFL playbook is like learning a new language. But try telling that to tight end Dax Raymond, who, as a teenager serving a Mormon mission, had to learn Russian while living in the port city of Vladivostok.
Mercifully, Bears coach Matt Nagy’s plays aren’t in Cyrillic.
“I believe that gave me confidence: that if I can learn the Russian language, I can pick up the playbook,” Raymond said Saturday.
Per Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints rules, Raymond worked out for only 30 minutes each morning during his two-year mission — a luxury, considering he traveled as far as Siberia to try to spread his religion. Raymond was allowed one email from his family per week, and was only allowed to Skype home on Mother’s Day and Christmas.
Because he joined Utah State’s football team so late, he entered the draft at 24 even though he had a year of eligibility remaining. After going undrafted, he signed with the Bears as an undrafted free agent last week.
“[It] makes sense — you want younger guys,” Raymond said. “But I think it can also be a positive with maturity.”
Raymond, who interviewed with the Bears at the NFL Scouting Combine, knew the team had an opportunity awaiting at tight end. He fit in well during their rookie minicamp, catching a touchdown in the back of the end zone Sunday.
“He has a really good skillset,” said Nagy, who noticed Raymond’s oversized hands. “I was happy with what he did [last] week.”
Here are three more undrafted free agents that could make an impact with the Bears:
The 6-7, 255-pound tight end signed with the Bears after participating in their local pro day last month. He found familiarity in camp — his Hinsdale Central High School teammate, Colgate’s Thomas Ives, signed on as a receiver.
“It’s definitely the beginning of a dream come true,” he said.
Bunting played at Michigan from 2015-17 before transferring to Cal for his senior year. He caught only 18 passes for 195 yards last year, but his size could provide the mismatch that Nagy craves.
He started the last 37 games as Notre Dame’s center and was voted a captain in his final season. The 6-3, 306-pounder was eager to reunite with offensive line coach Harry Hiestand, who left South Bend, Ind., for the Bears a year ago.
“I don’t think ever in my life I’ve ever relaxed around coach Hiestand, even off the field,” he said. “I just attack the best I can. …
“I didn’t feel like there was a better landing spot for me.”
The 6-6, 312-pounder started 12 games at tackle in 2016 and spent the next year-and-a-half as a starting guard before a September left knee injury ended his college career.
He had surgery in October and was given a nine-month recovery timetable. He didn’t participate in the minicamp.
“It will take a little bit of time here. …” Nagy said. “He seems like a great kid and, obviously, a very good player.”
Mustipher has been there to keep his spirits up.
“He’s attacking the recovery process. …” Mustipher said. “We spend a lot of time together. We have in the past. So it’s just like home.”