Wide receiver Taylor Gabriel makes swift adjustment in Year 2 with Bears

“Turbo” is in a comfort zone as a player, teammate and leader. “I love Chicago — everything about it.”

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Bears wide receiver Taylor Gabriel (left) enjoys a ride with running back Tarik Cohen (right) in Cohen’s Polaris Slingshot, which Cohen drove to training camp at Olivet Nazarene University on July 25.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Wide receiver Taylor Gabriel hauled in a pinpoint deep ball from Mitch Trubisky in the corner of the end zone to beat Kyle Fuller early in training camp, toe-tapped for the 50-yard touchdown and immediately went into celebration mode.

Without stopping, he hopped the ropes in front of the stands at Olivet Nazarene University, sat down in a chair in the first row and accepted congratulations and glad-handing from excited Bears fans. 

After a successful introduction to the Bears as a free agent last season, this is a new year for Gabriel. A year ago, the 5-8, 165-pound speedster from Abilene Christian was getting acclimated to everything about the Bears — including Trubisky and coach Matt Nagy’s offense. This year, he’s in a comfort zone on multiple levels — as a weapon in Nagy’s offense, as a personality willing to engage with fans and teammates and as a team leader.

“I’m very comfortable,” said Gabriel, who had a career-high 67 receptions for 688 yards (10.3 average) and two touchdowns last season. “Bourbonnais was different for me last year. But now I’m comfortable. I know where all the food spots are at. The media and fans — it’s just those guys enjoying [it] and having fun and just meeting us in person.”

After entering the league with the Browns as an undrafted free agent from an FCS school in 2014, Gabriel knows the importance of timing in an NFL career and has an appreciation for being at the right place at the right time. In 2016, he was waived in the cutdown to 53 by the Browns, who were headed to a 1-15 season, and signed by the Falcons, who went 11-5 and ended up in the Super Bowl.

Now he’s in a fortunate situation again — signing with the Bears as a free agent last year in Nagy’s first season. 

“I love Chicago — everything about it,” Gabriel said. “Everything last year was amazing — from the fans to the media. It’s been amazing since I’ve been here.”

Though wide receivers coach Mike Furrey is meticulous about the technical aspects of the position, Gabriel said he also has helped him grow as a team leader. At 28, Gabriel is the oldest player in the receivers room. 

“Just becoming more selfless,” Gabriel said. “Being that guy that shows up early and leaves late and helps guys and brings the guys up.

“And that’s a role I have to assume. I have to be that person just because of the experience. I’ve been to a Super Bowl. And I know what that type of team looks like. And I know the efficiency of it — walk-throughs are not [perfunctory]. Walk-throughs are walk-throughs before a game. So everything is just tick-tack and being serious. [Furrey has] helped me become more of a leader.”

That’s a role Gabriel has grown into but willingly accepts. 

“I’ve never been that guy in camp,” he said. “I was behind Julio [Jones] and [Mohamed] Sanu [with the Falcons] and Miles Austin and [Andrew Hawkins] with the Browns. So now when I come here, I’m that guy. I have to lock in. I have that type of experience to tell those guys, ‘You have to lock in. We need those plays.’ ”

That has been a bit of a transformation for Gabriel.

“The No. 1 thing he did — and it started in the middle of last year — is he bought into this culture,” Nagy said. “And when you’re coming from a different culture, it takes time. I want to give him so much credit because he’s all-in right now, and he’s willing to do whatever we ask him to do. He does it. I think that’s showing out on the field.”

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