Bears WR Chase Claypool has much to say, much more to prove

Claypool was at the center of another spat with the Bears’ defense Wednesday and left practice with an injury.

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Bears wide receiver Chase Claypool works out at Halas Hall.

Bears wide receiver Chase Claypool works out at Halas Hall.

Nam Y. Huh/AP

One constant throughout Bears training camp has been the unrelenting stream of trash talk from wide receiver Chase Claypool, who has a lot to say but far more to prove.

Claypool has been at the center of spats between the offense and defense during camp and was at it again early in practice Wednesday, getting into it with rookie cornerback Tyrique Stevenson during one-on-one drills. Claypool beat Stevenson, but he got flagged for offensive pass interference and dropped the pass anyway.

Claypool and Stevenson snapped at each other as Claypool walked back to get in line for the drill, and an assistant coach stepped in to pull Stevenson away and keep it from escalating.

On Claypool’s next rep, this time against Jaylon Jones, he stopped in the middle of the route and grabbed the back of his leg. He and Stevenson then got into it again — Stevenson’s coach quickly stepped in to redirect him once more — and that was the end of his day.

The injury didn’t seem serious, and Claypool stayed on the sideline watching the rest of practice — jawing throughout. Coach Matt Eberflus didn’t have an update on his health and didn’t object to the overall episode.

“The guys are just being physical out there — that’s why we’ve got pads on,” he said. “There’s nothing wrong with that. You’ve gotta have some of that, for sure. It’s a physical game.”

At what point, though, does it become distracting and disruptive?

“When you talk to another opponent, and that certainly happens during the game and that’s part of some people’s game . . . [it’s fine] as long as it doesn’t lead to penalties or lack of execution,” Eberflus said. “If you can keep your focus and that’s how you do it and you don’t fight — because that’s a penalty — that’s part of the game.”

By all indications from the Bears, this has been a good offseason for Claypool. When Eberflus was asked what has encouraged him about Claypool in training camp, he listed virtually every aspect of the game — from mastering the playbook to cohesion with quarterback Justin Fields to selfless run-blocking.

It also has been a good sign that Claypool has been on the field for every practice, though that streak is in jeopardy after getting hurt Wednesday. Even if it’s minor, it casts doubt on his availability to play in the preseason game against the Titans on Saturday, when Eberflus was hoping to play his starters together.

But all the improvements the Bears keep highlighting are just talk until Claypool gives them consistent production.

They had high expectations when they traded a second-round pick (turning out to be No. 32 overall) for him at the deadline last season, but Claypool struggled to adjust to the offense in the middle of the season and got hurt against the Jets and Packers. He caught only 14 passes for 140 yards in seven games and played fewer than half the snaps in those appearances.

That didn’t help reassure anyone who was skeptical from the jump. Why would the Steelers, a respected organization, unload a player they drafted in the second round (49th overall) at a time when they needed help at the position just like the Bears did?

Claypool arrived with a splash in Pittsburgh and had 121 catches, 1,733 yards and 11 touchdowns in his first two seasons but dipped to 32 catches, 311 yards and one touchdown in the first eight games of 2022.

He described it as the coaches phasing him out of the offense and said they indicated to him through the game plans that they didn’t think he was a red-zone or deep threat.

“I started getting ‘formation-ed’ away from those things,” he said in November. “It was super-hard for me to make big plays because anytime there was a big play drawn up, I was on the other side of it.”

Did the Steelers misjudge his talent despite drafting him and having him in their building for two-plus years or were they astutely ahead of an impending problem and looking for a way out?

That’s the question Claypool has to answer this season, and he and the Bears have a lot riding on it.

He’s not a lottery ticket to general manager Ryan Poles — that is, great if it works out and no big deal if it doesn’t. He’s a major investment and a key part of what Poles plans to be a strong wide receivers group with DJ Moore and Darnell Mooney. When the season starts, Claypool has to do much more than talk.

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