WR Tanner Gentry just one Bears undrafted rookie with a lot to prove

BOURBONNAIS — Just out of college, Bears rookies should understand coach John Fox’s metaphor.

“It’s kind of like in the classroom,” he said Tuesday. “You had pop quizzes, then you had tests and then the midterm weighed more. That’s what these preseason games are like from a grading standpoint.”

Except they’re graded on a curve. The Bears will use their four exhibitions to pick the best 53 players for their roster, but they’re more invested in some rookies — the draft picks — than others.

If undrafted free agents are going to make an impression, then it needs to be emphatic.

Tanner Gentry has been a star during Bears training camp. (AP)

“I would say you got a little bit less opportunity, as opposed to the drafted guy, a little bit less room for failure,” wide receiver Tanner Gentry said. “[But] if you’re on the team, then you’re getting a chance to make the roster.”

Here are four undrafted rookies who can make the biggest impression in preseason games, starting Thursday against the Broncos:

Tanner Gentry

The Wyoming alum has been one of the best players in training camp — period.

On Tuesday, he caught three touchdown passes — a deep ball down the right sideline from rookie Mitch Trubisky and a short pass and a one-handed deep reception from Mark Sanchez.

“He just goes up and gets it,” Trubisky said. “He does his job, and he’s been beating his man on the outside. The opportunities he’s been given, he’s taken advantage of. So he continues to get more opportunities, more balls thrown his way, and he’s taken advantage of it and made plays for us.”

Fox likes Gentry’s speed on deep throws and his positional versatility. He cites his college success: The 6-2, 209-pounder had 72 catches for 1,326 yards as a senior. As a pro, though, he needs to be more exact in his routes. The game is too fast to be inexact.

“I’ve always been pretty confident in myself, and I’ve always known that I can play at this level,” said Gentry, who grew up in the Denver area rooting for the Broncos. “I’ve been excited to show everybody what I can do.”

Making the team is about more than catching the ball. After rarely playing special teams in college, he’ll cover kickoffs and punts Thursday. He’ll have to try to tackle in games for the first time in forever.

“As a receiver, you don’t get to do it often,” he said. “So when you get a chance, you have to take advantage of it.”

Roy Robertson-Harris

An amazing 458 days after signing with the Bears, Robertson-Harris will play his first pro game of any kind against the Broncos.

“It’s going to mean everything,” he said. “I’ve been waiting on this for a whole year.”
Call him a redshirt freshman.

The UTEP alum suffered heatstroke in July 2016, forcing him to sit out training camp before the Bears put him on injured reserve for the season. After he studied outside linebacker, the Bears decided to switch him to defensive end at the end of the year.

He has added 29 pounds to his 6-7 frame and weighs 294.

“I’m bigger, stronger, faster, wiser,” he said. “A lot more coachable. Doing things I’m being asked to do to make this team. . . .

“I’m not trying to be the guy that’s like, ‘I’m gonna start over everybody.’ I’m trying to be the best player I can be. I’m in competition with myself only.”

Freddie Stevenson

Stevenson, who went to Florida State, has only one rival for the fullback spot — former Lion Michael Burton.

His competition, then, is scheme. Will the Bears actually keep a fullback?

“Right now, I’m trying to control what I can control,” he said. “Go out there and play the best game and be the best Freddie Stevenson I can be.”

Stevenson has been working on technique as well as the speed and urgency of the pro game. He knows that he’s playing for more than just the Bears. Teams that use fullbacks will be watching film.

“That’s the reality of preseason,” he said. “Not only performing for the Bears, but performing for the other teams. You have to put your best foot forward.”

Josh Rounds

The first preseason game usually ends with a no-name running back carrying a dozen times in the fourth quarter. Rounds, who will be celebrating his one-week anniversary on the roster, could be that man. He tried out at rookie minicamp but didn’t sign until Thursday, when Northern Illinois’ Joel Bouagnon was waived with an injury.

Rounds, who ran 125 times for 758 yards last year at Tulane, won’t play unless the team is confident he can block. One playbook mishap could get Trubisky injured — the definition of disaster.

Rounds knows he’s learning on the fly.

“You have to have an organization that’s willing to teach you,” Rounds said. “All the coaches, they know my situation. They’re spoon-feeding me right now and putting me in situations where I can be successful.”

Follow me on Twitter @patrickfinley.

Email: pfinley@suntimes.com


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