From Roquan Smith to Elijah Norris, Bears’ Matt Nagy giving everyone a fair shot
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Bears coach Matt Nagy couldn’t help but notice Roquan Smith on the first day of rookie minicamp Friday at the Walter Payton Center. The 6-1, 236-pound linebacker from Georgia — and the eighth overall pick in the draft — was smooth, fast, efficient and just looked like he has been the big wheel before.
But that’s not all. In shorts and helmets, sixth-round pick Kylie Fitts showed off the quickness and speed that enticed the Bears to take a shot on a pass rusher with an injured past. And 6-2, 192-pound cornerback Kevin Toliver, a hardscrabble undrafted free agent from LSU, made two or three plays that drew attention.
Nagy, in fact, made it clear that everybody has a shot here. Even tryout players who come in with unheralded resumes and lotto odds will get a good look from a coach who went to Division I-AA Delaware, dreamed of playing in the NFL and barely got a shot — his tryout with the Packers on Sept. 11, 2001, was memorable for the wrong reasons.
So guys such as wide receivers Brandon Shed from Hobart College, Matt Fleming from Benedictine University in Lisle and Jumill Hornsby from Limestone College, linebacker Elijah Norris and offensive lineman Lavonte Hights from Shepherd University and tight end Regis Cibasu from the Universite de Montreal will be among the 70 players participating who won’t be overlooked.
“It hits a spot with me,” Nagy said, “because I felt like I was one of those guys that just wasn’t tall enough, wasn’t fast enough, maybe not quite strong enough; didn’t go to a big school. So I refuse to let somebody slip by because of that.
“It’s not gonna happen with me. And I’m going to make sure that our staff understands that. There’s kids in this building [Halas Hall] and the Walter Payton Center at practice today [that] are gonna get extra-special attention because they’re not that guy. I can promise you that.”
For the tryout players, the rookie minicamp is an opportunity just to make it to the veteran minicamp and then training camp. For draft picks such as Smith, guard James Daniels and wide receiver Anthony Miller, it is an introduction into the offensive and defensive systems before the veteran practices commence next week.
“We’re just getting into the basics. It’s not that advanced yet,” Smith said before practice. “I’m enjoying just learning. I’m always trying to seek knowledge — learning things of the defense and special checks.”
Linebacker Joel “Iggy” Iyiegbuniwe, a fourth-round draft pick from Western Kentucky, has a lot to learn but said he already has picked up the positive vibe from Nagy.
“The energy is the big thing you notice,” Iyiegbuniwe said. “He hates pessimistic people; loves to be optimistic; good vibes, and all the players will tell you that’s what they get from him.”
It remains to be seen if this minicamp will produce any surprises. But, for what it’s worth, the youthful energy of the Nagy regime is ever-present. It started with a team dinner Thursday night with general manager Ryan Pace.
“Ryan gave a little note to the players of how many guys have made it as undrafted free agents as a little bit of motivation,” Nagy said. “There are some of us coaches that know these types of players and where they come from and how they can make it. We’re crazy if we overlook them.”