The Chicago Bears’ new draftees and dozens of undrafted free agents and tryout prospects gathered in the Walter Payton Center on Friday in Lake Forest for the first practice of rookie minicamp.
The rookies got their first taste of NFL learning, and coach Matt Eberflus said his staff threw a lot at them to see what they could retain.
“For us, it’s more about can you function as a pro — mentally first,” Eberflus said. “Can you get the schemes and then the formations, the motions down, and then can you operate and make the play?
“And then can you listen to instructions? Can you practice the right way? Because you’ve got to be able to stay on your feet and practice the right tempo and do things the right way, and I think guys did a good job with that.”
After media sessions with Eberflus and several Bears rookies, here are four things we learned.
1. Jaquan Brisker said he brushed off a controversial comment a Bears scout made on draft night.
After the Bears drafted Brisker with the 48th pick in the second round, the former Penn State safety was involved in a social media stir — but not through any action of his own.
The Bears made scouts available to the media after each pick, and when talking about Brisker’s special presence off the field, scout Chris Prescott described him as “Ph.D. — poor, hungry and desperate.”
“You feel a tough, hard-nosed kid,” Prescott said. “He’s a — what would we call it? — Ph.D.? Poor, hungry and desperate. Football is his life. This is this kid’s life. There’s a lot to like about that when you see a guy who’s so passionate about football.”
Several people called the offensive comments after an ESPN tweet about it. ESPN analyst Mina Kimes spoke of the situation this week in a segment on how players can feel “dehumanized, disrespected and stereotyped” by evaluators, coaches and media during the draft process.
Brisker said Friday he didn’t hear about the comments until later because he was enjoying his draft night with his family.
“The Bears organization did a great job of communicating with me and things like that, so I don’t really let things like that get to me because I’ve already been through a whole lot,” he said. “People say a lot of things, but you know, that’s not really who I am. You can’t judge a book by its cover.
“I’m actually a great person, great football player and I also graduated from college at Penn State. I overcame a lot of things, but I don’t let little things like that get to me.”
When asked if he was offended by the comments, Brisker said: “No, sir. It really just brushed off my shoulders. I heard about it super late, but I’m good. I’m fine. It’s time to play football.”
The Bears and Prescott parted ways this week as general manager Ryan Poles made changes to his scouting staff, including dismissing college scouting director Mark Sadowski.
2. Kyler Gordon left practice but is expected to return to the field Saturday.
Gordon — the Bears’ top pick at No. 39 in the second round — came off the field limping during team drills, clearly in discomfort after defending a pass over the middle. While the former Washington cornerback did not return, he was merely experiencing cramps according to Eberflus.
“We’ll just get him hydrated and get him ready for tomorrow,” Eberflus said.
Gordon wasn’t the only member of the draft class to miss practice time. Safety Elijah Hicks, a seventh-round pick out of Cal, was unable to participate at all. Eberflus declined to provide a health update on Hicks, who fractured his foot during practice for the East-West Shrine Bowl in January and had surgery shortly after.
Hicks’ rehabilitation isn’t expected to drag on, but for now he’s in a wait-and-see situation.
“When he’s ready to go, he’ll get back in there,” Eberflus said. “I’m not going to put timetables on it.”
3. Matt Eberflus asked former Bears cornerback Charles Tillman to speak to the rookies.
Gordon said he was initially confused when a Thursday evening meeting began with a montage of Tillman highlights. Then he looked around the room.
“We watched him at (Washington) all the time,” Gordon said. “We always practiced the ‘Peanut Punch.’ When he walked behind us, I was like, ‘Damn, that’s him!’ That was cool.”
Receiver Velus Jones said Tillman addressed the room from the heart.
“Man, it just shows the passion,” Jones said, “especially the passion he played with. And it goes for even the offensive (side of the) ball. (It’s) the passion you play with, the greatness, the determination.
“It really fired me up even though he was a defensive guy. Even just showing the history here: What are the standards? That definitely fired me up as a receiver.”
Connecting with standout Bears alumni has been a priority for Eberflus. He was thrilled Tillman accepted his invitation to speak and appreciated the message Tillman delivered.
“(It was) just about being a pro and being a Chicago Bear and what that means to him and what it means to the fans and what it means to the city,” Eberflus said. “To me, you can’t have enough of that.
“I told Charles, pass the word around. Talk to the guys. As you know, I texted a bunch of (former players) when I got the job. I’ve talked to several of them. They’re all welcome to come in. We would love to see them.”
4. The Bears have signed seven of their 11 draftees.
The Bears announced the signings of Hicks, offensive linemen Braxton Jones, Doug Kramer and Ja’Tyre Carter, running back Trestan Ebner, defensive end Dominique Robinson and punter Trenton Gill.
Gordon, Brisker, Jones and offensive lineman Zachary Thomas are the only draftees who haven’t signed.