Minicamps, particularly rookie ones, can be dismissed as NFL hopefuls just trying to run around in shorts trying to impress coaches enough to advance to the next minicamp, and then to OTA’s, and then to training camp, and so on. Linemen in particular aren’t allowed to hit each other and direct competitions are limited, which hampers a team like the Bears that has made “competition” a mantra this offseason.
So the chances of forming meaningful impressions from sessions like the Bears’ three-day rookie minicamp this weekend are minimal.
Or are they?
No, Leonard Floyd will not flash full pass-rush moves the Bears expect from a No. 9 overal pick. No, second-rounder Cody Whitehair will not show any mauling abilities at guard, certainly not against fellow rookie defensive lineman Jonathan Bullard.
But what has impressed coaches both publicly and privately has been one of the missing elements in the 2015 Bears, particularly on defense, one that in fact can be evaluated meaningfully now:
That speed has been evident among the rookies, both drafted and undrafted, and that was a focus in the player acquisitions over the past month, beginning with Floyd.
“We wanted speed,” said defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. “Our team speed up front last year was below average. To add somebody with some speed as part of [Floyd’s] ‘toolbox’ is something we were intrigued by.”
Obviously more is involved in “speed” than simple times in the “40.” Getting off NFL blocks is a first step in functional speed for front-seven player; getting into those blocks involves meaningful speed for offensive linemen.
But coaches, who can differentiate between camp speed and functional speed, have been struck by the infusion of speed that has come in with the draft picks and others — diminutive receivers Daniel Braverman (seventh rounder) and Kieren Duncan (UDFA) have run 4.4’s and even 4.3’s in 40-yard dashes — and that theme of increasing team speed has been evident.
Most notably, that speed has appeared in the front-seven on defense, where the Bears invested three of their first four draft picks. Where former GM Phil Emery spoke openly about the need to get the Bears bigger, the tilt has now been toward a faster team in addition to the always-present need for skillsets.
“The kind of guys you bring in,” said coach John Fox, “I think our scouts understood it and understood it a year ago; I was pretty pleased with all our draft picks — we’re still early in the evaluation process with this draft class — but I think there’s a theme to it that I think is important for any professional football team.”