Emanuel Hall

Bears training camp battles: Javon Wims gains an early edge in heated wide receiver competition 

Bears training camp battles: Javon Wims gains an early edge in heated wide receiver competition 

BOURBONNAIS, Ill. — Ryan Pace has been adamant about the Bears keeping their best 53 players at the end of the preseason and not worrying too much about how many of those players reside in a specific unit. Or, to put it another way: There’s a possibility the Bears keep seven wide receivers on their initial 53-man roster given the depth and talent accumulated at that position. 

Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, Anthony Miller and Cordarrelle Patterson are locked into roster spots. Fourth-round pick Riley Ridley should be too, despite missing the early part of training camp with a hamstring injury. 

So that leaves at least one spot, and maybe as many as two spots, up for grabs for this group of players: Emanuel Hall, Marvin Hall, Thomas Ives, Tanner Gentry, Taquan Mizzell, Jordan Williams-Lambert and Javon Wims. 

Through the first five practices of camp, Wims has stood out the most. 

“I think he’s finding out who he is and we’re finding out where he fits in the offense,” coach Matt Nagy said. “But I like his size, I like what he does as a route runner. It’s what we saw at Georgia.”

Wims has displayed good hands, too, in Bourbonnais as well as the go-up-and-get-it ability he showed in college. Expect to see him on special teams during preseason games, too, adding an important evaluation for a player near the roster bubble. 

And the 2018 seventh-round pick said he’s taken advantage of his opportunities to work with Mitch Trubisky during camp as he not only tries to prove to coaches and front office members he’s worthy of a roster spot, but prove to his quarterback he can be a reliable target. 

“That’s the main thing, the quarterback’s gotta trust you to throw you the ball,” Wims said. “So just get his trust and keep trying to earn his trust and understand that hey, when in doubt you can throw it my way or make the right read or whatever. I just want him to trust me and throw the ball my way.”

Wims had a couple of good showings during 2018’s preseason — specifically, in the Hall of Fame Game and then against the Kansas City Chiefs — that helped him earn a roster spot as a rookie. The Bears might not have been able to sneak him on to the practice squad, and while he was only active for four games, he was able to leave a positive impression on the team with the four catches he had in Week 17 against the Minnesota Vikings. 

While Wims played at college football’s highest level with Georgia, there was a difference for him in proving to himself he belonged at the NFL level. The game against the Vikings certainly helped him clear that important mental hurdle. 

“It’s different because every guy in the NFL is (from) the top of their conference or the top of wherever they come from, so you got a collective of guys who are big dogs where they’re coming from and now come together,” Wims said. “So that’s a little bit different. Some (players) it clicks for them fast, some it’s a learning curve. And whenever it clicks, it just clicks, and I’m lucky it clicked for me.”

Wims hasn’t played himself on to the Bears’ roster just yet, but if he can keep playing at the level he’s been at early on in camp, he’ll not only have a roster spot — he could carve out a role on gamedays in the Bears’ offense.  

Another setback for Hall

Emanuel Hall signed in April as the most-hyped Bears undrafted rookie in recent memory. Some draft evaluators had him projected him to be as high as a Day 2 pick; few expected no team to select him in April’s NFL Draft. Hall’s history of injuries at Mizzou played into his plummeting stock. 

As it turned out, Hall needed sports hernia surgery after landing with the Bears, and he missed the majority of offseason practices at Halas Hall. Now at training camp, Hall has already missed three of the Bears’ five practices due to some lingering soreness. 

“We’re just trying to be cautious with it,” Nagy said. 

Hall’s physical traits are evident — he ran a 4.39 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine and averaged 23 1/2 yards per reception with 14 touchdowns during his final two seasons at Mizzou. He seems to have the right mindset to approaching his uphill climb for a roster spot, too. 

“I have a lot of guys I gotta show what I can do,” Hall said. “I did a lot of good things in college but that doesn’t really matter anymore.

“… At the end of the day, whether that’s being the best at special teams or that’s being a slot or that’s being the freaking running back, I don’t care — I’m trying to be the best, I’m trying to do the best I can do. And I feel like my natural abilities at that will take over. I’m really excited about it. I think this a great opportunity. I wouldn’t rather be any other place. 

“As far as the competition, I’m not worried about the competition. I feel like God puts you in the right place at the right time for a reason.”

Missing a few early practices in training camp doesn’t set Hall significantly far back from the pack, but if he starts missing preseason games, it’ll make things even more difficult not only for him to make the Bears, but to stick on an NFL roster as a rookie. 

Still, Hall is happy to be here, learning from wide receiver coach Mike Furrey and top wideout Allen Robinson while marveling at the collection of players assembled at Olivet Nazarene University. 

"I think this team has a lot of talent right now," Hall said. "If you’re sleeping on the Chicago Bears, it’s going to be something." 

Other notes

Marvin Hall has made a few splash plays on deep balls during camp, giving an early boost to the former Atlanta Falcons wideout. 

The undrafted rookie who’s flashed the most has been Thomas Ives, the 6-foot-5 Hinsdale Central alum who played his college ball at Colgate. Tanner Gentry too has made some plays for the third consecutive year down in Bourbonnais. 

Williams-Lambert has been sidelined for the last few days with a hamstring injury, Nagy said. 

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Bears undrafted wide receiver Emanuel Hall sidelined from OTAs with sports hernia surgery


Bears undrafted wide receiver Emanuel Hall sidelined from OTAs with sports hernia surgery

This hasn’t been a good summer for sports hernias in Chicago. The injury is actually a groin-area muscle tissue issue, not an actual hernia, but it still has two Bears sidelined.

Matt Nagy revealed Wednesday that undrafted rookie free agent wide receiver Emanuel Hall underwent sports hernia surgery and is sitting out organized team activities.

Last week, Nagy announced a similar procedure for tight end Trey Burton, who had been dealing with a groin issue since the wildcard loss to the Philadelphia Eagles last year.

The head coach hopes both can be back in time for training camp, but the timeline for offseason injuries can often be hard to predict.

The Missouri receiver struggled with injuries during his college career, which is thought to be why no team used a draft pick to secure his services.

It’s obviously not the start he wanted for his Bears career, but his skills as a vertical threat give him a real opportunity to stick on the 53-man roster, if he can stay healthy.

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Facing an uphill climb, Emanuel Hall aims to prove NFL wrong with Bears

USA Today

Facing an uphill climb, Emanuel Hall aims to prove NFL wrong with Bears

Like every undrafted free agent, Emanuel Hall faces a difficult path to make an NFL roster. His path with the Bears, though, looks even more treacherous given the depth ahead of the former Mizzou wide receiver.

Hall isn’t going to beat out Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel or Anthony Miller. Cordarrelle Patterson is guaranteed $5 million for 2019, so he’s not going anywhere. Riley Ridley wasn’t drafted in the fourth round (and with the team’s second of five draft picks) to not make the team.

With five receivers all but locked into roster spots, a question lingers: Is there even room for another receiver on the Bears’ 53-man roster?

Even if the answer is yes, Hall would have to beat out a group of contenders for that spot led by Javon Wims and Marvin Hall. So why did the speedy Hall, who thought he’d be a Day 2 draft pick comfortably assured a roster spot, come to the Bears?

“I was kind of looking at the depth chart but at the end of the day I’m confident in my abilities and I know coach (Mike) Furrey can take me to a whole new level, so I’m just ready to get to work,” Hall said. “Who’s on the depth chart, who’s not on the depth chart really isn’t a matter of mind to me. At the end of the day, my work is going to prove for itself, my results are going to prove for itself and that’s what I plan to do.”

Hall spoke highly of Furrey, the Bears’ second-year wide receivers coach, last weekend during rookie minicamp. He and coach Matt Nagy seemed to click, too, after meeting with the Bears during the pre-draft process. Hall’s speed and explosive playmaking ability made him a favorite target of Drew Lock during their time at Mizzou, and it’s those traits that made Hall one of the Bears’ more intriguing undrafted free agents signings.

Nagy said Hall’s decision to sign with the Bears rather than a team offering him more money showed a certain level of maturity.

“Sometimes when those guys are in that situation at the end of the draft, they’re really frustrated, they’re emotional and they don’t get drafted (when) they thought they should have,” Nagy said. “And then money becomes the No. 1 priority for them, and sometimes that can come back and get them. I was really proud of Emanuel to be able to make a good decision of going to where he wanted to go to.”

The underlying point here is that Hall may have an open window to make the Bears’ 53-man roster, but he’ll have an opportunity through OTAs, training camp and preseason games to force his way onto it. Or, if that fails, he could put enough on tape in the preseason to get himself snatched up by another team. But Hall believes signing with the Bears to work with Furrey in Nagy’s offense — instead of with one of the other 20-plus other teams he said offered him — gives him the best shot of proving he belongs in the NFL.

“I trust this coaching staff, I trust the culture that's going on here,” Hall said. “It's a winning program and I love that. I'm just ready to embrace it. I'm just ready to soak in all that this program has to offer. Man, I'm just ready for the road to prove myself.”

Hall’s road to prove himself, though, won’t be traveled just by putting good things on tape. One of his bigger red flags in the draft process was his history of injuries — recurring groin and hamstring issues limited him to 18 games his junior and senior seasons, though they didn’t prevent him from having eye-popping athletic testing scores at the NFL Combine (headlined by a 4.39-second 40-yard dash).

There also was a report of Hall’s “attitude” being viewed as a problem, though he dealt with the unexpected death of his father in October of last season.

The injury part of things is something on which the Bears were willing to take a chance thanks to their confidence in head trainer Andre Tucker’s program.

“There’s some elements to that, in regards to our training program, (are) going to be different than every other training program from other teams that they come from,” Nagy said. “… We feel really good about when we bring people in here, we really sometimes don’t care as much about what happened in the past — what can we do now? Let’s fix it, let’s give him a clean slate and let’s roll.”

That Hall wasn’t picked was a surprise to not only him, but plenty of observers and analysts of the draft. The Athletic’s Dane Brugler ranked him 59th on his top 100 and NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein compared him to the speedy and productive Mike Wallace, for example. Hall hosted a draft party both Friday and Saturday at his family’s home in the Nashville area, expecting to celebrate with those closest to him after the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of hearing his name called at the NFL Draft.

That moment never came. It’s possible 32 NFL teams missed 254 times on not drafting Hall. But the odds aren’t in his favor as he sets out to prove every single talent evaluator, general manager and coach — the Bears included in this — wrong. NFL teams often don’t seem to know what they’re doing, but there are enough smart people in front offices around the league to the point where saying it’s a surprise a player didn’t get drafted is sort of an overwrought argument to make.

Just because Hall faces steep odds and a difficult path ahead doesn’t mean he won’t make it with the Bears, or in the NFL. And as he moves forward, he’ll carry with him what he felt during the draft as 254 names were called — just not his.

“I promise you it’s a feeling that I’ll never forget,” Hall said. “That was one of the worst feelings ever, being undrafted. If I would have gone into it knowing I wasn’t going to be undrafted, I don’t think I would have felt that way. But in the same sense, everything happens for a reason. And I love the Chicago Bears. Awesome city. So Bear Down.”