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."
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.