For Caleb Williams, OTAs more vital for him than any other NFL player

The dirty little secret about the NFL is that there is no true offseason. 

That’s especially true for rookies coming into their first year in the league.

The NFL does a great job staying relevant all year long and honestly, if you’re a player, you need to stay in shape year-round to keep up, regardless of how long you’ve played.

The level of competition has gotten so high that it isn’t feasible to take months off from training and expect to keep up with your peers come the rigorous weeks of the NFL season. It can also make getting injured more likely.

Each individual NFL team therefore has an offseason program that is designed to help keep players in shape. The majority of the offseason training activities are voluntary, save for mandatory mini-camp in June. Because of that, some dismiss OTAs as superfluous or not important.

They’re anything but for Chicago Bears rookie quarterback Caleb Williams.

In fact, given the weight of expectation on the first-year signal caller, OTAs could be more essential for him than anyone else in the league.

There’s a lot of new in Chicago, in general. Yes, Williams was selected with the first overall pick and head coach Matt Eberflus has already named him the starter, but he will be working under new offensive coordinator Shane Waldron and with new receivers Keenan Allen and rookie Rome Odunze. Tight end Gerald Everett is new to Chicago. So is running back D’Andre Swift. Center Coleman Shelton joined the team in free agency. 

OTAs will be their first chance to really work together. The more reps Williams can get with his new team, the more he’ll be ready to meet the sky-high expectations Chicago already has for him. There is no substitute for time.

On paper, the Bears look like they cannot fail. General manager Ryan Poles has spent years now curating Chicago’s roster. He overhauled it so that when Williams was selected first overall, a pick the Bears themselves did not actually merit, Chicago offered arguably the best situation a quarterback taken at that position has ever come into. 

The new weapons on offense, a defense that was one of if not the best unit in the league in the last eight games of last season, more commitment from the organization in front office resources, all of it has played a role in changing the culture in and around the Bears.

Former players have taken notice, too. 

As media, we only get a glimpse of what is happening on a day-to-day basis, but players are getting a lot of time together during this OTA period. Eberflus himself seems encouraged by what he’s seen so far.

“Specifically with Caleb, it’s really just about when he can rip the call, get the call in and out of the huddle, breaking in the huddle, having that pace that we need to have,” Eberflus said on Thursday. “We’ve been doing, of course, the walkthroughs, and he’s been really good with that. This is (his) first time going against a pro defense, and a pretty good one, so it’s going to be learning for everybody. They’re getting everything together, and it was progress. I saw progress from the first day to the second, second to the third, so it’s been good.” 

The amount of time the team is spending together becomes even more evident when you break it down on a daily basis. This is a real schedule taken from an NFC team during this phase of OTAs:

6:30am — Training room opens
7am – Breakfast/treatment available
7:30am — Offensive & defensive staff meetings (separate)
8am — All-team meeting
8:30am — Offense lift / defensive position meetings
10am — Defense lift / offensive position meetings
11:15am — Snack/rehab/pre-practice taping
12:15pm — Practice
2pm — Lunch
3:30pm — Rookie walk-through
4pm — Rookie engagement/development
5:30pm — Dinner available

Eberflus also said Williams is taking his playbook back to his hotel with him, as many players do. The Bears are also purposefully overwhelming Williams and the rookies. It’s sort of a baptism-by-fire ritual.

“It’s been very impressive,” Eberflus said. “His ability to chunk information, put it into buckets and operate. We’re not holding back, we’re giving him a lot of information. We’re giving him the offense and we want to be able to go through the whole offense before the offseason gets done, primarily most of it. Then, working into the summer, we’ll have a plan for him there, and then work him in training camp, and then go from there.” 

There will be more added on eventually. The focus is the basics first and building upon those. All of Waldron’s offensive concepts will be drilled into Williams as much as possible during this time. From there, once the season comes and game planning begins, that’s when Williams’ understanding will really be put to the test.

But right now, it’s all about the foundation — and so far, the Bears look to be on solid ground.

“I think the effect of getting that authenticity in terms of the connection is that, at the end of the day, we’re all Chicago Bears,” Eberflus said. “It’s not about being offense, defense, I play linebacker, you play quarterback, O-line versus a secondary guy – that doesn’t matter to us. We’re just all the Chicago Bears, and we have to be tight that way because that’s going to be the glue that keeps us together.” 

Carmen Vitali covers the NFC North for FOX Sports. Carmen had previous stops with The Draft Network and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. She spent six seasons with the Bucs, including 2020, which added the title of Super Bowl Champion (and boat-parade participant) to her résumé. You can follow Carmen on Twitter at @CarmieV

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