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CANTON, OH – Javon Wims warms up prior to the Hall of Fame Game against the Baltimore Ravens at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium on August 2, 2018 in Canton, Ohio. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

BOURBONNAIS, Ill. — Kyle Long’s first day in pads in 2013 was an eye opening experience. Then again, so was Shea McClellin’s in 2012.

I’m a big believer that you can learn a lot about rookies when the pads first go on in training camp. Those first few practices don’t define a career, but they do give you a good idea about how much development is still needed before that player can make an impact on the field. And in extreme cases — good (Long) or bad (McClellin) — you can tell right away if a guy belongs in the NFL or if he doesn’t. 

With that in mind, every year I like to catch up with the latest Bears draft class after a couple weeks of training camp. It’s a good opportunity to see how their progress is going and what areas need more work. Unfortunately, the combination of a contract dispute, a couple of injuries, and new media viewing rules at practice made this year’s update on the draft class much more difficult to compile, but Thursday’s Hall of Fame Game also gave us some game tape to evaluate. Let’s jump into this week’s “10 Bears Things,” with the first seven items consisting of general manager Ryan Pace’s fourth draft class.


1. 1st Round, No. 8 Overall: ILB Roquan Smith

The No. 8 overall pick has yet to put the pads on because he has yet to show up to Bourbonnais. The Bears still have 5.5 weeks until the opener in Green Bay, but Smith has already missed 2.5 weeks of work since he was supposed to report with the rest of the rookies. 

In a league where the NFLPA holds very little power, I’m a believer that players should fight hard in their contract negotiations, but it certainly appears as if Smith’s agency (CAA) is fighting for more than just one client here. If Smith wants to fight that fight, then he should, but if he cares more about starting Week 1 at Lambeau Field, he needs to get to training camp. 


2. 2nd Round, No. 39: OG/C James Daniels

Daniels didn’t play Thursday night, likely because of a shoulder injury suffered in practice earlier this week. Because reporters are no longer allowed to roam the sidelines at practice (which limits how closely we can evaluate individual drills and 1-on-1s), it’s been much harder to thoroughly evaluate line-play in training camp this year. Frankly, I was looking forward to seeing Daniels play Thursday night.

That said, I haven’t noticed any obvious weaknesses for Daniels, nor have I seen him completely dominate his competition. Coming from Iowa, he should adapt to the NFL game fairly quickly, but he did note some key adjustments in a conversation I had him with him last week.

“Run blocking, going through guys,” Daniels said. “At Iowa, we did a lot of reach blocking. Here, it’s more vertical instead of lateral … I get caught overrunning a lot of things.”

Daniels is a fun guy to talk technique with, explaining that at Iowa “we did a lot of pin-and-pull — they block down the guard, pull the center and tackle,” referring to his experience pulling from both the guard and center position. 

As for pass blocking, Bears offensive line coach Harry Hiestand is stressing body and hand positioning, Daniels said. Other than that, the young offensive lineman is just adjusting to an offense that is different, but not that different from the pro-offense the Hawkeyes run. 

“I see (the Bears’) offense as like a pro-style offense, we’re just spread out on the field,” he said. “The difference between here and what we did at Iowa — at Iowa, we ran the same plays, but we weren’t reading, and we had a fullback in the game. Here, we’re pretty much running the same plays, but we’re reading (defensive players).”


3. 2nd Round, No. 51: WR Anthony Miller

Unless Miller has some injury we don’t know about, his absence on the field Thursday night was a pretty clear indication that he’s highly valued and should play a lot when the regular season comes around. Miller has looked excellent in camp so far, showing outstanding route-running ability and chemistry with Mitch Trubisky. He certainly doesn’t lack confidence either. 

“I’m not just some rookie coming out here trying to make it, I’m trying to make plays. I’m trying to make a huge impact,” Miller told me.

He also said he has noticed recently that the offensive coaches have been asking him to do a lot more in practice, which may have culminated in the rookie wideout being held out of the Hall of Fame Game entirely. Miller may get the Tarik Cohen treatment in the preseason, as the Bears did a good job of hiding Cohen on tape before unleashing him on the unsuspecting Falcons in Week 1 last year. 

Miller said Nagy’s system is “the same style offense” he played in at Memphis, but the play calls are “way longer.” 

“Mitch is in there, he has a whole lot to remember when saying plays,” Miller said. “And the rest of us just got to listen for one specific thing. He has a lot on his plate, as far as remembering plays. I know I can remember one small bit of the play if he can remember all of that.”

Miller’s biggest focus has been the work he’s doing off the field, making sure he knows the playbook inside-and-out.

“Just knowing my assignment, where I need to line up. If you don’t know anything, you’re not going to play, especially at this level,” he said. “You got to be intelligent. So that’s what I’ve been working on, just being prepared.”

And it’s common to see Miller staying late, running extra routes with Trubisky. 

“`We’re building right now,” he said about his chemistry with the quarterback. “It’s like a project. And it’s not finished yet, but I know Week 1, it will be pretty sweet.”

It’s still early, but Miller has the traits of being one of the “extreme cases” I referenced earlier — the type of player you can already tell belongs on an NFL field. 


4. 4th Round, No. 115: ILB Joel Iyiegbuniwe

The rookie commonly referred to as “Iggy” has been out with a shoulder problem since the first couple of practices, which means there has been very little to evaluate. It’s too bad because with Roquan Smith not in camp and Danny Trevathan dealing with a hamstring injury, there are plenty of reps available at inside linebacker.


5. 5th Round, No. 145: DE Bilal Nichols

Much like with Daniels, I was really looking forward to seeing Nichols in Thursday night’s game because it’s been so hard to watch the line-play in practice. The good news is that Nichols played a lot in the second half and he looked pretty good. He showed good awareness when he came in unblocked on Ravens rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson and converted the sack. It’s very easy to rush uncontrolled and over-pursue in that situation, especially against someone as elusive as Jackson. Nichols didn’t lose contain and made the play. (Sidenote: It looked to me like Jackson was going through an eye-opening experience with the speed of the NFL game Thursday night, even though he was playing against mostly rookies and/or third-stringers.)

Nichols’ strength is impressive and he could provide some nice depth on the defensive line this year. I’d like to see him face some better talent as the preseason moves along.


6. 6th Round, No. 181: OLB Kylie Fitts

The sixth round pick out of Utah received a good amount of playing time in the first half Thursday night and had some up-and-down moments. He had an opportunity to sack Robert Griffin III in the first quarter, but he failed to do what Nichols did so well and lost contain. RG3 was able to roll out to the right and complete his throw. Later in the game, however, Fitts showed good speed off the edge and easily beat tight end Nick Keizer to earn his first preseason sack. 

Nagy recently singled out Fitts for having a nice training camp so far, and even said he’s had to scold the rookie a few times for getting too close to the quarterback on throws. Fitts said he was looking forward to playing in a game so he could finish some of those plays, which he did Thursday night. 

As for what his biggest adjustment has been so far: “Just getting adjusted to the speed. The speed is a lot faster. Especially when the pads come on. It’s go time.”

With the lack of depth at outside linebacker, and nagging injuries mounting for Aaron Lynch, there could be an opportunity for Fitts if he continues to play well. 


7. 7th Round, No. 224: WR Javon Wims

Even before Thursday’s breakout performance against the Ravens, I already had many positive words written on the star Georgia wide receiver who was bizarrely overlooked in the draft before the Bears took him in the seventh round. 

“They said I’m not fast enough. They said I can’t run routes. They said I played in an offense that ran the ball dominantly. I mean, the list goes on,” Wims said.

Those doubts haven’t translated to the Bourbonnais practice fields and they sure seemed foolish Thursday night when Wims caught seven passes for 89 yards in his pro debut. Even if most of that production came against backups, he looked polished in his route running, which both he and Nagy have acknowledged as any area of focus. 

“He’s a kid who has excellent hands. Really, really good hands,” Nagy said Thursday night. 

As is often the case with wide receivers, they usually either play larger or smaller than their listed size. Wims is listed as 6-4, 215 pounds and looks every bit of it on the practice field, which left a great first impression when the pads went on.

The rookie provided his own scouting report for me:

Strengths: “Just being able to use my frame catching the ball down the field. Catching the ball in traffic. Just being able to go over the top of defenders.”

Weaknesses: “Just trying to get a little quicker. Get a little more detailed. Just paying attention to the detail in my routes.”

Thursday night, Wims showed off the ability to catch the ball in traffic, plucking the ball out of the air multiple times. But he also showed some polished route running, particularly on a quick slant on 4th-and-6 late in the game when the Bears needed a first down to stay alive. 

Of course, Bears training camps are infamous for seventh round/undrafted wide receivers receiving their 15 minutes of fame and exciting the fanbase before never really contributing during the regular season. But in this case, we aren’t talking about Dane Sanzenbacher or Daniel Braverman. Wims is a legitimate 6-4, 215 pounds and so far looks like he belongs. That said, I’d still like to see him handle some press coverage against starting level cornerbacks as the preseason goes on.


8. Breakout Candidates Emerge On D-line

To me, two of the most likely candidates for third-year breakout seasons are pass rushers, and no, I’m not talking about Leonard Floyd (although he’s the most obvious candidate). I really thought Jonathan Bullard put some good tape together when received his opportunities late in the season last year and Roy Robertson-Harris also showed impressive flashes. Both players have legitimate excuses for needing a couple years of development, as Bullard was a prototypical, gap-shooting 4-3 defensive lineman coming out of Florida, while Robertson-Harris dealt with an illness as a rookie before being converted to a 3-4 defensive end. 

“At Florida, I had a little more open range, a little more ability to shoot gaps That was what our thing was,” Bullard said. “Here, it’s just a little different, but I’ve had plenty of time now. There’s no excuses. I should be tuned up and ready to go.”

Bullard and/or Robertson-Harris are being counted on to start opposite Akiem Hicks and both have the pass rush ability to aid any deficiencies the Bears might have with their edge rushers.


9. ‘Use Of The Helmet’ Rule Debuts With Misguided Complaints

No matter how it is actually called, the NFL’s new helmet rule is going to get criticized throughout the season. That started Thursday night, even though the two “use of helmet” penalties that were called were actually clear-cut and pretty obvious. 

The problem was that two other “unnecessary roughness” penalties were called in the game and pretty much everyone thought the new “use of helmet” rule was being invoked, even though it wasn’t. Even former referee Terry McAuley, who is now NBC’s resident rules analyst, criticized the final “unnecessary roughness” penalty because the helmet wasn’t being used to deliver the blow.

The last two calls were actually made because the officials were ruling that the receiver was “defenseless,” which was already a penalty prior to this season. Going forward, it would be wise for referees to provide that detail when announcing the calls. 

On the two “use of helmet” penalties called Thursday night, referee Walt Coleman actually announced the calls as: “Unnecessary roughness, use of the helmet.” On the other two, he simply said: “Unnecessary roughness” and didn’t provide any extra detail. 

For the record, here is the “use of helmet” rule as it is written.


10. What To Watch For

The Bears will return to the practice field on Saturday in Bourbonnais for the first of four practices in a row before playing their next preseason game next Thursday in Cincinnati. Will Roquan Smith show up this week? Nagy called the situation a “stalemate” and if neither side gives in soon, the regular season is going to start to become a question mark.

One thing we know for sure: Adam Jahns and I will be reporting to Bourbonnais Saturday for a live edition of “The Hoge & Jahns Podcast” from inside the training camp grounds at Olivet Nazarene University. Practice starts at 8:15 a.m. and the podcast will go from 10:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. in one of the broadcast tents adjacent to the practice fields. Hope to see you there. 

Adam Hoge covers the Chicago Bears for WGN Radio and WGNRadio.com. He also hosts “The Hoge & Jahns Podcast.” Follow him on Twitter at @AdamHoge.