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Bears' seventh-rounders boast intriguing traits


Running back Kerrith Whyte Jr. and cornerback Stephen Denmark were both selected by the Bears in the seventh round of the draft. But that's not all the two rookies have in common.

With Whyte's blazing speed and Denmark's rare size, the two possess intriguing characteristics that the Bears are eager to see on the practice field during offseason workouts.

Whyte appeared in 37 games the past three seasons at Florida Atlantic, rushing for 1,358 yards and 11 touchdowns on 232 carries and catching 22 passes for 227 yards with two TDs. He also averaged 26.1 yards on 81 kickoff returns with two touchdowns.

"The first trait when you're talking about this player is speed, standout speed for this guy," general manager Ryan Pace said after the draft. "He runs a 4.38 [in the 40]."

Last season at Florida Atlantic, Whyte backed up Devin Singletary, who was drafted in the third round by the Bills, one spot after the Bears chose Iowa State running back David Montgomery.

Nevertheless, Whyte established career highs in all rushing categories last year with 134 carries, 866 yards and eight touchdowns while playing in 12 games. The 5-10, 200-pounder also averaged 28.7 yards on 19 kickoff returns with one TD.

Whyte flashed his speed last weekend during the Bears rookie minicamp, especially when he caught a long pass in Saturday's practice.

"He is super fast," said coach Matt Nagy. "We ran a go-route with him. He made a great catch and they came back and the quarterback says to me, 'That's a running back!' And I go, 'I know.' It's raw speed. Every NFL scout knew that." 

Whyte will work out with Bears veterans for the first time Monday when rookies return to Halas Hall after a week away. He intends to follow the advice he received from former Bears running back Matt Forte when ex-players dined with the rookies last Thursday night at the team facility.

"He just told me to attack practice every day, form good habits and good things will happen," Whyte said.

Nagy lauded Whyte for not making many mistakes in the rookie minicamp and is eager to continue working with him.

"What he's doing for us right now in a limited role, his speed jumps out," Nagy said. "Now once we get a good feel of what his strengths are, we need to fit those into what we do, and he needs to at the same time produce on special teams as well." 

Denmark, meanwhile, played receiver his first three seasons at Valdosta State before switching to cornerback last year as a senior, when he helped the Blazers win the Division II national championship by recording 55 tackles, three interceptions and 12 pass breakups.

The 6-3, 220-pounder possesses excellent size, speed and jumping ability.

"Stephen Denmark has ridiculous measurables," general manager Ryan Pace said after the draft. "He's relatively new to the position, so [he's] a guy we feel has tremendous upside ahead of him and a guy that our defensive coaches, our special-teams coaches and our scouts were equally excited about, just working with that upside and the talent that he has."

When his college coaches approached Denmark about switching from receiver to cornerback, he felt it would benefit him in both the short-term and long-term.

"I kind of figured there's a lot of 6-3, 220-pound wide receivers, but there's not many 6-3, 220-pound cornerbacks at all really," Denmark said. "To get to [the NFL], I think that was the best move for me at the time."

Denmark has drawn comparisons with 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman, primarily because they both switched from receiver to cornerback in college and are roughly the same size. Some people also feel that there's a slight resemblance between the two. 

"I look up to him," Denmark said of the four-time Pro Bowler. "I just try to emulate and take some of his game and make it fit for me."