One under-the-radar veteran who impressed Bears coach Matt Nagy during offseason practices was speedy receiver Damiere Byrd.
Signed May 1, the 5-9, 180-pounder spent his first five NFL seasons with the Panthers (2016-18), Cardinals (2019) and Patriots (2020), catching 91 passes for 1,092 yards and four touchdowns. Byrd also averaged 25.2 yards on 14 kickoff returns with one TD and 8.1 yards on 14 punt returns.
"It's pretty evident [from] the seasons that he's had the past few years, and last year being in New England, what he brings is a nice element of speed and playmaking ability with the ball in his hands," Nagy said. "Then, the other part, too, that I really like is that he's really a student of the game. He's able to come in here and digest different positions and not make mistakes or make the same mistake twice. That's a credit to him. He's new to this offense. He's very eager and he's attentive in meetings, and you can see it on the field."
Byrd entered the NFL in 2015 with the Panthers as an undrafted free agent from South Carolina. Three of his four career touchdowns came in back-to-back games late in the 2017 season. He returned a kickoff 103 yards for a score in a 22-19 win over the Buccaneers and followed a week later with TD receptions of 9 and 13 yards in a 31-24 victory over the Packers.
Last season in New England, Byrd established career highs with 16 games played, 14 starts, 47 receptions and 604 yards.
After an impressive offseason, Byrd will be a player to watch when the Bears begin training camp in late July at Halas Hall.
"I'm looking forward to seeing what he's going to do now," Nagy said. "Somebody like him that's new, what he's going to do in training camp and the preseason."
Back in business
Two other veteran free agent acquisitions to monitor in camp will be running back Damien Williams and receiver Marquise Goodwin. Both have been explosive players for other NFL teams who have returned after opting out of the 2020 season due to COVID-19 concerns.
"They're two guys that we brought in here that we're really excited [about] the shape they are in," Nagy said. "You could go both ways with the COVID deal when a guy sits out. You're not sure 'OK, are they are in shape or out of shape?' That's a major red flag and concern for a lot of people, but [not] for both of those guys."
Williams signed with the Bears March 26. He's appeared in 85 games with 13 starts over six NFL seasons with the Dolphins (2014-17) and Chiefs (2018-19). The 5-11, 224-pounder has rushed for 1,231 yards and 12 touchdowns on 294 carries and caught 138 passes for 1,106 yards and 10 TDs.
The last time he played in a game, Williams helped the Chiefs turn a 24-20 deficit into a stirring 31-20 win over the 49ers in Super Bowl LIV by scoring two late touchdowns on a 5-yard reception and a 38-yard run.
Goodwin joined the Bears April 16. The speedy receiver has played in 75 games with 40 starts over seven seasons with the Bills (2013-16) and 49ers (2017-19), catching 140 passes for 2,323 yards and 13 touchdowns. Goodwin represented the United States at the 2012 Summer Olympic Games as a long jumper.
"With Marquise, everybody knows he has trained for the Olympics, and anytime you have an Olympic mentality, you're different," Nagy said. "That's a minute-by-minute, hour-by-hour regimem that you're keeping your body in shape.
"We were joking the other day you see on the software services that we have on all these players, the data, you see their speed and it has their speed locked in from when they were in college. Some of these guys 10 years later are 4.31, 4.37 but really, right now, they are running a 4.58 and I was joking with him about it and he said, 'Coach, I'm faster now that I was when I came out.'
"With Damien, [he's] a guy that has been in a similar style offense, so that part has been easier for him. But what I haven't talked about with both of those guys is that their mentality and their buy-in to this offense, to this team, to this organization is off the charts. That part to me is special, and they're great leaders and we're really excited to see what they do moving forward."
Bears working to improve red-zone offense
The Bears focused on their red zone offense in the third and final minicamp practice Thursday. But it certainly won't be the last time they do so.
"We're going to really emphasize the red zone in training camp," Nagy said. "It's going to be important to look at that and to continue to hit conceptually what we have and then what our players do well."
Last season the Bears ranked 22nd in the NFL in touchdown percentage in the red zone at 56.4, reaching the end zone on 31 of 55 trips inside their opponents' 20.
"When you get down in there, you can't kick field goals," Nagy said. "You've got to have touchdowns. You have to score points. There's some concepts that we'll keep. There's some concepts that we'll add. I think schematically, for us, we'll keep that with us. But I do like where we're at and being able to see the 'why' part.
"[We'll] look at teams, too, that do a good job of running stuff in the red zone. What's their 'whys'? And why is it? Is it just guys making good plays or is it schematics? That's kind of where we're at. We're excited in training camp to really put an emphasis on that."
Check out the action from Halas Hall as the Bears hit the practice fields during their full-squad minicamp.