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Rome Odunze grabbing attention of coaches, teammates


Exactly seven weeks ago Thursday, receiver Rome Odunze became a Chicago Bear, going No. 9 overall in the NFL Draft.

Between draft day and the end of the Bears' offseason program, the Washington product has continuously impressed coaches and teammates alike with his ability to learn on the fly, contagious personality and on-field ability.

During veteran minicamp last week, coach Matt Eberflus was asked which player has jumped out to him. His answer: "I would say Rome. Rome really impressed us in terms of his ability to grab concepts and really execute out there for sure. But again, there's a lot of guys that impressed us."

Odunze's football IQ is one of his many traits that has stood out to Eberflus. The coach recalled a conversation he had with Odunze during a stretching period last Wednesday. Eberflus asked the rookie about his process for learning this summer while away from Halas Hall before the start of training camp. Odunze broke down how he likes to look at a play, go on the field, recite it then put himself in position and run the route.

"I think that was really mature on his part to be able to actually discern and understand how he learns best," Eberflus said. "The part about being a good learner is knowing how you learn best. I think he knows himself really well. Very mature for his age. He's a wonderful teammate and he's going to be exciting to watch."

In the midst of teaching a new scheme to the entire offense, coordinator Shane Waldron has witnessed Odunze's ability to quickly process concepts and plays.

"With Rome, DJ (Moore), Keenan (Allen), Gerald (Everett), Cole (Kmet) — we've got a different group of guys that can all be versatile in what they're asked to do," Waldron said. "So the great thing about Rome going from a draft process to on the field now is seeing that. Whether it was him talking about plays in the different formal meetings and pro days, and then that comes to life when he gets into a new system.

"He's able to pick up an offense right away — really understand all three of the receiver spots right away, so he's not sitting there locked into one thing. He's really picking this offense up as a conceptual learner which I think only helps him down the road in the regular season when you start moving guys around."

Odunze's new teammates have also raved about him throughout OTAs and minicamp. He has already formed a strong connection with quarterback Caleb Williams, who told reporters working alongside Odunze has already "been a pleasure, a joy."

Williams believes the trust and bond he has created with Odunze, along with the receiver's ambition, will allow the pair to push each other and "build this thing together."

"The guy wants to play," Williams said. "As a competitor, as a player, being in this position, his position, you have great guys around you, you have all these things around you – tools, great coaches and great facilities, all these other things. Why would you want to necessarily wait? You can grow throughout. You can learn from other people's mistakes.

"I believe that's been his mindset — 'I'm going to be able to play. I'm going to be on the field. But I'm also going to take in and soak in all I can from the guys like Keenan that's been doing it for 12-13 years. That old guy.' ... [Rome] also understands that the time is now. And you gotta keep working, you gotta keep growing through all the growing pains, the bad days, the good days."

Odunze also voiced his appreciation for Williams as the duo have been through the majority of the same experiences since the draft. Odunze has watched the entire team gravitate toward Williams, who the receiver said shows "excellence and determination" every day.

"He's a leader, pure and simple," Odunze said. "He leads through example. He leads vocally as well. To be around him as rookie to rookie, we're both learning the process of this thing and both learning to be in this environment and this new setting, which is unique to both of us. But for him to be able to step in there with the veterans as well and command those guys and be a leader for the whole team in general is impressive to me and something that he's been doing consistently."

As far as Odunze's production in practice, veterans like Allen and cornerback Jaylon Johnson have taken notice.

Johnson lauded the receiver's contested catch ability, adding: "he's truly a gamer. When the lights come on and it's time to go, he's going to make a play."

Allen has been impressed by Odunze already understanding his responsibilities, knowing where to line up and where to be, telling reporters: "Rome looks great. He's a guy who stepped in."

The opportunity to be teammates with a group of successful veteran players, particularly with fellow receivers Allen and Moore, is one Odunze is still soaking in. He is eager to continue watching and learning from the pair as he continues acclimating to the NFL.

"I think it's not even measurable … the impact they can make on my career just being in the room with them for ... four weeks," Odunze said. "I've already learned so much, so to be in a room with them throughout a whole season, learning from them in training camp, I think it's just going to take my game to the next level. [It's] something I'm super excited about because it's not often that you get to come on to the wing of a Hall Of Famer and a soon to be Hall Of Famer as well, so it's awesome."

While Odunze is already impressing throughout the organization, he is just as impressed with the Bears. As he wraps up his first NFL offseason, he is already excited about returning to Halas Hall next month for the start of training camp.

"It's kind of [like] standing too close to the elephant when you first get here," Odunze said. "It's like that big ole NFL sign in your face and now you step back and you're like, 'oh, I'm really in the NFL.' These guys are professional athletes but we're still playing ball. We're still going out there and doing what we love to do since we were this tall. It's been a building of excitement for sure and I know the butterflies and all that are going to continue to roll in when it's the first game, first day of training camp, first one-on-one period. It all comes with the journey."