For the rookies on the Bears roster, the dress rehearsal is finally over. Five months after joining the team, it's now time for the real show to begin.
The clock striking all zeroes at the end of Thursday's 25-0 defeat to Cleveland in the fourth and final preseason game means the exhibition season has concluded. In the Chicago locker room, the attention has now turned to the team's Week 1 opponent, the defending-NFC Champion Atlanta Falcons. For the rookie class, the September 10 contest is a chance to showcase on a real stage what they can do on the professional level.
Take a look inside the locker room before Thursday's game against the Browns at Soldier Field.
"I'm glad that we had these four preseason games," tight end Adam Shaheen said Thursday following the game against the Browns. "Especially for me as a rookie, to go out there and just get kind of some things under my belt. That was huge. And now it's Week 1, so we need to go beat Atlanta."
Shaheen caught three passes for 19 yards against the Browns, his best performance of the preseason. The second-round pick out of Ashland admitted he is still getting comfortable with the speed and physicality of the NFL. Learning from teammates Dion Sims and Zach Miller has been beneficial, as they've shown Shaheen what it takes to thrive at the position. But nothing has helped more than playing in four games since August 10, when the preseason began at Soldier Field versus the Broncos.
"A lot of things for me (have been adjustments)," the tight end said. "Playbook, routes, technique were all big adjustments. But that's what the preseason is for, for young guys to go out there and improve and let the veterans take the night off.
"But I feel like I've improved big time, my strides as a player. Blocking-wise I've come a long way. Just understanding schemes, and actually seeing defenses and what's going on. So I'm definitely a lot more comfortable from that Denver game to (Thursday)."
Fellow rookie Tarik Cohen also said that he's felt a tremendous amount of growth as a player since the preseason began. An electrifying runner out the backfield as a running back and returner on kickoffs and punts, Cohen has shown that he belongs on an NFL field. Standing just 5-foot-6, Cohen averaged 6.4 yards per carry as a runner, 17.0 yards per punt return and 22.0 yards on kickoffs in three preseason contests. He didn't play versus the Browns, joining starting running back Jordan Howard on the sidelines for the finale.
After playing collegiately at North Carolina A&T before being taken by the Bears in the fourth round of the draft, Cohen has always been a YouTube highlight video waiting to happen. Playing in the preseason improved those skills, but more importantly, he said his knowledge of the game took another step forward.
"I feel like my overall understanding of the offense has improved," Cohen said. "I've really been getting in the flow of things, following Jordan and Benny (Cunningham), they've really been teaching me a lot. So I'm really understanding the game more. I'm ready to get my rookie season under my belt, go out there and make some plays."
For the rookies, the real test is about to begin. Surviving training camp as a first-year player is a challenge in itself, but nothing will be harder than showing off skills against other professionals. Every snap is a new opportunity for a rookie to show they belong, an exciting challenge for Cohen, Shaheen and the other members of Chicago's rookie class.
"Every time I step on the field I feel it's a prove-it moment," Cohen said. "So that's just really what I carry with me, so like it induces me to perform."
"I've got a lot to improve on," Shaheen added. "That's what I did every game, tried to get better and better and more comfortable out there. I made some good strides but still got a long way to go."