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Top picks Williams, Odunze practice for first time as Bears

“It felt great to finally put on a Bears jersey for the first time. Playing in the NFL has been a dream of mine for a long time …” Caleb Williams

An exciting and much-anticipated new era of Bears football kicked off Friday at the club's rookie minicamp at Halas Hall.

Two weeks after being drafted by the Bears, highly-touted first-round picks Caleb Williams and Rome Odunze practiced for the first time as pros.

Bears chairman George H. McCaskey, President and CEO Kevin Warren, general manager Ryan Poles and a horde of media attended the non-contact workout.

"It felt great to finally put on a Bears jersey for the first time," Williams said after practice. "Playing in the NFL has been a dream of mine for a long time, so it was good to be able to do that for the first time today."

In one 7-on-7 drill, Williams connected with Odunze on back-to-back plays to the left flat and the right sideline, effortlessly rifling accurate, tight spirals.

"I thought the first practice went well," Williams said. "Obviously, we all have a lot to learn, and mistakes are going to be made, but that's part of the process. I don't like making mistakes, so I'm going to get in the film room and try to clean those up with every practice we have this offseason and lean on my coaches and teammates to help us have the cleanest operation we can on offense."

Williams was selected by the Bears with the No. 1 pick in the draft after producing 120 touchdowns (93 passing and 27 rushing) in three seasons at Oklahoma (2021) and USC (2022-23) and winning the Heisman Trophy in 2022.

Even before the first rookie minicamp practice Friday, coach Matt Eberflus anointed the 22-year-old the Bears' starting quarterback.

"No conversation; he's the starter," Eberflus said.

The Bears coach spoke about Williams possessing a special aura.

"You can really tell he's comfortable in his own skin and he is who he is," Eberflus said. "His personality stars. His light comes out from the inside. You can certainly feel that energy. He's a one-plus-one-equals-three guy. He's an enhancer. He's a guy that brings out the best in people. You can certainly feel that in him within five minutes of meeting him."

Take a look at Bears players, including rookies Caleb Williams and Rome Odunze, walking into Halas Hall for the start of rookie minicamp.

Williams felt comfortable entering rookie minicamp because the Bears had given him a head start learning their offense at his top-30 visit in early April.

"I feel pretty good right now," Williams said. "The top-30 was huge. [They] gave me a bunch of notes, ideas of how the offense is, verbiage, drops, cadence and all the things that really matter—break from the huddle, getting into the huddle, being able to communicate and how those things go."

The Bears also helped Williams prepare by collaborating with his private quarterback coach, Will Hewlitt.

"Will Hewlitt's been awesome in this whole process," Eberflus said. "Been able to have great conversations with him. He gets it. He's trained a lot of guys. He's elite at what he does. It was a pleasure to work with him. He was working on our stuff a little bit—cadence and those types of things and the footwork that we want. That's been a good process for us."

While Williams acknowledged Friday that he's still learning everyone's names at Halas Hall, he hopes to gain a firm enough grasp of the playbook that he can assist his young teammates digest the offense.

Asked what he hopes to accomplish at the rookie minicamp, the former USC star said: "Diving into the playbook, getting to a point where there's certain things that I can teach some of the guys that they're not understanding that I may understand. Being able to teach is always big because it's also another way for you to learn. It also shows you how much that you know."

The Bears have carefully crafted a plan to develop Williams, with Eberflus leaning on offensive coordinator Shane Waldron, quarterbacks coach Kerry Joseph and passing game coordinator Thomas Brown. Waldron and Joseph helped veteran quarterback Geno Smith rejuvenate his career with the Seahawks, while Brown worked with quarterback Bryce Young, the No. 1 pick in last year's draft, with the Panthers.

Eberflus also consulted with fellow coaches he's friendly with throughout the league, with his top takeaway being the importance of establishing a strong foundation.

"I think Shane and the offensive staff have done an outstanding job of that thus far," Eberflus said, "putting that foundation in and making sure that it's likable, learnable and it can get executed. And we're excited about beginning that process."

The Bears are also excited about pairing Williams with Odunze. The ninth overall pick in the draft was named First-Team All-American and was a finalist for the Biletnikoff Award last year at Washington after catching 92 passes for 1,640 yards and 13 TDs.

Eberflus has been most impressed with Odunze's work ethic and determination to master his craft, saying: "He knows he's not a finished product. He's got a lot of improving to do as he gets into the NFL. But his work ethic is elite. He worked himself into being that top-10 pick."

Prior to rookie minicamp, Odunze participated in private workouts with Williams and a handful of other Bears players.

"He is very talented," Odunze said of Williams. "I got to see that when I was playing against him in college. It's really effortless for him. He could do a lot of things that older quarterbacks may think is hard effortlessly. He continues to improve every time I see [him] and he's very smooth. He could throw the ball from any angle, body position, anywhere on the field, to any spot on the field. So you always have to be ready, always have to be prepared anytime he is in the backfield. It gives you the confidence that he's going to put it on you when you're giving him your best on the route."

Odunze is thrilled about joining the Bears in the same draft class as Williams.

"It's hard to imagine a better situation, honestly," Odunze said. "Coming in with a rookie quarterback allows us to grow together and learn this offense together as well. When he's studying, I'm there right next to him studying and getting his mindset on different routes and different concepts and learning his perspective on the whole offense. It's a great way for me to learn because I like to learn the whole concept and then, 'OK, let me detail it up and understand what I need to do within any specific scheme or concept.' To be alongside him, it's a blessing."