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Chicago Bears Who've Made Significant Strides

Several Bears have made noticeable strides in their games since last year over the course of the first two weeks of training camp

Training camp is for improvement, honing skills and blending them into an offense or defense before the NFL season kicks off in September.

Players have the chance daily to impress coaches and make plays. Some Bears in this training camp have stood out for making more plays than in the past.

Some have caught eyes because they've made different types of plays. They've expanded their abilities.

Others have come out of nowhere or off the waiver wire slag heap to impress.

After two full weeks of training camp and heading into the start of preseason, here are Bears who have made great strides at camp.

In some cases, the strides alone might not be enough because the position is crowded or loaded ahead of them. They'll need to keep making plays in preseason and also prove their value on special teams. This is always critical for the players who are not starters.

CB Kindle Vildor

The coaches have repeatedly noted his improvement but talk in the offseason is cheap when there are no pads or contact. The competition takes more of a back seat then to learning the defense.

Now it's on, and Vildor has risen to a point where he was listed as the No. 1 cornerback on the first Bears depth chart. They term it an "unofficial" depth chart, which is rather comical. If it's not official and it's a depth chart that comes from them, then who is it that puts out the official one?

Vildor hasn't made a ton of interceptions but has had a few and rarely has been beaten deep or had a blown coverages during camp. Coach Matt Nagy notices a difference in a few ways.

"I think his confidence, more than anything," Nagy said. "He's playing faster.

"And then in preseason, just go out and play. Make plays. These guys, him and Jaylon (Johnson) on the outside right now, are playing fast. It's nice to have two young guys out there doing their thing. Probably more than anything from last year to this year I see his confidence grow."

WR Rodney Adams

Perhaps it shouldn't surprise anyone Adams has gotten open repeatedly for receptions against a variety of defensive backs. Adams knows the offense better now because he was in Chicago last year on the practice squad.

A fifth-round pick in 2017 by Minnesota, Adams had been on the Colts practice squad but retired from the game and pursued acting briefly, then decided to come back to the NFL. He had 4.44 speed for the 40 at the 2017 combine.

"You be around (Darnell) Mooney and A-Rob (Allen Robinson) for a year, you kind of learn how to do things," wide receivers coach Mike Furrey said. "And he's settled in and he's making plays just like everybody else."

ILB Alec Ogletree

How the Bears would fit him onto the 53-man roster when everyone is back healthy seems a mystery, but if they can't then he has made a statement about his abilities. Any NFL team would be quick to read his six interceptions in his first four practices as an invitation to call his agent if he is cut.

"I'm like a good wine. I feel like I get better with age," said Ogletree, who is still young enough to count on for a few years at 29.

Beating out Christian Jones would be difficult for him. The other three veteran inside linebacker backups are all very well versed in special teams, which is critical for reserve linebackers. Ogletree hasn't had much special teams time since his second year. But when you can make the type of plays he has in practice, it almost seems foolish to let him get away.

TE Cole Kmet

Kmet might have fewer catches in camp than recent addition Jesse James, but when Kmet makes a catch it's usually downfield more than last year when he seemed to catch nothing but bootleg passes and dump-offs in the flat.

His goal was to become more of a downfield threat and he's been working hard at it.

"Cole has done an unbelievable job," quarterback Andy Dalton said. "I also didn't get to see what he was as a rookie, but everybody said he's made a ton of strides this year, and a guy that's just a big target and a guy you feel like can match up versus safeties, versus linebackers, versus whoever's out there. 

"It's been fun to see just his progression and talking through how we want to run routes and then to see him do it and we execute, it's been great."

TE Jesse James

James was a very productive player in Pittsburgh and was called on to do far less at Detroit behind T.J. Hockenson. As a player who came on board the day camp was opening for the Bears, it's difficult to see how much could have been expected of James but he is there virtually every practice in scrimmages and 7-on-7 making catches. Saturday's game can be a real showcase for tight ends since they can blend it all together better with blocking and physical play,  as well as receiving.

 "You (media) guys have seen him make some nice big catches over the middle, on the sideline," Nagy said. "He’s got super long arms and he’s got friendly hands. So when you throw that football to a guy that is as tall as he is with the long arms, it’s a friendly target. 

"You’ve got to understand for Jesse, he’s been in different offenses and only being here a couple weeks, with some of the verbiage we have and everything, it’s not easy." 

NT Khyiris Tonga

The Bears' seventh-round pick this year has had far more opportunity to impress coaches than he could have expected. All of the reps have resulted from Eddie Goldman's absence, after going on the reserve COVID-19 list.

There's another reason he's made strides.

"I think the thing that helps him is he's familiar with the defense," defensive line coach Chris Rumph said. "He played it some in college.

"I'm just happy for him because when we had the shorts on, those kinda practices are not him. So I was anticipating just watching him once we put the pads on, and I can say I'm really happy and pleased with where he is right now and his growth."

Tonga was a bit frustrated with his own performance and Rumph suggested he look at video from his first practices.

"He did it recently and went back and watched his first few practices and he's like, 'Coach, I don't know how you put up with me, man. I was awful,' " Rumph said. "So it’s just really impressive to see his growth."

QB Justin Fields

The last practice against Miami put on full display what Fields is capable of doing in particular situations. His red-zone work against Miami's second team was dominant. 

Whether Fields can do this without the restrictor plate on in a preseason game is the next step but in his case there has been a gradual improvement obvious even to untrained eyes, and all anyone can do is take the coaches' words for now that this is real.

Even before his big day, Matt Nagy had seen it in the practice the Bears had Sunday.

"He put three consecutive plays together that coach Flip (QB coach John DeFilippo) and I were talking about in the quarterback room," Nagy said. "In coach Flip’s opinion it was three of his best plays in a row, consecutively, for different reasons, all of camp. So he had a really good day."

Then it was five great plays in six  during red zone against the Dolphins at Thursday's practice.

All this being said, Fields obviously has a long way to go to be able to do this against first-team NFL players live on a Sunday. He can take the next step by doing it live against whoever Miami puts on the field in Saturday's preseason opener.

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