Determining certain aspects of play and who benefits most when there is no contact work or pads for teams requires a keen eye for NFL talent.
Much depends on the coaching staff itself and what they're looking for from players within a scheme.
In the case of these Bears OTAs it is rather obvious the one player who benefits the most daily at practice is rookie Dominique Robinson.
As a player who came to the Bears from the Mid-American Conference, there would be questions about their fifth-round pick's starting level, anyway. Although the MAC has produced its share of NFL players over the years, it's not a power-5 conference. He's not going to be as polished based on competitive level.
This kind of thing can be said for Bears draft picks like Zachary Thomas (San Diego State) and Braxton Jones (Southern Utah St.), as well, but in Robinson's case it's especially true because the former Miami (Ohio) player must overcome the handicap of never having played on defense until he switched to pass rusher from wide receiver as a junior. He has played in only 15 games on defense, so every day becomes an education, even at non-contact OTAs.
Robinson's benefits from OTAs are even greater because he is one of four rookies playing regularly with the first team. With both Robert Quinn and Al-Quadin Muhammad choosing to stay away from voluntary work at Halas Hall, the next in line to play at defensive end became the 6-foot-5, 253-pound rookie.
"You know, it's like, Dom has been with the 1s, the young kid from Miami, Redhawks," coach Matt Eberflus said. "He's looked good and he's done a good job. And he understands the techniques and fundamentals.
"To me, it's hard assess a couple things this time of year. Pass rush is hard to assess because it's a little bit easier for the rushers to get around because there's no pads on but once you put the pads on and those tackles can really block 'em, I think that's when you really assess what it is and the same thing in the running game. How do really assess the running game as well?"
Robinson isn't coming in totally lost. The defensive system he played in at Miami did not require him to play from a stand-up position like an edge linebacker. Instead, he had a hand down at end, just like now with the Bears in their new 4-3.
"Like I said during the draft, we talked about him there playing receiver," Eberflus said. "You can really tell in his (lower body), that he's at that (wide receiver) athletic skill level.
"Somebody would say, 'Hey, this guy could play wideout,' and you can see that. He's got a little slip-n-slide to him. Like I said, though, it's hard to assess that right now. But you can see the movement skills, the ability potentially to really turn the corner. We'll see. We'll see as we go."
Eberflus here involved the name of the man who helped in his hiring as he described what it is they'll need to see from an athletic wide receiver-turned-pass rusher.
"Bill Polian used to say 'bore' —at the top of the rush you have to be able to bore and get underneath and turn the corner, and that takes power," Eberflus said. "You're not going to be able to really see that until we get the pads on."
Even if they find with the pads on later that Robinson needs much more upper-body work to gain this abilty to "bore" in low around the edge, Bears defensive line coach Travis Smith calls it worth their efforts.
"Any guy that's willing to work—and everything we talk about in our room is effort-based front, we're an effort-based front in an effort-based defense—and so with him there, raw, or not raw, if they're willing to put in the work and compete I'm extremely excited about it," Smith said. "And so he is a very young player."
Robinson described himself as raw.
"Everybody keeps talking about raw," Smith said. "I was talking about earlier how hungry and how willing and how he can take things from the meeting room to the field and he's been phenomenal so far. So I'm excited about it."
Even if Robinson is raw he is on an accelerated developmental program because of the absence of two pass rushers and can't help but come out ahead when training camp begins.