Why Tre Roberson Rates Biggest Bears Wild Card at Training Camp
Bears cornerback Tre Roberson has followed in his grandfather's footsteps, in a manner of speaking.
Now he'd like to accomplish something his grandfather Larry Highbaugh couldn't, and make an impact in the National Football League.
After leaving Calgary of the Canadian Football League, Roberson could be the real wild card in this Bears secondary as he tries to battle in a crowded field for the starting right cornerback spot.
It might be the most interesting position battle on the team other than quarterback, and no one can be sure how a former CFL standout who started on offense in college and failed at one NFL defensive bid will do. Roberson has had time now to figure out how to play defensive back after failing with the Vikings and did it on a bigger football field with different rules.
The former Illinois State and Indiana quarterback had tried unsuccessfully to make it in the NFL and spent 2016 with the Vikings practice squad as he switched from offense to playing defense, then was cut in 2017.
To continue his career, Roberson took the path Highbaugh had taken and had great success in the CFL for two seasons before making his return now to the Bears.
When he signed with the Bears, nine other NFL teams were interested in signing him.
"When I came on my visit to the Bears, my workout just felt like I was at home," Roberson told Chicago Bears All-Access. "They made sure I was real comfortable in every aspect of the trip. I just feel like a great place to be is close to home."
Highbaugh, who died at age 67 in 2017, had only a brief look in the NFL with the Dallas Cowboys but excelled for 13 years in the CFL. He won six Grey Cups with the Edmonton Eskimos and held team records with 66 career interceptions and three kick return touchdowns. He made the CFL Hall of Fame.
His grandson now has an advantage trying to make it in the NFL that many defensive backs lack: He knows how a quarterback thinks.
Roberson, 27, was the first Indiana true freshman to start at quarterback, and after throwing for 937 yards and three touchdowns with 426 rushing yards in 2011 he seemed destined to be a starter. But he broke his leg after completing 26 of 36 for 280 yards in 2012 against Indiana State in the opener so he red-shirted. In 2013 he completed 83 of 138 for 1,128 yards with 15 touchdown passes and four interceptions and had the Big Ten's second-best passer efficiency of 158.9. College passer efficiency is calculated different than in the NFL.
Then he transferred to Illinois State and became a dominant player in the Missouri Valley Conference, leaving the school No. 1 in yards per rush (6.14), passing efficiency (150.3) and in rushing touchdowns (22).
In the CFL, Roberson made 10 interceptions in two seasons with touchdown returns on an interception and a fumble return. He also blocked a field goal try for a win. Although these statistics were somewhat deceiving. He had half of his interceptions in two games over a stretch of three weeks to start the 2019 CFL season. He had just two interceptions over the final 14 weeks of 2019.
As a result of all the NFL interest in Roberson, he received the largest NFL contract for a CFL player making the jump since Dolphins standout pass rusher Cameron Wake. He'll account for $1.51 million in cap space the next two years with $140,000 guaranteed in salary and another $125,000 in bonuses this year according to Overthecap.com.
The Bears have had plenty of CFL players over the years, like return man Todd McMillon and current pass-rushing linebacker James Vaughters. There are numerous CFL players in the league, although none of the star magnitude Wake achieved.
Last year CFL alum Erik Harris made three interceptions in 14 starts for the Raiders at safety. Denver's Christian Covington made six starts last year and played in every game for the Dallas Cowboys on the defensive line. Former Saskatchewan linebacker Sam Eguavoen started six Dolphins games and played in all of them. Panthers punter Michael Palardy and former Cowboys kicker Brett Maher made major contributions as ex-CFL players.
Roberson played boundary cornerback in the CFL, which is the short side of the field -- from the hashmark where the ball is spotted to the sideline. So he's used to moving around. It's considered more difficult than the field cornerback because he gets less safety help.
The battle Roberson faces is interesting because it's rookie second-round pick Jaylon Johnson, a veteran recycled cornerback in Artie Burns, Bears third-year undrafted cornerback Kevin Toliver II and anyone else they decide to throw in, like possibly Stephen Denmark or Kindle Vildor.
"The plays that he was able to play in Canada, those are things that are natural, those are things that you can't teach," Bears defensive backs coach Deshea Townsend said. "For me, I'm excited to get a chance to see him move around, see his natural playmaking ability and see if I can help mold him.
"Those are the things with Tre that are very intriguing with the guy, as much play-making as he has."
Tre Roberson at a Glance
Illinois State CB
Key Numbers: In addition to 10 interceptions, Roberson also forced two fumbles and had a game-winning blocked field goal in the CFL.
Starting Chances: 2 on a scale of 1-5 with 5 being the most.
2020 Projection: Special teams and spot cornerback duty.