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Young Bears Who Stepped Up to Be Noticed

Analysis: The offseason work provided opportunities for young Bears to make a statement and several did, although in some cases it was difficult to gauge due to the lack of actual tackling or blocking.

With all Bears offseason work completed and coaches surveying the film closely to make decisions about pole positions for training camp, it's safe to sort through performances.

Some acquisitions or draft picks seemed to make statements while others spent time in the background.

Here are those surprise players who made the biggest obvious statements going forward to training camp at OTAs and minicamps.

6. T Braxton Jones

Using the rookie fifth-round pick with starters for the last two weeks of offseason work was explained by coach Matt Eberflus as a planned personnel move, and Jones had a couple of false starts during the full-squad scrimmage. However, if he had trouble handling left tackle it would have been very easy for them to put Larry Borom back in position. They didn't. The big question is whether he gets the first shot at left tackle or they go back to Borom. Or could they acquire a tackle? It's probably best not to be too caught up in Jones' play because he was usually going against another fifth-round rookie, defensive end Dominique Robinson. There might be more to base decisions on if it had been a proven veteran lining up at right end in the pass rush but Robert Quinn was a no-show and Al-Quadin Muhammad failed to report until it was too late to get on the field.

5. CB Kindle Vildor

His fate seemed to be sealed when the Bears drafted Kyler Gordon. While Gordon had an injury of the nature and severity the Bears would not comment on to miss the final two weeks of the offseason, Vildor quietly played on with starters at left cornerback. He played the position last year as Kyle Fuller's replacement for 10 straight games after getting only one start in 2020 as a rookie. Vildor obviously struggled then and cost them a loss to Baltimore when beaten by Sammy Watkins. He was benched for all but one game after Week 10 and that one start resulted only from a massive COVID-19 outbreak. Vildor hasn't been making flashy plays but has stopped with the gaffes leading to huge plays by receivers. It's entirely possible he is one of the cornerbacks who found playing more zone and cover-2 with fewer complicated disguises in this scheme to be of benefit.

4. CB Thomas Graham Jr.

The first-year player who had only a few games on the roster last year as a rookie made his presence felt as the slot cornerback, a position last year's staff didn't immediately expose him to at camp or in the regular season. Graham really looked comfortable with starters at nickle cornerback by minicamp and made a few plays on the ball, including an interception. The Bears brought in Tavon Young to play slot cornerback but there's nothing wrong with having a backup and someone young enough to be trained for the future at this spot.

3. CB Kyler Gordon

Bothered by cramps early at rookie camp and then off the field entirely the last week of OTAs and all minicamp, Gordon didn't have much time to impress. He didn't need it, as he was sticking to receivers and making plays consistently while he did get on the field. It's a shame he didn't get more time to make a bigger statement. The Bears appear to have an interesting decision ahead for the start of camp as both returning right cornerback starter Jaylon Johnson and Gordon played the position with starters in the offseason. Could one move to the left side or even to the slot?

2. WR Velus Jones

The bulk of plays made by Jones on days when media was present came earlier, at rookie camp and the inital OTA practice. They did move Jones around the formation extensively, and for a rookie that's an unusual demand. He displayed good hands and acceleration after the catch.

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1. S Jaquan Brisker

Much was expected and much delivered. Brisker fit the starting role ideally and showed he could keep up with NFL quality receivers, or at least Bears receivers. He moved down into the box with regularity and covered backs, wide receivers and tight ends alike. His reputation for forcing turnovers was apparent since rookie camp, when he poked a couple of balls out for fumbles. If Brisker does this when hitting and pads are introduced heads will really turn. One thing yet to be tested are his skills matching up with receivers one on one, as even with a zone defense this happens during passing situations against five-receiver sets.

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