Among the standouts during the Bears' special teams-heavy workout Wednesday — the second of three OTAs open to reporters — was rookie fourth-round WR Riley Ridley. With Anthony Miller remaining sidelined following offseason shoulder surgery, one week after Cordarrelle Patterson took advantage of his opportunities, it was Ridley seemingly doing the most to capitalize at what promises to be the team's most competitive offseason position.
Ridley might not be as big and physical as Allen Robinson or as quick and sudden as Taylor Gabriel, but his polished route running and strong football IQ hailing from Georgia's pro style system are evident.
"That’s an advantage for him understanding what words speak to him in the huddle — because it’s a lot of words — and being able to now go function with what his assignment is," WR coach Mike Furrey explained. "And that’s allowed him to gain some success fast here throughout rookie minicamp and then throughout OTAs. His missed assignments are so far below a normal rookie, and I think a lot of that contributes to him being in a system like that coming from college."
Ridley's route precision and strong hands led to two big catches that we observed during team drills. Though he clocked a pedestrian 4.58 at the combine, Ridley showed surprising juice and competitiveness with the ball in his hands. In short, it's exactly what Furrey is looking for in a WR room that has made profound strides in a little more than a calendar year.
"So you’re building what we call right now in our room: I want my guys to be selfish to become unselfish," Furrey said. "I want them to build their careers to the best they can be and become better. That’s going to help us unselfishly as a football team."
On multiple occasions during our visit, Furrey mentioned the Bears' "healthy" WR competition that now includes "10 guys that can have long careers." Imagine thinking that would be the case at the end of the 2017 season.
When the Bears began OTAs last week with former swing tackle Bradley Sowell donning No. 85 and working with the tight ends, it begged the question: Who would replace him? We perhaps got a glimpse our answer Wednesday.
In RT Bobby Massie's absence with a stiff neck, Rashaad Coward was lined up next to RG Kyle Long with the charge of blocking Leonard Floyd. He fared well, too, tussling with a noticeably svelte Floyd, whom OLB coach Ted Monachino last week said "has a bigger toolbox than anybody else I'm coaching right now."
It's no wonder Coward's own O-line coach, Harry Hiestand, is so pleased with the way the former Old Dominion D-lineman has handled learning a new position while going against such worthy adversaries over the past year.
"I would be very confident in what he can do just based on his approach," Hiestand said when we queried about Coward potentially being the swing tackle come Week 1. "What’s going to happen between now and that point, his growth, he’s going to keep getting better in camp and the preseason, he’ll be ready."
Of course, a more definitive answer to our question would be if/when Coward gets work on Charles Leno's blind side. Although the difference between the two is increasingly blurred with some of the NFL's top pass rushers now frequently bending and burning the offense's right edge, there's a noticeable difference between the agility of Leno and Massie, and we don't yet know how Coward's would fit on the left.
Our Hub Arkush will have more soon on arguably Wednesday's biggest star, Adam Shaheen, but I'll just mention that his strength at the catch point on an impressive sideline jump ball over (we believe) Buster Skrine was awesome. Of course, Skrine cedes roughly nine inches and 80 pounds to Shaheen, but it was the type of bright flash that has been few and far between for the former second-rounder.
As for Skrine, he nearly intercepted a pass on comeback route over the middle later in practice, a play that offered shades of Bryce Callahan during his time here. Skrine appears to be fitting in nicely to a star-laden secondary, and it's that willingness to take calculated risks that buoyed the Bears a season ago, when they easily led the league with 36 takeaways, including 27 interceptions.
Of course, takeaways tend to be a fickle statistic from year to year, and after the Bears exceeded their total of 33 combined in 2016-17, whether they can come anywhere near replicating last season's larceny will be a major story line under new DC Chuck Pagano.
It's why we'll also note that Danny Trevathan appeared to force and recover a Mike Davis fumble during team drills and Kyle Fuller — last year's NFL co-INT leader — very nearly had his first under our watch on a Gabriel target over the middle. Instead, Gabriel showed really strong hands and concentration to make a fingertip grab.
Don't assume because the Bears signed S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and drafted CBs Duke Shelley and Stephen Denmark that the days of reserves Deon Bush and Kevin Toliver in Chicago are numbered. Both have received prominent opportunities in OTAs, with Bush even garnering a shout-out last week from new DBs coach Deshea Townsend for his veteran experience.
"We talked earlier about the importance of Ha Ha, the importance of Bush," Townsend said. "Bush was here last year. Ha Ha is new but he knows Eddie. So that comfort level of being around each other is going to help."
For now, Bush and Toliver must make their mark on special teams, and Toliver appeared to be active in that regard this week.
When it's all said and done, everything for the Bears this offseason comes back to the kickers. Newcomer Eddy Pineiro's leg strength has stood out, but so too have a few of his misfires.
Matt Nagy, who revealed the narrower uprights unveiled at last week's OTA that remained Wednesday, are from the Arena League, and also said it's possible the Bears don't pare down the three-man battle prior to Bourbonnais.
“We’re trying to let this thing play out," Nagy said. "That’s a very important position for us right now, so we’re going to be delicate with it and make sure that whatever we do, we talk about it and we decide, ‘OK, is this the best thing to do?’ If we need to bring three to camp, we’ll bring three to camp."