How Caleb Williams can win over Bears’ locker room

When the Bears traded Justin Fields to the Pittsburgh Steelers last week, it signaled a massive shift for the organization at the quarterback position. The move paved the way for the team to select a quarterback with the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, and most everyone across the league expects USC’s Caleb Williams to be the top pick.

The Fields trade eliminated any chance of a quarterback controversy in 2024. If the Bears do select Williams on April 25, the starting job will be his. In reality, though, that’s just the beginning of the hard work.

First and foremost, Williams is going to have to prove himself to his teammates, many of whom fully supported Fields. Some might still be bitter about the way the Bears moved on from Fields.

What’s it going to take for Williams to win over the locker room? Here are a few suggestions.

Be the hardest worker

The No. 1 reason why it was hard to move on from Fields for Ryan Poles and Matt Eberflus was because Fields did things the right way. Fields was the quintessential “hardest worker in the room.” His teammates respected the way he approached every single day. Because of that, they had his back even when times were tough.

Williams is going to have to prove he has a similar work ethic. In a podcast appearance last week, cornerback Jaylon Johnson said as much.

“You just humble yourself coming into the building. You can’t bring that Hollywood stuff into the building, especially with guys who played this game at a high level for consecutive years in the league,” Johnson said of Williams on the “Up & Adams” podcast last week. “What you did in college, the Hollywood, it’s like, ‘Nah, you’ve got to prove yourself.’ That stuff like that doesn’t matter.”

Teammates notice. They notice when someone is working hard, and they also notice when he isn’t.

Nothing Williams accomplished in college, like winning the 2022 Heisman Trophy, matters at the NFL level. He’s not simply going to earn respect because he’s the starting quarterback. Williams has to prove it with his actions first.

Don’t take crap from anybody

The Bears defense is going to test Williams. When OTAs begin this spring, and especially once training camp begins in July, the defense is going to try to make it tough on the rookie.

There’s a long history of offense vs. defense arguments and scuffles during NFL training camps. That’s mostly because teams go so long practicing against themselves. Bears camp grew testy at times last year.

It won’t help that the Bears defense is good. If the Bears pick up where they left off last year, they might have one of the best defenses in the NFL next season. Williams is a rookie. He’s going to make mistakes early on in camp. Transitioning to the NFL from college is going to be an adjustment, even for a top prospect.

If the defense has Williams’ number early on in camp, those players will let Williams hear about it. Johnson and fellow defensive backs Jaquan Brisker and Tyrique Stevenson aren’t afraid to be a little obnoxious when the defense is playing well.

Everyone on the team will be watching to see how Williams responds to adversity. Those are the moments that will — or won’t — win the respect of his teammates.

Win games

In the end, it all comes down to winning football games.

Fields is gone largely because he led only two fourth-quarter comebacks in three years, despite playing in tons of close games. The Bears are built to win now. Williams, if the Bears draft him, will have an offense with weapons like DJ Moore, Keenan Allen, D’Andre Swift and Cole Kmet, along with an offensive line that returns four starters. The Bears wouldn’t have traded for Allen — who is only under contract for one season — if they weren’t trying to elevate this offense right now.

If Williams is as good as draft analysts say he is, the passing game could be poised to take a massive leap and the team could make some noise in the NFC North division.

That doesn’t mean he has to lead the Bears to the playoffs in his first year. That’s asking a lot of a rookie quarterback. But this is a Bears team that went 7-10 last year and improved at running back and receiver. This team should, at the very least, be in the playoff hunt come December.

NFL players want to win. Any hurt feelings about the Fields trade will dissipate if Williams is leading the Bears to victories. Same goes for the fan base. Winning cures all, or at least it cures a lot of things. Passing yards and touchdowns look great on a quarterback’s resume, but Williams’ success in the NFL will ultimately come down to wins and losses. Eventually, it does for every quarterback.

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