‘Not where I want to be yet’: Bears rookie Odunze doing the mental work to be ready for training camp

Bears rookie receiver Rome Odunze plans on visiting friends and family in the Las Vegas area for about a week during his month off, but that doesn’t mean it’s time for a vacation.

“[I’ll] have my mom or my dad or somebody say the play call to me, and I go line up or go out and run the route,” Odunze said.

The work never stops for the No. 9 overall draft pick — and apparently, the work never stops for his parents either.

The Bears have about a month off until training camp begins in July. The team wrapped up OTAs this week and now has a short breather before the preseason ramps up. For the Bears, training camp will begin a few days early thanks to their selection to play in the Hall of Fame Game on Aug. 1 in Canton, Ohio.

For rookies like Odunze and quarterback Caleb Williams, there’s still a lot of mental prep work to do ahead of the season, even if the team isn’t actually practicing.

When asked this week at Halas Hall if he was ready to start camp immediately, Odunze offered an emphatic no.

“I’m not where I want to be at on a physicality standpoint, on a conditioning standpoint, on a who I am as a player standpoint,” Odunze said. “If training camp was tomorrow and you’re like mentally wise, I’d be ready to go, man.

“This is my first year in the NFL, dog. I’m all for it, [but] I need this month to go get right and make sure this transition into the league is going to be swift and smooth as it can be.”

Wide receiver Rome Odunze, selected by the Chicago Bears in the first round of the NFL football draft, speaks during a news conference before the NFL football team's rookie camp at Halas Hall in Lake Forest, Ill., Friday, May 10, 2024. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh) AP

The 22-year-old out of Washington knows he has a long way to go. That was maybe more apparent a week earlier when the team hosted a mandatory minicamp at Halas Hall. For the first time, Odunze lined up with veteran receivers DJ Moore and Keenan Allen. Odunze didn’t play poorly, he was maybe just overshadowed by the veterans.

With those two ahead of him on the depth chart, it’s going to be difficult for Odunze to see as many targets as he might want to as a rookie.

And he does want targets. Odunze is well aware of what Los Angeles Rams receiver Puka Nacua did last year, setting the rookie record with 1,486 receiving yards. Odunze followed Nacua closely. The two played together at Washington before Nacua transferred to BYU in 2021.

When he joined Washington, Odunze scoured the Huskies’ receiving records. He said he has done the same with the Bears’ records. He knows that Johnny Morris’ team record of 5,059 receiving yards has stood since 1967. He’s also aware that Harlon Hill’s rookie record of 1,124 receiving yards from 1954 still stands.

But Hill’s rookie record could be tough to come by with Moore and Allen leading the way.

“Of course [I’ll be] chasing those records,” Odunze said. “And I think that’s important because — and I said this at Washington — I’ll hopefully leave the Bears organization better than I found it, and if I have my name on some of those records, I feel like that’s just one facet of doing so.”

Coach Matt Eberflus said he doesn’t necessarily see the presence of Moore and Allen as a limiting factor for Odunze’s rookie season. In fact, it could have the opposite effect.

“I really believe that he’s going to have the ability to take off because of the other players,” Eberflus said. “You’re not going to be able to hone in on one guy.”

Eberflus said there have been no constraints for Odunze in the offense. The Bears have thrown a lot at him this spring, as they have all the rookies. The coaches have been impressed with how quickly Odunze processes information. They are teaching him multiple receiver positions, too.

The goal will be to move him around the field as necessary. If somebody were to go down with an injury, Odunze could shift to a different spot.

“He’s not sitting there locked into one thing,” offensive coordinator Shane Waldron said. “He’s really picking this offense up as a conceptual learner, I think [it] only helps for the road in the regular season when you start moving guys around.”

There’s a lot for the rookie to learn. That’s why Mom and Dad better get ready to call out plays.

“Mom is going to have to go to work,” Odunze said. “She’s gonna have to be out there in that 115 degrees. She already knows that.”

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