Williams knows where he stands in learning how to be an NFL starting quarterback

Matt Eberflus gave all his players homework this spring. The third-year Bears head coach wanted each player to write out three strengths and three weaknesses in his game.

Quarterbacks coach Kerry Joseph didn’t divulge what exactly Caleb Williams wrote, but he said the No. 1 overall pick’s answers surprised nobody in the Bears organization.

“Everything that he gave back is what you see with him,” Joseph said. “What you see with his work ethic, what you see with his dedication, and he knows his strengths and he knows his weaknesses. When a player knows that and he owns up to it, now you know that guy’s going to work on it.”

That self awareness is a big reason why the Bears fell in love with Williams throughout the pre-draft process. Now the team is hard at work preparing Williams for his first NFL season.

Prepping any rookie quarterback to start in Week 1 is a challenge. These days, most first-round rookie quarterbacks usually start sometime during their rookie season, but the approach varies from team to team and coach to coach.

The Bears made it abundantly clear when they traded Justin Fields to the Pittsburgh Steelers in March that whomever they selected with the No. 1 overall pick in April’s draft would be the starter immediately. It paved the way for Williams to take over as the starting quarterback from the minute the Bears took him with the first pick.

The spring practice period, which wrapped up last week, was all about preparing Williams to lead the 2024 Bears offense. OTAs and minicamp were a precursor to training camp, which will begin July 19 following a five-week summer break for the players and coaches.

But preparing any rookie quarterback to play in Week 1 is a tall task, even when that QB is the No. 1 overall pick in the draft. Bears passing game coordinator Thomas Brown served as the offensive coordinator in Carolina last year when the Panthers were preparing No. 1 pick Bryce Young to play.

“There’s probably a thousand takeaways,” Brown said. “Not just from last year, but every year I’ve had. Having the chance to be the OC at the University of Miami a couple years ago, pulling from some of those experiences. I know it sounds redundant, like a coach conversation, but every situation is different.”

The Bears are approaching this in the exact opposite way that they approached it in 2021, when the team drafted Fields with the No. 11 overall pick. Then under general manager Ryan Pace and coach Matt Nagy, the Bears planned to have Fields sit for a while. He hardly saw any reps with the first-team offense during training camp.

Those plans were completely scuttled when starter Andy Dalton suffered a knee injury in Week 2. Fields was forced into action and his lack of preparation with the first-team offense was abundantly clear.

That won’t be a problem with Williams, who had a chance to work closely with top offensive playmakers like Keenan Allen, DJ Moore, Cole Kmet and D’Andre Swift this spring. The focus has been on the fundamentals and installing the beginning stages of the offense.

It’s also about mindset.

“The time in the off-season for us is about training our minds, as well as our bodies, to react the right way no matter what the outcome of the previous play was,” offensive coordinator Shane Waldron said. “Knowing that there is a job to do on the next play. Not to say that the game is void of emotions, because there is going to be emotions, but how do you control those emotions, how do you handle them with that open mindset, that growth mindset? I think Caleb has really embraced that and you don’t see one particular play impact the next series.”

The Bears began with the basics of getting into the huddle, something Williams never did in college. He worked on calling out plays, communicating with the offense at the line of scrimmage and recognizing different defensive approaches and how to attack them.

The real tests will come this summer, once the players are allowed to wear pads and the practices ramp up in intensity. The preseason will be a great proving ground for Williams too, though it’s unclear how much he might play in the preseason.

“It’s obviously great to have the onboard process,” Brown said. “[We were] able to cater things as far as building blocks from the beginning of the very minute basics of getting into the huddle, how to break a huddle, the communication, the cadence, then building upon understanding defensive structures, how we attack those structures, to understanding run game criteria.”

For now, the Bears are on a break. Williams jetted off to Paris this week. But Week 1 will never be far from the 22-year-old’s mind.

“It’s hard to forget about football,” Williams said.

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