The Chicago Bears held the first rookie minicamp of 2012 this afternoon. The majority of the practice was basic positional drills and stripped-down walkthroughs, very fundamental stuff, with a quick 7-on-7 session to finish.
On the field were 51 players, including the club's six 2012 draft picks. Second-round selection, WR Alshon Jeffery, looked good before pulling up lame with a calf cramp, but should be ready to go tomorrow.
Yet the player that stood out most was the team's fourth rounder, TE Evan Rodriguez.
The Bears brought in two additional tight ends on a tryout basis – Brandon Venson from Illinois State and Ali Villanueva from Army – yet neither showed much. Going through positional drills, Rodriguez was night and day compared to the other two.
He runs decent routes and has very good hands, which he uses to catch the ball away from his body. He also looked very fluid in his route running, although he did slip on the grass on at least three occasions.
"I lost my footing a few times, so I've got to get my legs underneath me coming out of my breaks," Rodriguez said after practice.
TE Evan Rodriguez
Jerry Lai/US Presswire
He said that's a technique issue that can be resolved easily.
"Staying low, leaning forward instead of coming up, pulling backwards. Coach said I'm too fast out of my breaks. He said gather your steps first, then come out of it, instead of trying to rush it."
Rodriguez was targeted numerous times during 7-on-7s, showing a knack for slipping into the cracks in Chicago's Cover 2 zone. He lost out on a few jump balls – one to S Brandon Hardin, the club's third-round selection, who made an outstanding play on the ball – which may be the result of his less-than-ideal height (6-2).
"That stuff doesn't matter at all to me," Rodriguez said in regard to questions about his height. "I've got speed, I'm physical, I can catch the ball and do my thing. I can use all of that to my advantage."
At Temple, Rodriguez was used mainly as an H-back, filling roles as both a tight end and a fullback. It's his versatility that made him attractive to the club on draft day.
"I think he's got good size for what we want to do with him," coach Lovie Smith said. "He's a guy that can be put in a lot of different positions. He's a versatile player with a lot of talent." For his part, Rodriguez said he'll play wherever the coaches tell him to line up.
"Wherever they put me at I'm going to do it and do my best. Whatever they ask me to do, that's what I'll do."
Offensive coordinator Mike Tice believes Rodriguez adds an extra dimension to the offense.
"We're happy to have a true, different type of tight end, or an F-tight end," said Tice. "We have a young guy from Purdue (Kyle Adams) who has a chance to be an F tight end. But we went out and drafted one. That's going to be a good tool for us in the offense.
"He's got good hands, good quickness. The things we thought he was on tape, he is. He's also a good blocker."
Rodriguez said he won't be afraid to lead into the hole as a lead blocker on run plays if that's what the coaches ask him to do.
"That's fine with me. I've done it before, no problem. I'm not scared of contact."
The jury is still out on whether or not Chicago's current starting tight end, Kellen Davis, can be an elite pass catcher. With Rodriguez lining up all over the field, garnering attention in the passing game, Davis' chances of taking the next step should improve dramatically.
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Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of Bear Report magazine and BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.