Chicago Bears cornerback Al Louis-Jean is no stranger to adversity.
He declared for this year’s draft after playing just 23 career collegiate games at Boston College and with two years of eligibility left. He went undrafted and had to parlay a rookie minicamp tryout into an invitation to Bears training camp.
In Bourbonnais, Louis-Jean has rotated with the second and third teams, and is in the mix for one of the club’s final roster spots. We sat down with the undrafted rookie to get his take on competing in training camp and the preseason.
“I’m loving every minute here so far. I’m working hard but beginning to see progress. That’s pretty much the point of being here.
“I feel blessed to have been chosen by the Bears. They didn’t draft me, but eventually I did get the call to come to Halas Hall for rookie minicamp. I’d seen the facility before, shortly before the draft when I came to Lake Forest for a workout. I was so impressed by the coaches, the facility and the attitude there. It’s a winning organization that I badly wanted to be a part of.
“I come to the Bears from Boston College, so I’m no stranger to pressure on the football field. We had a very intense program. I learned a lot that seems to be helping me further myself at this level.
“I’m a cornerback. That's a position that's always felt comfortable for me. I think my strengths are in my speed and my sense of the ball. I had a 4.5 40 but I know I can do even better. I’m very competitive and am willing to work as hard as I can to be successful. I played 23 games for Boston College. I view this experience as an extension and amplification of what the college coaches taught me.
“I’m a young guy, 20 years old, and I’m trying to be a sponge for anything the coaches and the vets can teach me. I know that some people in the sports media questioned my decision to enter the draft early, but I felt I was ready. Other young guys have joined the league at the same stage of their college careers so it wasn’t that unusual. Now I am going to prove that my decision was the right one. The main thing is to keep my head right and concentrate on my job, just as the older guys are doing.
“What I think is unusual about the Bears organization is that the veteran players take the time to help out the rookies. If I do something wrong they don't hesitate to point it out. If I'm successful, they tell me that as well. I couldn’t have better teachers than the coaches and other players on this team. They often have the new guys stay after practice just to go through some moves. Picking up the things these vets have learned in their time on the field is invaluable.
“I think my overall technique is sound but obviously there is room for improvement. I had a 4.5 40 so I know the speed is there. I just need to refine things so I am playing at a level to match the guys I’ll be facing. My reaction time is improving and should continue that direction as I become more comfortable.
“The playbook is coming along well. I was accustomed to studying a lot at BC and this is really no different. Of course there is a lot more at stake now as this is my job. I’m not concerned if I’ll get an A or B on a test as I was in college. My questions now are basic: Will I demonstrate that I can learn quickly enough? Can I show them the skills so I can keep this job?
“What was the first night in Soldier Field like? Wonderful. It wasn’t unfamiliar as they took the rookies down there earlier this spring to see the facility. But it was completely different when all the fans were there. The energy in that place was amazing. I can only imagine what it will be like when we play our first game.
“What are my immediate goals? I feel that I’ll need to step up and demonstrate that I can control my area of the field. I am good at sensing how a play will unfold so that should help me to some extent. During this first game there will be some nerves I’m sure. All of the rookies have been talking about that and how we are going to get through it. Relaxation and familiarity are key. I think once the first game is over, I’ll have a much better sense of how things develop on the field in the NFL.
“One thing I have noticed from practice is the increased speed and intensity here. Things happen really fast and you have to be ready. The hits are hard and they come right at you. If you hesitate, if you don’t know what you’re doing, or you execute incorrectly, you could get beat. There’s no place to hide if you’re on the field during an NFL game.
“The other big factor is that everybody out there is really good. These guys are all standouts from his college. Everybody wants to make it on the team. It’s a question of who wants it more. That doesn’t intimidate me as I think I have the skills needed to be in this league. I just want the opportunity to show my best and be productive.”
Beth Gorr has been covering the Bears for the last 14 years and is the author of Bear Memories: The Chicago-Green Bay Rivalry. She is currently working on a second book about early Bears history.