That’s not an ideal scenario for any team but the injuries to the club’s starters have opened the door for a number of up-and-coming pass catchers, including former Illinois State product Cameron Meredith.
Growing up 10 minutes southwest of Chicago in Berwyn, Ill., Meredith is one step away from fulfilling his lifelong dream.
“I never thought I’d get this opportunity, but now that I’m here I’m taking advantage of the situation and learning everything I can,” Cameron told Bear Report. “Being from the Chicago area, it’s completely amazing to get this chance to play for the Bears. I’ve been a fan since I was a little kid.
“In camp I was remembering the time we came down to watch the team practice years ago. I always hoped I’d be playing on that field someday but to have that actually happen? Incredible. I’m excited. My family’s excited. Things are just as good as they can possibly be.”
An undrafted free agent who led ISU with 66 receptions, 1,061 yards and nine touchdowns his senior season, Cameron’s first experience at an NFL game came in Week 1 of the preseason.
“It’s quite an experience when the first time you see an NFL game in person is when you are actually in that game,” he said. “It was great, absolutely thrilling to be in the stadium, to see the fans, to soak up that atmosphere.
“I was somewhat nervous at first but then I realized chances like this come along once in a lifetime so I needed to get down to business fast. Once I started playing, I settled down mental and just played the game the way I’d been taught to play.”
Meredith was a backup quarterback his first two years at ISU, which could give him added value as the club’s emergency signal caller.
“I’m a receiver now, but I spent my high school career and a little of my time in college lining up at quarterback. I didn’t realize how little quarterbacks have to move until I was switched to a wide receiver. Man, I ran out of gas fast. Receivers are all over the place all of the time. That was a big heads up to work on conditioning. Stamina and speed are my areas of concentration in terms of skill set right now.”
Meredith has been working with the first team the past week and now has an opportunity to secure one of the club’s final roster spots. He’s made many highlight-reel grabs in practice and led the team in Week 1 with 4 catches for 47 yards. His ball skills and excellent size (6-3, 207) allow him to excel on deep passes.
“I was happy to be able to execute well in game-day situations. I’ll do whatever I can to continue that path. There’s some positives there that I can build upon. Plays are still coming in so that’s something to get used to. You’ve got to know your personnel and who you’re playing against. There will be a learning curve learning what a regular season is like. It’s all starting to come together and I’m trying to keep steady every day.
“Amazingly enough things seem to slow down a bit [when the ball is in the air]. Maybe it’s the high degree of concentration required to make the catch that makes it all seem to go slower. Once I have the ball, things go fast. That adrenaline kicks in right away.
“I’m still dealing with the usual rookie problem of thinking before reacting when I’m on the field. I know that will go away with time and experience but it can be frustrating. Live reps really help in the long run, particularly if you’re getting them in a game.”
He’s competing with Rashad Lawrence, Marc Mariani and Josh Bellamy for a receiving role with the Bears. The competition has been fierce but no player in that group has the same size and deep-ball ability as Meredith, which could be just the edge he needs heading into the final preseason contest.
“It’s been rough so far for the team in terms of the receiver injuries. The positive is that I am getting called on quite a bit. As a rookie you have to always be prepared no matter what happens. You never know whether the guy in front of you in the depth chart is going to go down, or if the coaches will call you to come in for a while.
“[I need to show] that I can learn, that I pick up skills quickly, that I understand the playbook. Working out with the first team is an amazing opportunity. The tempo is fast and the competition is tough but that is the way I like things to be. I’ve never felt that things should be handed to me, but that I need to earn whatever I get. I’m more than willing to put in the time to be successful at this level.”
Beth Gorr has been covering the Bears for the last 17 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.