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'He's what you want as the face of your franchise.' Get to know Bears rookie QB Caleb Williams.

Colleen Kane, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Football

CHICAGO — Chicago Bears tight end Cole Kmet received a glimpse of Caleb Williams’ competitiveness during a recent trip to Topgolf.

Kmet, Williams and backup quarterback Brett Rypien were among a group that was at the facility until 1 a.m. The outing extended into the early morning hours because Williams was intent on catching Rypien in the standings.

“I was competing to catch up to Brett, then the game turned off, I got cold and after that I tried to reset it,” Williams said. “And I ended up coming in third place instead of second or first, which I was shooting for first.”

USC passing game coordinator Dennis Simmons knows a little bit about that competitiveness — in big moments and small ones — after spending three seasons with Williams, first as the passing game coordinator at Oklahoma and then at USC.

He spoke recently with the Chicago Tribune about Williams’ passion, the misconceptions that surrounded him in the predraft process and why he believes Williams is a quarterback whom teammates will want to play for.

— At what point, either when you were recruiting him or after he got to you, did you come to understand Caleb was special?

It was really early on in the recruiting process. COVID had hit, and we weren’t able to do business and all of the things of that nature. He and his family were organizing visits for other players around the country that we had as prospects to try to finish out the class. So you knew he had some sort of leadership role and organizational skills.

And then he would go out with the skill guys and do private throwing sessions with those guys on his own, where he organized and did all of that stuff. Just the feedback from some of those kids was, “This guy is not just a good quarterback. This is a generational-type, different guy.” When you’re recruiting players, obviously talented guys want to link up with other talented players. Just to hear those compliments and those words used about him by his peers, you knew you had something good.

When he got his opportunity, you look back at the game where he came in, in the Texas game. The first snap he got, he bobbled. He dropped the snap. Where most guys would have taken a knee and ate it, he picks it up and scrambles for about 80. Early on, you knew this dude, if something is off script or not right, he’s not going to fold under the pressure or on the big stage under the lights. You knew right then and there that it’s not really things that you coach. It’s things guys are naturally born with.

— By the time he left, what was the most impressive part of his skill set?

The most impressive part of his skill set, especially at that position, is when you get the guys around you wanting to play for you and not just with you. That says a lot about who you are as a player. You think about all the great quarterbacks that you hear folks talk about. Most people don’t just want to play with those guys, they want to play for those guys. You raise their level of play with your presence and being in the huddle with them and being on the field with them.

Especially coming in here (at USC) in Year 2, this was a team that those guys weren’t recruited together. It was a team that was made up and had to bond and find those brotherhoods and friendships and trust factors that most teams spend years developing. And they figured it out and found that quickly within a matter of months, and that speaks to the character of those young men on that roster and he was a large part of that.

— What is it about him that makes him someone people want to play for?

He’s definitely an unselfish team guy, and he’s going to bring energy every day to practice. And he’s going to be one of the first guys in the building studying film and trying to perfect his craft. So obviously when you’ve got one of your better players that’s giving and willing to share but also working hard, that within itself makes you want to raise your level of play.

— In the predraft process, what were some of the biggest misconceptions you had to address about him?

Just about his emotional state. Most people were like, “OK, is that just for show or is that really who he is?” I was like, obviously you guys don’t understand and know this kid because he truly is about winning championships and winning football. That emotion comes because he feels like he didn’t do everything he had to do and he let his brothers down. That wasn’t an act.

— At rookie minicamp, he was talking about how he doesn’t like making mistakes and he has to learn how to handle those at this level. How does he handle those situations?

That’s why he invests so much time in the film room and extra time out on the field to minimize those. But he’s one kid — and I think this is what his teammates appreciate about him — if he does make a mistake, he owns up to his mistakes. It’s not like he tries to point the finger or the blame at someone else.

— Matt Eberflus has praised how Williams learns. How did you see him approach that during his time with you?

He’s got good retention and good memory. There are going to be looks he’ll see and disguises that he sees that will get him for the first time. But he has a pretty good retention rate, so you ain’t going to be able to show it to him too many times where he doesn’t remember it, even if it’s from a previous team.

 

— We’ve already been hearing from Bears teammates about how competitive he is off the field. Do you have an example of that?

Most of the time it was post-practice. Those guys were trying to throw balls from like the 50 to hit the center of the goal post. That was something that was funny. That was something they all were trying to win at.

— Was there an in-game moment that showed his competitiveness?

There have been a lot of times that he’s done some stuff where you’re like, “OK, wow.” There was a time he was scrambling when we played Oregon last year, and he threw a pass but it was almost like a hook shot. It was either him running out of bounds or him finding the back and getting the ball to the back. The back kind of slid inside of him and behind the defender, and he kind of lobbed it over his head. It was like, “OK, that’s not normal.”

— The off-script plays are obviously mesmerizing, but one question people are asking is whether he’ll be able to play within structure at this level. What would you say to that?

I mean, I don’t think he would throw for as many yards as he has without being able to play on script. So I mean, last time I checked, they weren’t letting him just sit back there forever and pick them apart. His whole career, whether it was here or the previous place, he’s had pressure on him.

Yeah, do things happen quicker in the NFL than in college? I wouldn’t argue that point. But I would argue that this dude has had, at every level of his career, especially with the accolades and who he is, there’s been people trying to get to him when they’re playing.

— The adversity he went through last year, with the team not having the success he would have liked, how did you see him handle that? And how did you see him lead through that?

He was always the optimistic person in trying to say it’s never over, trying to look forward on the bright side and trying to figure out, “OK, we may not have gotten it done in that situation, but there’s still room for us to possibly reach the end goal.” So he wasn’t one of those guys that the first time something didn’t go right, he just gave up.

— Ryan Poles talked about how the Hollywood stereotype that surfaced about Williams in the predraft process was inaccurate. What can you tell me about who he is as a person?

Ryan said it best. For those that know him and surround him on a day-to-day basis, he’s what you want in your team. He’s what you want as the face of your franchise. He’s not going to be one of those guys that you’re going to have to worry about.

When you get inside the walls of an NFL locker room, those guys recognize real. And those guys understand professionalism. And I think all of those questions can be answered by the words that the men that are in that building that have worked with him and are playing with him have said about him this early. And he hasn’t even started his rookie season.

— Chicago hasn’t been a friendly place for quarterbacks, and playing here comes with a lot of scrutiny. Why do you think he can handle it?

L.A. is probably the largest media market, so he’s had a little bit of practice with it. It’s the L.A. market. People say they want to come and play and want to be on the biggest stage. This was the biggest stage. It’s like, “All right. You asked for it. Here it is.”

— Have you been in touch with him much since he was drafted?

The Friday before last, he and my son, my 9-year-old, were texting back and forth. He was at dinner. My 9-year-old wanted to show him a play that he had in his flag football game, and Caleb responded to him. It kind of speaks to the type of man that he is. He had a million other things and it could have been very easy to be like, “Eh, I’ll hit him back later or I won’t.” After the text was sent, within minutes there was an immediate response from him.

— Anything you want to add?

I think he’s going to have some very successful moments, and I think he’s going to have some moments that he’s going to have to overcome a learning curve. But that’s the process any young quarterback starting out in that league goes through, and he’ll weather the storm.


©2024 Chicago Tribune. Visit chicagotribune.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

 

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