By Wanda Wiedman // @WandaW63
Training camp couldn’t come any faster for Chicago Bears fans and it is earlier than usual due to the Hall of Fame game scheduled for August 2, 2018. The hype will be on return players, drafted players, and new additions. The focus here will be on the undrafted free agents who are hoping to grab a spot on the roster or even practice squad. But most likely it will be a free-for-all audition with teams watching closely as to whom to grab when cut.
There are three UDFA that will need to shine in training camp and transfer it on the field. What better way than to display one’s talent than on national television. Let’s start with the offense.
It is no secret that the offensive line needs some solid help. With right guard Kyle Long returning from several offseason surgeries, there is a question as to whether or not he will be ready. Offensive tackle Dejon Allen from Hawaii is only 6’-3” weighing in at 290 pounds.
— Hawaii Football (@HawaiiFootball) December 9, 2017
Allen started at right guard as a redshirt in his freshman campaign in 2015 and then moved to left tackle in 2016. He is a natural at the guard position due to his heavy hands and mobility. He has very similar traits to former Bears center Roberto Garza with the same height and athleticism.
His ability to uphold blocks from a strong-centered stance is impressive and has the potential to be a swing tackle, with the ability to play guard and center if needed. Keep an eye out on how many positions he works out on in training camp. He may be the key to keeping the offensive line stable.
Another player to watch is defensive end/linebacker Elijah Norris out of Shepherd University. Small school players tend to be hidden gems and bargain players when they get on the 53-man roster. Norris is 6’-4” (a little undersized for that position) and 247 pounds. He resembles Ezekiel Ansah in the way he can employs his hands in the pass rush, his side-to-side movement when switching over gaps, playing the run and getting the football as he watches the eyes of the quarterback.
At Shepherd University, Norris was a disruptive and explosive pass rusher. He is the epitome of an athletic football player who knows how to get leverage on opponents out of a three-point stance. He shows great agility when he fires off the snap with a quick first step, and knows how to get his hands around through the play.
Some highlights of Elijah Norris, our UDFA signing at the edge position. https://t.co/MUwN96uSaS
— Dan DeYoung (@DanDeYoung80) April 28, 2018
He started in 11 games, recording 44 total tackles (34 of those were solo tackles) with 11 tackles-for-loss and 6.5 QB sacks! And just for good measure add a pair of pass breakups, a blocked kick, an interception and a forced fumble. Bears need a good solid pass rusher and Norris may be the surprise sleeper of the draft.
The third sleeper is cornerback Michael Joseph of Dubuque, another small school player who may have fallen under the radar. At 6’-1”, 187 pounds, Joseph led the Iowa Conference with eight interceptions and on two occasions had three interceptions in a game. He had only one return for a touchdown, which went for 96 yards. He loves to be the blanket on the receiver both in man and zone coverage in order to crowd the catch.
There’s a reason I said I like the Michael Joseph (CB, Dubuque) signing more than Kevin Toliver. This kid is big, athletic and has often ridiculous ball skills. The scary part is he doesn’t truly know what he’s doing. Yet. #Bears pic.twitter.com/QkFxhwEzXc
— Erik Lambert (@ErikLambert1) April 29, 2018
Joseph has a smooth backpedal and fluid hips in transitions. He can also accelerate to top speed on a dime and possesses those soft hands like a receiver. However, he lacks patience to wait when receivers release fakes, gives up early separation out of breaks and needs to iron out some issues on press coverage. But with some work on special teams, he may be able to make an impact on defense when it counts.
Talk Bears football with Wanda on Twitter // @WandaW63