Behind why Rome Odunze has impressed the most of all the Chicago Bears rookies

Rome Odunze wanted to make it very clear: He's not ready for Chicago Bears training camp.

Mentally, Odunze is absolutely ready. He's ready to take his game to the next level in a Bears season surrounded by excitement. 

Still, the No. 9 overall pick would not be ready if training camp started tomorrow.

"Hell nah," Odunze said. "I wouldn't be good with that."

Physically, he's not quite there yet. He was hampered by a hamstring issue during rookie minicamp, OTAs and mandatory minicamp, and he needed time to get his body right before he reported to training camp with the rest of the rookies on Tuesday. 

"It was a long offseason," Odunze said Wednesday. "I felt like I did do a good bit to maintain my shape."

Odunze took his time staying in shape, but he also took his time signing his contract. Odunze officially signed his four-year rookie contract on Tuesday.

In taking that time to heal his body, Odunze spent time away from Chicago before returning on Tuesday.

While getting his body right, he's going to spend time at home in Las Vegas with his family. While out in the desert, he won't be getting completely away from football, though.

He's going to have his mom help him go through plays. He's going to keep studying. He's going to keep preparing for his rookie season, and that preparation is why he's impressed the Bears so much this offseason.

"That comes to life when he gets into a new system," Bears offensive coordinator Shane Waldron said. "He can pick up an offense right away."

Odunze has a chance to go down in the Bears record books right away. He knows this because he's already glanced at the Bears' record book to see what he needs to do in order to etch his name in there.

It's not just the Bears receiving records, either. Odunze said he's chasing Puka Nacua's rookie receiving records the Rams' rookie set last year in both receptions (105 total catches) and receiving yards (1,486). 

Beyond that, he knows about Brandon Marshall's single-season record and Johnny Morris' Bears career-receiving record.

Morris had 356 receptions, 5,059 yards and 31 receiving touchdowns in his Bears career. His 5,059 receiving yards is the franchise's all-team record for receiving yards. Morris last played for the Bears in 1967.

"He was a little bit ago," Odunze said of Morris.

In 2024, Odunze will be playing with the likes of Keenan Allen and DJ Moore, who might be ahead of him on the depth chart but that isn't something that lingers with the rookie from Washington.

Odunze said the lessons those two have imparted on him have already made a difference in his game.

"It's not even measurable," Odunze said. "I already learned so much."

Taking in the lessons is one important part of minicamp. The next part is putting those lessons into practice.

Bears head coach Matt Eberflus said last week Odunze has been one of the most impressive player for the Bears this offseason. A reason why is how quickly he understands concepts and can put them into action.

"Some guys just have an act to do it right, like can see the pictures, the drawings, you know, in the classroom, and they can apply that right to the field," Eberflus said. "He's able to process a bunch of information at the same time and then take it to the field."

One example of this was a play Washington ran for him on the last day of the regular season.

Odunze took a 23-yard end-around on fourth down on Washington's final drive of the game. This set up Grady Gross' 42-yard field goal as time expired to lift the Huskies over bitter rival Washington State 24-21.

Odunze had practiced that play to the point where it was just natural. He brings that same preparedness to the NFL with the Bears as a rookie.

"My name can be called in those big moments," Odunze said. "It's something that you just prepared for."

Being prepared goes beyond just catching passes, learning routes and knowing the concepts.

What if Odunze is called on to return a punt this season? He'll be ready because he's practiced fielding punts every day during the Bears' offseason programs.

"I had my fair share of punt returns in college," Odunze said. "I practice that everyday."

Being prepared as a receiver does come first. As a top-10 NFL Draft pick, there's an expectation that he'll see the field consistently as a rookie and also make an impact. 

That's why he'll be having his mom and dad call out plays to him while he visits them back home in Las Vegas. When they call the plays out, he'll line up and run his route. 

The added adversity to this endeavor is that Vegas consistently warms up to about 115 degrees in the summer. Odunze said his parents don't care about that, especially if it means spending time with them.

"Mom's gonna have to go to work," Odunze said. "They want the best for me and they enjoy it."

This is all part of his process.

Odunze isn't overlooking his rookie season in the slightest, but he knows this coming season can set the ground work for his ultimate goal.

It all starts with being prepared.

"I'm hoping I leave the Bears organization better than I found it," Odunze said.


Bears, Packers' wildly different offensive team-building approaches shaped by their QBs

The Chicago Bears. The Green Bay Packers. Founding franchises. Bitter rivals. About as opposite as they come. This especially rings true with their offensive team-building strategies