Stephen Denmark Jersey

On a whim last spring, Stephen Denmark switched sides and lined up on defense.

Valdosta State was going through one-on-one drills during spring ball when coach Kerwin Bell, now the offensive coordinator at South Florida, asked who could play cornerback.

Denmark raised his hand and said, “I can play it.” Both men had a chuckle and over the next few weeks, Denmark took a handful of reps at the position. When he met with Bell for his exit meeting at the end of spring practices, the coach said, “I know you can play receiver and I think you can play corner — if you put your mind to it.”

Denmark knew he would be a regular for the Blazers at wide receiver, but Bell had inspired confidence in him while also challenging him, and Denmark decided to commit to changing positions with one caveat: If he didn’t like it over the summer, he could return to offense.

That’s the backstory of how Denmark went from being a wide receiver on nobody’s radar — he caught 30 passes over his first three college seasons — to a freakishly sized cornerback who slowly gained exposure as Valdosta State completed a 14-0 season with a victory over Ferris State in the Division II national championship game. Although he was a seventh-round pick, drafted 238th, the Bears’ depth chart behind starters Kyle Fuller and Prince Amukamara is wide open, especially compared with most other positions on the roster.

General manager Ryan Pace said Denmark was one of the players he was most looking forward to seeing this weekend at rookie minicamp.

Denmark looked every bit the 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds the Bears list him at Friday during the first practice, and his 79½-inch wingspan is massive. The goal for the weekend — besides improving on a deflating end to Friday’s session with six of eight kickers missing field-goal attempts from 43 yards — is to get players who will stick around for the offseason program up to speed with how the Bears practice.

As the offseason progresses and the team reaches training camp in Bourbonnais, it will get a better handle on whether Denmark can battle for a role. His 4.46-second time in the 40-yard dash at his pro day will only help.

Taller cornerbacks face challenges, but Vanderbilt’s Joejuan Williams was the sixth one drafted this year, taken in the second round by the Patriots. Like Denmark, he’s listed at 6-3.

The Bears sent assistant director of player personnel Champ Kelly and secondary coach Deshea Townsend to Valdosta to work out Denmark three days before the draft. They put him on the white board. They looked at some tape. They watched how he moved laterally and made quick transitions. They left impressed with Denmark, who spent all of about a week at cornerback as a sophomore in high school and was not invited to even a low-level college all-star game, let alone the NFL scouting combine. It’s worth noting he comes from the Southeast, where the Bears have area scout Sam Summerville — the one who pushed for the Bears to draft another Division II talent two years ago: running back Tarik Cohen.

If Cohen was a bit of a sleeper as a fourth-round pick, Denmark is a super sleeper. Raw? Very. Intriguing? You bet. The Bears felt Denmark did a nice job absorbing information during the private workout. They liked how he tracked balls in the air on film, not an easy skill for some experienced corners. They liked his physical play.

“I kind of had an idea they really liked me, but when it got late (in Round 7), I didn’t know,” said Denmark, who watched Day 3 of the draft with family and friends. He didn’t schedule a cookout as a draft party until the day after he was selected.

In the pre-draft process, some teams talked about Denmark as a possible safety. Two clubs asked if he was comfortable putting on weight and becoming a linebacker. The Bears want to see him at cornerback, which stands to reason. Cornerbacks are more valuable than safeties, and it would be a mistake to switch him until they know he can’t play the position.

“We’ve got time with him and he’s got traits,”coach Matt Nagy said. “He’s a big guy who can do a lot of things.”

In time, the Bears will learn if Denmark can play off man, if he can play in space and if he can redirect and break on smaller, quicker receivers. If he can, there’s little doubt with his size and strength that he would get physical with receivers and handle them at the line of scrimmage.

Kerrith Whyte Jersey

How can you tell when a player is a late round draft pick or a UDFA? How about a junior RB who declared early for the NFL Draft, played in 37 games. and never started a single one of them? That player is Kerrith Whyte is, but that is not the whole story.

He was not invited to the Combine even though he had better stats than some of the other invitees. He ran the ball over 230 times and had 81 kickoff returns with two TDs. He is bigger, faster (by a lot), with more athletic ability than the player who started in front of him (and is the #89 player on my Draft board).

Whyte is a player with great speed. His pro day timed him at 4.36 in the 40 which would have made him the fastest RB at the Combine by a fairly wide margin. His athletic accolades don’t end there as he had a 11’ broad jump which would have been the best as a RB at the Combine. His 42” vert jump which would have ranked him #1 at the combine by 2 inches over any other RB.

So Whyte is the fastest, most explosive player with serious hops who wasn’t invited to the NFL Combine. He had 335 touches in his 3 year career so it is not like he was lightly used. The problem was he was behind a productive RB who had over 760 touches and 67 TDs. They both had gaudy yards per carry averages.

The point being that there seems to be little drop off from a player I ranked #89 and a player who I ranked much lower. They have different skillsets, but they both have skill.

This second play is an RPO so the left side of the line is run blocking, and the right side is pass blocking. There is no designed hole on this play so Whyte has to pick his way through. He isn’t short, but he has a low center of gravity and very good contact balance. This would be his version of a power run. He breaks two tackles on his way to the end zone.

The next play is quick, and I only show it for two reasons. First it lets you know the first kicoff TD was not a fluke and second is his returning technique. A good returner gets his speed going. As he approaches the mosh pit of players where the two sides meet he will slow down just slightly. He then picks an alley way he thinks is best and accelerates through it.

He doesn’t bounce it out wide. He just hits it straight ahead and gets the most he can get. Some player will always take the kickoff wide because they fear the straight on collision. Whyte uses the best method for returning kicks. He has no fear, and once he gets in the open no one is going to catch him.

This next play I only used to show him reading the play. If you notice, he gets the handoff to a play going to his right. He starts that way, reads the the blocking, and sees a crease that formed to his left.

The next play is another long run that is just well-blocked. Whyte causes players to take bad angles because they can‘t adjust to his speed. You can see he waits for his blocks to develop then bursts through the crease and into the clear.

The last play is just a read option that he takes to the house through a tiny crease. Again you can see him hesitate when he gets the ball. As soon as he sees a crease develop he hits the afterburners and rockets through the hole.

I recently read where Hollywood Brown may be the first WR selected on Thursday because of his speed and game breaking ability. That may be true, but Whyte gives you all the same elements plus stellar special teams play at the cost of (I’m guessing) a 6th round pick. Plus he is a player with only 335 college touches and no known injury history.

Duke Shelley Jersey

Duke Shelley faced an uphill battle to the NFL when his senior year at Kansas State was cut short with a toe injury.

Shelley, a former defensive back for the Wildcats, missed the final five games of his college career and was then unable to participate in any all-star games leading up to this week’s draft. His only opportunity to show off for NFL scouts came at K-State’s pro day in early March.

Turns out that was enough for him to make an impression.

The Chicago Bears selected Shelley in the sixth round of the NFL Draft with the 205th overall pick on Saturday.

He is the second former K-State player to hear his name called in the 2019 draft. The first was right tackle Dalton Risner, who went to the Denver Broncos in the second round with the 41st pick on Friday.

That comes as a bit of a surprise, considering running back Alex Barnes and fellow defensive back Eli Walker both arguably entered the draft with more buzz.

But Barnes went undrafted and signed a free agent deal with the Tennessee Titans.

Shelley is capable of excelling at the next level. A four-year starter for the Wildcats, he proved himself as a quality cover corner in the pass-happy Big 12 and was having an excellent senior campaign before going down with an injury.

His season actually ended after he made an interception against Oklahoma State last October when he tore a ligament in his big toe while trying to return the pick for a touchdown.

Just when it seemed like Shelley was turning into the unquestioned leader of K-State’s defense with 33 tackles, nine defended passes and three interceptions, his college career was over.

But he recovered quickly enough to turn heads at K-State’s pro day, and now he’s headed to the NFL.

Barnes will also get a shot to make a NFL roster, even if he didn’t get drafted as expected.

He left K-State a year early to get a jump start on his professional career after putting up strong numbers as a junior last season. The Pittsburg native was an absolute workhorse in his final year at K-State. He turned 256 carries into 1,355 yards and 12 touchdowns, while also catching 20 passes for 194 yards. He led the Big 12 in rushing and earned all-conference honors.

His draft stock seemed to rise when he showed off his strength at the NFL Scouting Combine earlier this year, making some think he might be selected in the middle rounds. But expectations dipped a bit in recent weeks, and he was viewed more as a late-rounder. He ended up going undrafted and will need to prove himself over the next few months.

Riley Ridley Jersey

Now that the dust has settled following the completion of the 2019 NFL Draft, Bears general manager Ryan Pace and coach Matt Nagy met the media to answer questions regarding the Bears newest draft class.

Both decision-makers spent a considerable amount of time raving over their fourth-round selection, WR Riley Ridley from Georgia, who was not expected to be available when the Bears picked in the fourth round.

When asked about Ridley and if the Bears were surprised he was still on the board at pick no. 226, Pace said “honestly, we were. All of us had high grades on him so we were excited to get him at that point in the draft.” Pace went on to say the Bears continue to approach the draft with the best-player-available mentality and said picking Ridley comfortably at their spot was a “no-brainer.”

Pace and Nagy both gushed about Ridley’s route-running ability and explained how route running is becoming a hard-to-find skill among wide receivers. Ridley also has a knack for winning the 50-50 ball, or as he told Pace, “I’m not a 50-50 guy, I win all of them.”

Ridley joins a WR corp that includes Allen Robinson, Anthony Miller, Taylor Gabriel, former teammate Javon Wims, as well as free agent signee Marvin Hall and undrafted free agent Emanuel Hall from Mizzou. The Bears rookie minicamp is set for May 3-5, 2019.

David Montgomery Jersey

It was 2 a.m. and Louis Ayeni, the Iowa State running backs coach, had been home for about two hours after a late-night return from Oklahoma State, where the Cyclones had squandered a 17-point second-half lead and suffered a gut-wrenching Big 12 loss.

The coach’s phone rang, never a good thing in the middle of the night.

After the Bears traded up 14 spots in the third round of the NFL draft Friday night to select Montgomery at No. 73, general manager Ryan Pace said there were numerous stories coming out of the Ames campus detailing Montgomery’s work ethic. Ayeni, now the running backs coach and recruiting coordinator at Northwestern, is the best man to tell those stories about a player he considers a son.

Montgomery FaceTimed Ayeni immediately after he got off the phone Friday night. They spent a half-hour on the phone after lunch Saturday. Ayeni believes the Bears nailed it by adding Montgomery to the defending NFC North champion’s improving offense. He has no doubt Montgomery, in time, will emerge as a leader at Halas Hall.

“We’re doing a recruiting function after David’s freshman year and we got done at like 10:30, 11 o’clock at night and we were going back to the facility to get our cars and we noticed the lights were on in the indoor facility,” Ayeni recalled. “I walked over there with coach (Matt) Campbell to see what was going on in there. The lights are on and music is blaring.

“What’s going on? It’s David in there by himself and he’s going through running back drills by himself. He’s in there just perfecting his craft. The crazy thing is you go back at night a couple weeks later and it’s David and all the running backs. A few weeks after that it’s David and all the skill guys on offense. And then you get to the summer and it’s offense and the defense. He captured that whole team with his work ethic and character and they followed him.”

It was Montgomery, a quarterback at Mt. Healthy High School in Cincinnati, that led the revival of the Cyclones program, from a 3-9 season his freshman season to an 8-5 record and a victory in the Liberty Bowl the next year.

How things shake out in the Bears backfield with free-agent signing Mike Davis will be determined on the practice field and through the preseason, but Montgomery is accustomed to competition. When he arrived at Iowa State, Mike Warren was coming off winning Big 12 freshman of the year honors after he rushed for 1,339 yards in 2015, one of the best seasons in Iowa State history and one of the best for a freshman in the history of the conference. By the middle of Montgomery’s freshman season, he overtook Warren.

“We envision a scenario where they’re all contributing in different areas,” Pace said. “We feel good about that room now. Really good about that room. They all bring a little bit of different things to the table. Matt (Nagy) and I were just talking about it — the different things we can do with all the backs in that room.”

Scouts have compared Montgomery to Browns running back Kareem Hunt, who won the rushing title as a rookie with the Chiefs in 2017. Ayeni is the man who recruited both backs to college, bringing Hunt to Toledo and then landing Montgomery at Iowa State. He’s careful in drawing comparisons between them as players and chuckles when describing how the Cyclones got Montgomery. Ayeni was already in Ames when Campbell was hired and was retained because he had worked with the staff previously at Toledo. Iowa State did not recruit the state of Ohio before Campbell arrived but began immediately because the coaches had ties to the area.

“Our receivers coach, Bryan Gasser, showed me his video, and I was like, ‘Where is this kid going? Ohio State?’ ” Ayeni said.

But Montgomery had no offers at the time.

“His film was really good,” Ayeni said. “Now David was playing quarterback in high school. He was a dual-threat quarterback and when you watched him run the ball, I thought it was something special. He was 220 pounds, he had those thick legs, he looked like a running back. He just had the traits and qualities you would want in a guy, and we were fortunate enough to have enough time to recruit him and get him.”

Once Montgomery got on the field at Iowa State, it was clear he was the program’s best offensive player.

“The similarities between David and Kareem are their contact balance,” Ayeni said. “They can make people miss and break tackles. It’s ridiculous. In 2017, Kareem was a rookie with the Chiefs, David led college football in forced missed tackles and Kareem led the NFL in forced missed tackles.

“They both can catch the ball out of the backfield, short and down the field. They both are willing pass blockers and can protect the quarterback and they both run with a chip on their shoulders. Those guys both compete and don’t want ever want to go down. You know when you watch a running back and it’s like, ‘Whoa!’ It can be a business decision to tackle the guy. You have to gang-tackle them. Both have that desire to never let one guy bring them down.

“I know Kareem was a third-round pick and he kind of came out of nowhere when he burst on the scene. I am just telling you Kareem looked the same way in high school that he looked in the NFL on Sundays and the same he was at Toledo. Whereas Dave, his make-you-miss ability was the same in high school as it was in college, and I’m looking forward to it staying the same in the pros because it’s special what he’s got.”

Montgomery has more natural hands as a receiver than Hunt and he is more refined as a route runner, according to Ayeni. They are areas of his game that can continue to be developed because he has been a running back for only three seasons.

“The sky is the limit for the kid,” Ayeni said. “I told him he is living in the basement.”

Ayeni is confident, too, that if Montgomery calls again in the middle of the night, it won’t be because he’s in trouble.