Bears rookie minicamp takeaways: Plan to build Austin Booker into Maxx Crosby-like weapon

Bears rookie minicamp takeaways: Plan to build Austin Booker into Maxx Crosby-like weapon originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

LAKE FOREST, Ill. — The comparison hovered around Austin Booker during the pre-draft process, but its presence wasn’t an annoyance or a distraction.

Instead, he and the Bears, who drafted the Kansas edge rusher in the fifth round of the 2024 NFL Draft, welcomed it.

A long, raw pass rusher with a motor that’s always revved, NFL evaluators saw shades of Las Vegas Raiders star Maxx Crosby in Booker. The comparison is not about what Booker is now, but about what the Bears can help him become.

It’s a comparison Booker welcomes, especially as he prepares to work with Bears defensive line coach Travis Smith, who helped develop Crosby with the Silver and Black.

Smith and Booker discussed the Crosby comparison at the NFL Scouting Combine and during Booker’s 30th visit to Halas Hall.

But there’s no “Maxx Crosby blueprint.” Crosby became a star through sheer will and determination. Booker will have to do the same.

“Kind of what he has to understand too, no matter what the similarities are, the style they play, the effort they play with, some of the movement skills that they have, it really comes down to he’s got to be Austin Booker,” Smith said after Bears rookie minicamp wrapped up Saturday. “Because Maxx Crosby, the heart of Maxx Crosby is Maxx Crosby. Austin Booker has got to make his own name to be himself, and he’s got to set the standard of who he’s going to be. Plenty of players like to watch games, and I appreciate the young guys who like to watch NFL football and study a bit, too. But also I want them to create their own identity.”

Crosby and Booker have already connected. The Raiders star gave Booker some words of advice, and the Bears rookie plans to pick his brain as much as possible as his journey begins.

For the Bears, that journey starts with polishing what Booker already excels at before moving on to the advanced portion of the plan.

“What we want to do is take what he can do and really hone and shape that, develop him, inform him of all the things that will allow him to play as fast and as physical as he possibly can play,” defensive coordinator Eric Washington said. “Just build a player. Build a person and build a player.”

The building started this weekend at Halas Hall during rookie minicamp. There’s not much to take from a light practice in shorts, but the Bears were pleased with Booker’s early growth during the two-day camp, especially in the film room.

“The whole thing for a rookie, I call it a race to maturity,” Smith said. “The teams that have success in this league today are the ones where the young guys play the fastest and are able to impact the game. Not just play but are able to help us affect the game somehow. Whatever position they play, offense, defense, special teams, the faster they can impact the game, the faster our team is going to rise where we want to go.

“So, you talk about what is his development? What our plan is? Every day, it’s constant improvement. Today, he came out and he was better than he was yesterday. He’s still got a long way to go.”

Just as the Bears have a plan to develop quarterback Caleb Williams, they have one to mold Booker into an edge rusher who can consistently wreak havoc opposite Montez Sweat.

That starts with getting the little things right. Getting the process dialed. Then, the growth begins.

“First of all, know the package,” Washington said of his benchmarks for Booker. “Make sure that you understand from one call to the next how to get lined up, how to receive whatever information we have for you before the ball is snapped, and then when we really start to play tackle football, and when he has to physically go against one of our offensive linemen or anybody that we have out there, I want to see him win. I want to see his confidence start to grow and that’s part of my responsibility to make sure that he understands that process, and that I’m giving him the right feedback, if there’s one great thing, he’s going to know about that great thing so we can multiply that.”

Here are more notes from rookie minicamp at Halas Hall:

— Special teams coordinator Richard Hightower praised fourth-round pick Tory Taylor for his rare combination of power and touch. Taylor showed off his strength on Day 1 of camp and worked precision on Day 2. Taylor felt good about his two-day camp but has work to do.

“I think it went well,” Taylor said. “I think it’s one of those things that you always, nothing is ever perfect. And I’m always coming off the field going, I think if you come off the field saying, ‘Oh yeah, today was perfect,’ then you probably shouldn’t be here if that makes sense.”

For Taylor, the Chicago conditions will take some getting used to as he begins his NFL career.

“I think one thing that kind of caught me a little bit by surprise is just how strong the wind is here,” Taylor said. “I guess that’s why they call it the Windy City. But that’s just stuff that I’m going to learn as we go. But plenty of things to be happy with and plenty of things to learn from and as long as I’m playing football that’s how it will be and that’s how I want it to be.”

Taylor became the first member of the Bears’ rookie class to sign his contract, inking a four-year deal Saturday.

— Third-round pick Kiran Amegadjie didn’t participate in rookie minicamp and is not expected to practice in OTAs or mandatory minicamp as he continues to recover from quad surgery in October.

The Bears cleared Amegadjie medically before they drafted him but are playing it safe with the developmental tackle.

The Yale product said he “feels good” and will be ready to hit the field when given the all-clear.

“I mean we will see,” Amegadjie said when asked if he’d be ready for training camp. “We will see how everything plays out. I’m going to trust them and trust their guidance on this. I’m not a doctor. I know how my body feels and how to communicate that with them. We will see as time goes on.”

— Amegadjie was one of many Bears to praise Williams, who is already leaving his mark on the organization.

“He’s a big presence in the locker room already,” Amegadjie said of Williams. “He’s a good leader. He’s a person that works hard. He’s always the first one in in the morning. When I get here, he’s always in here already. So I think he’s going to be a great leader for us on this team.”

— Wide receiver Rome Odunze practiced Friday but was held out Saturday with hamstring tightness.

But while he wasn’t running routes on Day 2 of minicamp, Odunze still got mental reps in and was busy talking to wide receivers Chris Beatty and offensive coordinator Shane Waldron throughout the two-hour session.

“How smart he is,” Beatty said when asked what stood out about Odunze during minicamp. “He’s really smart. We went through this process in the draft, trying to find the smarter guys and talking to them. And all of these guys are really smart, but he’s super smart. He’s able to pick things up. And I think he’s got a grasp of a pro set that you get from being in a college offense that has some pro principles in it. So I think that gave him a leg up, but he’s one of those guys that picks things up very quickly.”

— Williams was as advertised during the two-day camp. He was accurate and precise and made sure to immediately correct any rep that flopped. The arm talent is rare, and the mental wiring is unique.

Even his approach to becoming a leader on a fast-improving Bears team is immune from critique.

“To be a great leader, you gotta learn how to follow first,” Williams said. “So right now, I’m following all the vets, I’m following all the coaches. I’m listening, having both ears open and my mouth shut. Just kind of sitting back listening, and when I get to the point of when I learn everything, when I learn the ways of how we do it with the culture, the playbook, and what the offensive line, the receivers are all doing, running backs and tight ends and things like that, then you can start taking the lead, then you can start taking the helms of all of it and take the next steps.

“For right now, though, I’m listening more than I’m speaking and talking, and I’m taking it one step at a time, being in the moment.”

Williams and the Bears have a lot of growing to do. There will be bumps in the road and mistakes to be corrected. Williams’ leadership style will probably come under scrutiny at some point.

But for now, in this moment, there was little for everyone around Halas Hall to do but smile, flash Williams’ “Bear Claw” sign, and envision everything that might come next.

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