Caleb Williams cadence mastery is vital top priority for rookie early in Bears’ QB development plan

Caleb Williams cadence mastery is vital top priority for rookie early in Bears’ QB development plan originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

LAKE FOREST, Ill. — A few things have become commonplace while watching quarterback Caleb Williams during the Bears’ offseason program.

The first is the “wow” throws that come with rare arm talent. Williams has made several impressive throws during each of the open media practices this offseason, from layered throws to DJ Moore in between multiple defenders to side-arm tosses to Rome Odunze to beat the blitz. There was even a jump pass to tight end Gerald Everett sprinkled in during Tuesday’s mandatory minicamp practice.

However, the offense has also committed numerous pre-snap penalties. That’s a product of a rookie quarterback working to fine-tune his operation of the offense and perfect his cadence.

Williams has attempted to use his cadence to draw the defense offsides numerous times during open practice, but it has caused several false starts and has yet to give the offense a free play.

During Tuesday’s practice, the first-team offense committed six pre-snap penalties. The Bears know it’s going to take time for Williams, who did not have to use a cadence in college, to get it right. They are practicing patience but would like the rookie quarterback to clean up this area in his development as soon as possible.

“Something we still have to work on, as you guys saw today, is the cadence,” head coach Matt Eberflus said Tuesday. “We saw guys jump offsides – I think there were half a dozen of the time –  so that’s something that needs to be worked out. That is something that needs to be addressed, and worked on, and improved on here in the next couple of days. We’d like to get that cleaned up.

“It’s the whole team. The whole offensive unit. We’ve got to get on the same page to make sure we’re [not committing] pre-snap penalties, not getting behind the sticks. You guys saw today that we were first-and-15, second-and-15. It’s hard to operate that way.”

Bears veterans know that Williams perfecting the cadence won’t happen overnight. It’s something that will come with time and reps.

But they’ve already seen growth from the No. 1 overall pick in that area.

“It’s kind of like you’ve got to find your own voice when you come to the league,” tight end Cole Kmet said. “It’s so interesting because in that position like taking a snap under center and saying a cadence is something you would think would be so normal. But most guys aren’t doing that until they get to the league now. Most guys are doing the clap, you look to the sideline and you see the play. It’s no different than a receiver doing it. All those operational things are things that you don’t do now until you get to the league.

“So getting guys in the huddle, saying the play call, doing the cadence, those are all brand new things for him. I thought today was his best day with it actually. In the huddle, he was crisp and clear and all those things. I think that just comes with confidence in the playbook that he’s gaining and like I said, kind of finding his own voice with the cadence because that’s definitely something that if you can get going, you can weaponize.”

Eberflus understands that Williams’ mastery of the cadence won’t come overnight. It’s a new world for a rookie quarterback.

“Finding your voice” takes time, no matter your walk of life.

But as the Bears put together a developmental checklist for Williams to clear as he heads into the summer break, cadence mastery is priority 1A and 1B.

“Honestly, it’s just reps,” Eberflus said. “You just have to get the reps and get it right. You have to use cadence as a weapon on offense. You can’t just go, ‘Ready. Set Hut.’ the entire time. Right? So, we got to do double counts, we got to do triple counts, we got to do dummy counts, we got to do silent counts, we got to do all the counts that everybody else has in the NFL.

“We have to use that as a weapon to hold those defensive linemen at bay a little bit and to get them offsides a little bit. …. It’s important that we continue to work on that because it needs to be a weapon for us.”

Veteran wide receiver Keenan Allen went through cadence training with a rookie quarterback in 2020 when the Los Angeles Chargers drafted Justin Herbert.

Mastering the cadence in a few days might not be an attainable goal, but Allen is confident Williams and the offense will be on the same page about the operation well before the season begins.

“I would say by the time we get to training camp because he’s going to be here for a while,” Allen said Tuesday. “By the time we get to training camp, he’ll be well oiled on what we got going on and spending time with the offensive linemen, with the OC, and like you said, just understanding his voice and how he wants to say it, his rhythm, how he wants to go through it. By the time we get to training camp, probably a week or two in, we should be solidly ran.

“It’s definitely hard,” Allen said when asked about his experience with a rookie quarterback mastering cadence. “Everybody goes through it. It’s one of those things where you’ve got to go through it to get to it.”

The Bears have seen constant progress from Williams during the opening phase of their detailed development plan to launch his NFL career.

But everyone around Halas Hall knows that while Williams’ talent and competitive drive will accelerate things, patience will be required early on. That’s to be expected.

“He’s obviously a guy that has tremendous talent but it’s going to be a work in progress,” Allen said.

“I feel like he’s done a great job so far throughout OTAs,” Kmet said. “You can see those steps he’s taking week to week but there’s definitely an element of patience that there has to be just because of where he’s at in his career. And that’s totally understandable.”

Tuesday’s discussion of cadence mastery was the prime example of the tightrope between patience and urgency that the Bears will walk early in 2024 with a rookie quarterback on a roster that looks ready to compete.

Eberflus wants the cadence issues cleared up in “a few days,” but he and key veterans recognize it will take time to perfect.

Williams’ special ability and rare wiring are part of the equation.

“It’s a good thing that our quarterback’s highly competitive, and he’s of high character, so he’s gonna be pushing that ball down the court,” Eberflus said about the need to balance patience and urgency. “So I don’t think we have to worry about that. I really don’t. We’ll be pacing this thing at a pretty fast pace like we’ve done already, and I’ve seen the progress in him.”

Patience isn’t in Williams’ competitive DNA. But it will need to be exercised as the Bears look to build something to last around a rare quarterback prospect who plans to be a franchise-changer.

That change, like cadence mastery, won’t happen overnight.

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