Chase Claypool expresses confidence and eagerness — ‘I’m a playmaker’ — on his 1st day as a Chicago Bear. But how quickly can the receiver emerge?
OK, Chicago Bears fans. This probably was the part of the Chase Claypool introduction you were most looking forward to.
“I’m a playmaker,” Claypool said Wednesday afternoon, just before his first Bears practice at Halas Hall. “And I’m excited to make plays.”
The immediate response from an eager fan base: Welcome aboard, man. Just how quickly can you get started?
As the newest addition to the Bears’ developing offense, Claypool offers plenty to be excited about. He’s 6-foot-4 and 238 pounds. He ran the 40-yard dash at the 2020 scouting combine in 4.42 seconds. He had a 10-touchdown season as a rookie and has more than 2,000 career receiving yards over 2½ seasons.
There’s obvious upside here, which was a big reason Bears general manager Ryan Poles felt compelled to trade a second-round pick Tuesday afternoon to grab Claypool from the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Bears, with the league’s least productive passing attack, need more game-changing playmakers on offense. And if Poles failed to add enough weaponry to the receiving corps during his first spring on the job, he took an aggressive step to rectify that with this latest dice roll.
“You can never have enough weapons and guys who help your quarterback gain confidence,” Poles said Tuesday.
Now, though, comes the task of setting realistic expectations — especially for the final nine games of the season. Yes, Claypool is a big, fast target with a proven track record of making difficult catches in the NFL. But no, he is not an instant fix-all for a passing offense that has a long way to go in its quest to reach the middle-tier.
Even quarterback Justin Fields, who said he was excited to bring Claypool aboard, knew better than to forecast some sort of immediate, league-shaking offensive explosion.
“It’s not high school football where you just get a bigger, better receiver and you can just look off the safety and throw it one-on-one down the field,” Fields said Wednesday. “You’re still going to have to go through your reads and go through your progressions. Of course, we’re going to work him into the offense slowly and try to get the ball in his hands. But I just have to stay even-keeled.”
Through eight games, Claypool had 32 receptions, 311 yards and one touchdown for a Steelers offense that has had quarterback instability with the arrival of Mitch Trubisky and then the Week 5 switch to rookie Kenny Pickett. Claypool also was learning a new role, playing in the slot much more extensively.
“I feel like I didn’t have the full opportunity to show what I can do,” he said.
Still, those stats might provide a realistic target for Claypool to aim at for the Bears’ final nine games as he learns a new offense, gets his feet on the ground and finds his niche.
Bears coach Matt Eberflus struck a measured tone Wednesday in expressing optimism about Claypool’s potential but uncertainty about how that will translate into game-day production.
“We’re just going to let it play out,” Eberflus said. “It will go where it will go. How fast does he pick up information? How fast does he jell with the other receivers, with the quarterback? And we expect really good things from that.”
It starts with testing Claypool’s ability to adapt and settle in. For what it’s worth, the 24-year-old receiver landed at O’Hare around 7:45 a.m. Wednesday, made it to Halas Hall by 10:30 and rushed himself out to his first Bears practice a little after 1 p.m.
He acknowledged his head was spinning from the whirlwind.
“For sure, a little bit,” Claypool said. “But I think it will settle down after the first day.”
Adding to Claypool’s challenge, this week is the Steelers’ open date. So he went from readying for a big exhale and some much-needed midseason relaxation to pushing to speed up his acclimation in Lake Forest. He understands his new team hopes he can contribute soon, perhaps as early as Sunday against the Miami Dolphins at Soldier Field.
“I’m trying to take a day-by-day approach,” Claypool said. “I’m not trying to figure everything out at once in terms of where I’m staying, (my) family and this and that. I’m focusing on the playbook first and then little extra meetings with coaches. That’s probably just one and two.”
Tight end Cole Kmet is one of three Bears players who played with Claypool at Notre Dame. (The others are receiver Equanimeous St. Brown and offensive lineman Sam Mustipher.) Kmet knows about Claypool’s big-play ability. But he seems as excited about Claypool’s infectious confidence and competitive nature.
“He’s going to bring a lot of juice to the locker room,” Kmet said. “He’s an ultra-competitive dude and that’s a thing we need on the team. He’s going to bring that competitive spirit.”
It’s impossible to say at this stage whether the Bears will be viewed as winners down the road in the trade. They will have to find ways to utilize Claypool’s strengths and channel some of his brash confidence in the right direction.
At this point, Claypool is simply trying to take things little by little with a goal to become a go-to weapon for Fields as soon as possible.
“I’m excited to be able to gain that trust with Justin,” Claypool said, “where he knows if he needs a play he can come to me.”
That process began Wednesday. The timetable for reaching bigger goals is still to be determined.