Caleb Williams and Rome Odunze fearlessly vow to raise expectations for the Chicago Bears: ‘What’s the reason to duck?’


Caleb Williams arrived at Halas Hall on Friday, his first full day as the new Chicago Bears quarterback, with the same level of excitement and self-assuredness he has been channeling through most of his football life. Williams is nothing if not confident. His ambition is spoken by design. And his undeniable presence is, quite frankly, striking.

So it was little surprise Williams made no attempt to lower the bar on what the outside world should expect from his NFL career. He has talked openly about winning a half-dozen or more Super Bowls and pushing, as his grandest goal, to become a football immortal.

“The only way to reach that,” Williams said, “is by winning championships. That’s big for me and the reason I play the game.”

As part of his climb, Williams is vowing to take the Bears back to heights they haven’t experienced in decades.

Yes, at 22 years old, Williams just touched down in a success-starved and scarred city to play for an organization that has been defined by its failure at football’s most important position. His position. So to some outsiders, Williams’ dreams might seem naive or outlandish, like every grand goal he speaks out loud will set him up for the hardest of crashes and an eventual headstone in the already overcrowded graveyard of Bears quarterbacks.

Still, Williams wants everyone to know — bosses, coaches, teammates, fans — he’s going to be fearless and unapologetically aspirational in his pursuit of excellence as Bears quarterback.

Williams was asked Friday why he hasn’t tried to temper the expectations, why he hasn’t looked over his shoulder at the pressure and criticism that will forever be stalking him, why, in an attempt to just find a little extra personal calm, he doesn’t give into the human-nature urge to duck all this scrutiny and hype?

“What’s the reason to duck?” Williams said. “It’s here. There’s no reason to duck. I’m here.”

Williams quickly went on to name-drop his new receiver, fellow first-round pick Rome Odunze, and his oldest receiver, Keenan Allen, who turns 32 on Saturday. Williams referenced the Bears’ talent-stocked and improving defense. He did what Bears general manager Ryan Poles has been pushing for his entire team to do and expressed an optimism in himself and teammates that was backed by belief and not just hope.

“We’re here,” Williams said. “I’m excited. I know everybody is excited. The Bears fans are excited from what I’ve heard and seen. And there’s no reason to duck. Attack it headfirst and go get it.”

Photos: Chicago Bears introduce No. 1 pick Caleb Willams and No. 9 pick Rome Odunze

Williams, though, was asked whether his dream-big mentality at least came with a realistic acknowledgment that his rookie season is likely to have significant growing pains.

“I don’t think about it, to be honest with you,” he said. “I think about just doing my job, handling the things I can handle, dealing with the small things, holding everybody accountable and everybody holding me accountable. It’s showing up to work every day ready to go and having fun doing it. If growing pains do come around, it happens with a lot of players. You deal with it in that moment. You handle it. But I don’t think about it.”

Flying high

Williams’ formal Halas Hall introduction Friday came alongside Odunze with both rookies posing for their photo-op with their new navy jerseys — Nos. 18 and 15, respectively. Less than two months ago, the two didn’t know each other well, other than from their November clash in a Pac-12 game won by Odunze’s Washington Huskies 52-42. Odunze had five catches for 82 yards that day. Williams threw for 312 with three touchdowns.

Now, apparently, the two have become fast friends with the last week bringing them together in a way in which it feels as if fate might have intervened.

Let the record reflect, it was on a Delta flight Tuesday — LAX to DTW — where the two rookies united on their current travels, both en route from Southern California to Detroit for the draft. For Odunze, it wasn’t until he boarded that flight and found his seat in first class that he noticed Williams sitting nearby.

“It was cool,” Odunze said. “I didn’t know he was going to be on that flight. I thought they might be sending him private. I mean, he’s a big head-honcho over there. But nah. It was dope.”

Williams shared that moment on “X” with a 15-word post.

“Oh (bleep) yall I just saw Rome Odunze on my flight to Detroit!! Big fan!”

To which Odunze replied: “I’m actually the pilot this morning. Don’t worry I’ll get Caleb to Detroit SAFELY!

#nosoulshaveperished.”

That hashtag was an amusing allusion to a question Odunze had been asked during his news conference at the scouting combine in March.

If you were on a flight that was about to crash and you were asked to land the plane safely, could you do it?

“Absolutely not!” Odunze responded. “We are going down. All souls have perished!”

For Williams and Odunze, their flight together into Detroit may have been happenstance. But the flight out Friday — on the Bears’ private jet en route to Chicago Executive Airport — was by design with Poles drafting both players through a vision to turn them loose inside an offense that has been adding blue-chip talent for the past two offseasons.

Odunze, naturally, was asked at Halas Hall how the Friday morning flight went.

“It was great,” he said with a laugh. “I flew us. So I got us right, got us here safely.”

Instant impact

Photos: Inside the Chicago Bears’ NFL draft party at Soldier Field

Perhaps it’s fitting that the air travels of Williams and Odunze this week are set up to become a thing of legend in Chicago. The two will now hold a heavy responsibility in enlivening the air attack of the Bears offense with designs on doing things that have never been done in Chicago before.

The franchise’s single-season passing yards record (3,838) is owned by Erik Kramer. Still. From way back in 1995.

The most prolific offense the team has ever had as far as total yards (6,109) came in 2013, and the record for team touchdowns scored (56) was set in 1941.

Odunze, during an appearance on the “Parkins & Spiegel Show” on WSCR-670 AM on Friday, was told of Johnny Morris’ franchise record for career receiving yards, which has stood strong for 56 years. The total: 5,059.

“In the career?” Odunze asked, fully perplexed.

“I hope I go break that record and add a few thousand to it.”

That’s the crazy part about where the Bears suddenly find themselves. All such records and many more could soon be threatened with Williams at quarterback surrounded by so many talented weapons. On Thursday night, Williams was asked repeatedly about joining a huddle that includes Allen, Odunze and DJ Moore at receiver and D’Andre Swift in backfield. Williams made special effort to make sure tight end Cole Kmet wasn’t excluded from that list and then offered his early outlook.

“You set high expectations,” he said. “I don’t necessarily have numbers or anything like that. But (it’s going to be) an electric offense. Efficient. Fun. Just spreading the ball around to everybody.”

Bears wide receiver Rome Odunze speaks at an introductory news conference on Friday, April 26, 2024, Halas Hall in Lake Forest. The Bears picked the Washington wide receiver with the ninth pick in the NFL draft. (Chris Sweda/Chicago Tribune)

Poles seemed stoked himself, seeing the fruits of his labor as he has added blue-chip talent to the Bears offense over the last two offseasons with three first-round draft picks (Williams, Odunze, Darnell Wright) and two trades for proven, high-profile receivers (Moore and Allen).

It was clear Thursday night that Poles was as enthused about the addition of Odunze as he was about picking Williams. “Man, I don’t know where to start with that guy,” the GM said.

Poles lauded Odunze for his work ethic, personality and total-package skill set.

“He can impact the game at any moment,” Poles said. “If you’re at quarterback and you’re in doubt and you want to just give a guy an opportunity to go finish, he’s your guy. He has done that consistently.”

Suddenly, the Bears seem to have their license to dream the biggest of dreams. And on that front, Williams and Odunze are happy to lead the way.

“You put dreams and goals in front of you that you aren’t able to reach within a year or two,” Williams said, “and you try to go get ’em.”

Odunze loves how Williams is already setting that tone.

“That comes from a confidence in himself that’s unique,” Odunze said. “I see myself in that same fashion. I want to do legendary things. And that takes legendary goals and (courage) to say that you’re going to go out there and do it. I appreciate that.”

What’s the reason to duck, right?





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