Each of the four offensive free agents the Bears signed Wednesday and unveiled Thursday at Halas Hall is expected to play an important role in the team’s long-awaited renaissance. And each has his own expectations for how he will contribute to his new team.
Wide receiver Allen Robinson is already considered the alpha among a crew of pass catchers that has tremendous room for improvement after a weak campaign in 2017. That group must step up if second-year quarterback Mitch Trubisky is to reach his potential, and Robinson must lead.
That might be a lot to put on a 24-year-old who’s coming off a torn ACL in his left knee and has the pressure of a $42 million contract to live up to, but it doesn’t seem to faze Robinson in the least.
“That’s why they brought me here,” the 6-foot-3, 218-pound Robinson said. “That’s why I was drafted to Jacksonville; to come there and make plays. In this league, for me, that’s always been what I brought to the offense is play-making ability. They didn’t bring me here to not make plays. That’s always been the M.O.”
Robinson has a point. As a 22-year-old in his second season with the Jaguars, he piled up 1,400 yards and an NFL-best 14 touchdowns on 80 receptions with second-year quarterback Blake Bortles still learning the ropes.
The concern is that Robinson might not be fully recovered from his September injury, but he was quick to allay fears that he won’t be his old self by opening day. Robinson says he’ll be ready for training camp in late July.
“Oh, most definitely,” he said. “I'll be fully cleared for camp.”
What gives him such assurance?
“I know myself,” Robinson said.
Lightning-quick “Turbo” Taylor Gabriel, at 5-foot-8 and 165 pounds, is a whole other kind of weapon than Robinson.
He considers himself the fastest man in the NFL.
“Uhh, yeah,” he said. “You can’t say anybody’s faster than you, man.”
If he’s not the fastest, he’s at least in the team picture.
Gabriel’s first question to Trubisky was: “How’s your deep ball?”
“He asked me was I still fast?” a smiling Gabriel said.
The explosive Gabriel, who ran a 4.27 at Abilene Christian, says there’s a lot he brings to an offense that can help Trubisky.
“Just explosiveness,” he said. “Being able to turn a screen into a touchdown. Being able to take the top off a defense. Just being able to create matchup problems. Let’s say Allen Robinson is out there and they want to double-team, and I’m on the backside man-to-man; it’s just being able to exploit that and giving (Trubisky) another option to take advantage of.
“The best way (to utilize me) is to create mismatches, and that’s football 101. When you create those mismatches, you win.”
Gabriel sums up his role succinctly.
“My role,” he said, “is athlete. So I do everything.”
Everyone knows tight end Trey Burton from the “Philly Special” trick play, the Super Bowl 52 touchdown pass on fourth-and-goal from the one-yard line -- which he threw.
How can he top that?
“Do it again,” he said. “Do it again here in Chicago.”
The 6-foot-3, 235-pound Burton is generally on the other end of passes, but he enrolled at Florida as a quarterback, and he’s regarded as an excellent athlete, though undersized for a tight end.
“I’m a pass catching tight end,” he said. “I’m versatile and can do a bunch of different things. I don’t think I necessarily say I (just) do one thing. I do a bunch of different things.”
Among them is hopefully becoming the kind of security blanket and go-to guy that Zach Ertz was for QB Carson Wentz in Philadelphia.
“I can just model my game after Ertz; what he brought to Carson,” Burton said. “Obviously, Carson was a new quarterback coming into the league and having to learn an offense as well.”
Burton credits his coming of age to having played alongside Ertz. But the expectation is that he has a better chance to flourish as an individual away from Ertz’s considerable shadow.
“The end goal is winning,” Burton said. “If that looks like me playing a lot more, then let's do it. If it looks like me playing a smaller role, then I'm all for it. At the end of the day, it's all about bringing the Super Bowl here.”
That was just the soft-spoken Burton being modest. Everyone, including him, knows the Bears aren’t paying him $32 million over four years to play a small role.
While that may be backup quarterback Chase Daniel’s fate on the field, his role as mentor and coach to Trubisky is vital. Daniel spent three years with Nagy as a backup with the Chiefs, and he knows the new offense better than any of his teammates.
“It’s two-part why I’m here,” the eight-year veteran said. “One is to be able to play well when called upon. And two, to help Mitch along. That’s something that I definitely cherish and that I take seriously and that I’m looking forward to. You’ve got to have a backup quarterback that's willing to work with the starter. Your No. 1 job in that room is to get the starter ready -- no matter what.”