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Bears coach Matt Eberflus says No. 1 pick Caleb Williams will open season as No. 1 QB

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LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) — Caleb Williams is the Chicago Bears’ starting quarterback. Just in case there was a shred of doubt the No. 1 overall draft pick is the team’s No. 1 QB, coach Matt Eberflus erased it on Friday.

“No conversation. He’s the starter,” he said.

Eberflus’ comment was hardly a surprise considering the Bears have been all in on Williams since the early stages of the draft process. They made their intentions clear when they traded Justin Fields to Pittsburgh in March.

Chicago brought in veteran quarterbacks Mike Glennon and Andy Dalton when they drafted Mitchell Trubisky and Justin Fields with high picks in recent years, thinking the rookies would watch from the sideline in a sort of redshirt season. The plan blew up in both cases, with Glennon getting benched for poor play and Dalton getting hurt. But the Bears were under a different regime at the time, with former general manager Ryan Pace and coach Matt Nagy.

The other quarterbacks currently on the Bears’ roster are Tyson Bagent and undrafted rookie Austin Reed.

Williams, the 2022 Heisman Trophy winner, is widely viewed as a generational talent. The Bears are banking on him to become the sort of franchise quarterback Chicago has craved for decades.

Williams seems to be embracing his new surroundings, whether he’s sitting courtside at a Chicago Sky preseason game, getting a rousing ovation at Wrigley Field or doing regular-guy stuff like shopping at Target.

“You want to find balance within all of this,” Williams said Friday. “That’s really important. And then the other part of it, just getting around. Going to Target, that was for all of the installs and all the small things that I needed. And I just thought it was a funny picture, the way I was walking. It’s all of it. All of it goes together to enjoy and find a good balance, but also, in a sense, get acclimated to the area of the land and things like that.”

Williams put up huge numbers in college, with 93 touchdown passes and 14 interceptions during three seasons at Oklahoma and Southern California. He followed coach Lincoln Riley from Norman to Los Angeles and threw for 72 TDs and just 10 interceptions in two years with the Trojans.

The Bears have made just three playoff appearances since the 2006 team advanced to the Super Bowl. They are 10-24 in two seasons under general manager Ryan Poles and Eberflus. But they see themselves as a playoff contender after going from three wins in 2022 to finishing 7-10 last season.

That largely hinges on Williams.

“You can really tell he’s comfortable in his own skin and he is who he is,” Eberflus said. “His personality starts. His light comes out from the inside. You can certainly feel that energy. He’s a one-plus-one-equals-three guy. He’s an enhancer. He’s a guy that brings out the best in people. You can certainly feel that in him within five minutes of meeting him.”

Williams got a bit of a leg up in learning the basics of offensive coordinator Shane Waldron’s system through his work with personal QB coach Will Hewlett.

Williams checked all the boxes for Chicago during the pre-draft process. He has continued to make a good impression on the Bears since they drafted him, whether he’s working out with teammates or taking in Cubs or Sky games with them.

“The community has been rallying behind us, which we appreciate and we look to be able to pay that respect back with our on-the-field contributions,” said receiver Rome Odunze, the No. 9 overall pick. “It’s been awesome. Chicago has welcomed us with welcoming arms. We’re doing well.”

Odunze, an All-American at Washington, said it’s “hard to imagine a better situation” getting to grow with a rookie quarterback. It doesn’t hurt him or Williams, either, that the Bears have two veteran playmaking receivers in DJ Moore and six-time Pro Bowler Keenan Allen.

“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,” Williams said. “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.”

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AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl

By ANDREW SELIGMAN
AP Sports Writer

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