Juice fighting for Bears roster spot

Former Illinois quarterback Juice Williams is testing the waters at the professional level after his name was not called during the 2010 NFL Draft.

Williams was among 54 players present at the Chicago Bears rookie minicamp at the beginning of May. He was invited to the camp on a tryout basis.

Chicago Bears quarterbacks coach Shane Day said he was impressed with Williams’ performance at the minicamp.

“Obviously, he has a very strong arm,” Day said. “He’s very intelligent, works very hard at it.”

Draft picks, undrafted free agents and players from last year’s Bears practice team participated in the camp in addition to the tryout players.

Chicago Bears spokesman Mike Corbo said the camp ran from April 30 to May 2, with the days typically lasting from 8 a.m. to about 6 p.m. Corbo also said that the final day’s practice was shorter, as the players attended meetings regarding topics such as security, media training and the NFL in general.

He added that the camp concluded with each player individually meeting with coaches to discuss their performances throughout the weekend.

Day said the players were required to learn about 30 percent of a normal install of the offense. He said that most of the camp consisted of 7-on-7 drills, which employ only passing plays.

“We threw a lot at them to see how much they could learn and see how much they could process,” Day said.

He acknowledged that the transition from a college spread offense to a pro-style offense is very difficult.

“I thought (Juice) did a nice job coming in learning the offense in a short period of time,” Day said. “It’s a bit of an adjustment.”

Day said Williams needs to focus on the adjustment to dropping back from center as opposed to receiving the snap from shotgun like he did at Illinois.

“He’s got a long way to go in that area,” he said. “He has a lot of raw talent to work with.”

Former Illini quarterbacks coach Kurt Beathard also stressed the importance of being able to adapt to an NFL offense.

“I think the biggest thing is to get a handle for the offense and what they’re trying to do,” Beathard said on transitioning to the NFL at the quarterback position.

Beathard coached Williams for the 2009 season but was later fired, along with offensive coordinator Mike Schultz, at the beginning of the offseason.

Beathard said he had a very good player-coach relationship with Williams.

“I enjoyed coaching him,” Beathard said. “I loved the kid’s work ethic. I think Juice was the ideal person to coach. I enjoyed working with him and I’m sorry it didn’t work out the way we hoped it would this past season.”

The Illini struggled at 3-9 in 2009. Williams experienced a reduction in most statistical categories with his passing yardage decreasing from 3,173 to 1,632 and passing touchdowns from 22 to 12. Despite the decrease in production, Williams still managed a 129.4 passer rating on the season.

The Chicago Tribune reported on the first day of the minicamp that Williams was open to a position change in the NFL.

Day said Williams practiced strictly at quarterback during his tryout with the Bears.

“We didn’t really try him out at any other position,” Day said. “We just wanted him to have an opportunity at quarterback.”

Day was hired by the Bears in February to replace Pep Hamilton as part of an offensive coaching overhaul that included the signing of former NFL head coaches: Mike Martz at offensive coordinator and Mike Tice at offensive line coach.

Before entering the NFL as a coach for the San Francisco 49ers and the Bears, Day coached in the Big Ten in 2006 when Williams was a freshman. Day was the quality control coach for the University of Michigan and also spent time working with the quarterbacks there.

Day said the number of quarterbacks the team plans to take into training camp has not been decided and he didn’t rule out the possibility of Williams being one of them.

“You never know,” Day said. He added that he does not have much to do with the signing of players and said it is ultimately Bears general manager Jerry Angelo’s decision.

If Williams is offered a contract, he will face an uphill battle to make the final 53-man roster. Jay Cutler is a fixture at the starting position barring injury and Williams would have to compete with Caleb Hanie, Brett Basenez and 2010 sixth-round draft pick out of Central Michigan, Dan LeFevour. There is also the possibility that the team signs a veteran quarterback before the start of training camp.

LeFevour also participated in the minicamp, and Day said that, although it is hard to make a comparison between the two, Williams did a favorable job. He said he was impressed with both quarterbacks and that they were very coachable athletes.

“I thought both of them were outstanding kids,” Day said. “Both of them were very intelligent.”

Day said LeFevour is a little more comfortable with the offense because he ran it in the Senior Bowl.

Day said it is difficult to predict whether Williams will find success on another NFL roster if not signed by the Bears.

“It’s hard to say,” Day said. “If he keeps working at it. There are many of those guys who come out of nowhere to become quarterbacks in the National Football League.”

Beathard said he believes Williams has the potential to succeed in the NFL if he can find the right situation.

“I think Juice has some of the intangibles that you need,” he said. “I think if he can get in a situation where he gets reps and gets playing time to get better, I think that can help him.”