LAKE FOREST – Joel Bouagnon took the 75-minute drive last week from his home in St. Charles to Halas Hall, where he began the next step in his football career at Bears rookie minicamp.
“It’s a little like, ‘Damn, this is an NFL building.’ You’re around the best-of-the-best type of players. You’re just trying to take it in,” Bouagnon said after practice Saturday. “Honestly, I was eager to learn right away. You kind of want to get in that playbook as soon as you can. That’s going to be the big thing.”
The former Northern Illinois running back was one of 13 undrafted rookies to sign with the Bears after the draft.
“It’s not disappointment,” he said, recalling the end of the draft last month. “The second the draft is over, you’re getting phone calls and have to make decisions quick. It’s honestly not disappointment. You’re on an NFL team. Picked up the Bears’ phone call and I’m happy to join them.”
In 2016, Bouagnon had 182 carries for 885 yards and eight touchdowns, averaging a career-high 4.9 yards a carry. His overall production, however, decreased from 2015, when he had 101 more carries, which led to 1,285 yards and 18 scores.
Bouagnon said a new offensive coordinator, more passing and two-back sets led to the dip in overall touches, but he noted that he still came close to 1,000 yards, even with fewer carries.
During the three practices over the weekend, Bouagnon wanted to show the Bears coaches his abilities in pass protection.
“I can pick that up pretty quickly and just insert myself in the right area,” he said. “And also my patience in my running. I want to show that I can do more than just truck people over. I can be a patient runner as well.”
Between now and the first OTA practice with the veterans, it’s all about speed for Bouagnon.
“Everybody plays fast. Stronger, faster,” he said. “I’m going to have to get used to it. I’m sure it’s going to get faster with the pads on.”
The playbook for rookie minicamp gave Bouagnon a crash course in the mental aspect that needs to get up to NFL speed.
“You get a set amount of plays, but it’s like, learning them the night before, the install and then you’re right out to practice right away, and practice tempo is pretty quick,” he said. “The bigger challenge is learning it quicker and applying. It’s one thing to memorize, but then to apply it on the field, it’s a whole different thing.”
Born in California, Bouagnon didn’t grow up with a favorite NFL team, but his family and friends have been “blowing up” his social media with eagerness to watch him nearby.
“A lot more people are excited because they’re going to get to see it,” he said. “I’m right in their backyard. High school here, college here and now the pros. … I have people asking already [to come to Bourbonnais], but I’ve got to focus on me right now.”