How the Caleb Williams-Rome Odunze workout was a glimpse into the Bears’ future

When former NFL wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh asked Rome Odunze if he wanted to join a workout in Los Angeles with Caleb Williams, DJ Moore and Keenan Allen, it was an easy answer.

“Hell yeah I do,” Odunze told him.

As Houshmandzadeh, who has been training Odunze, watched the workout, he thought to himself, “If Rome makes it to No. 9, the Bears will draft him.”

Thursday night, after their workout together, and after they happened to be on the same flight together to Detroit, Williams and Odunze became teammates and the future of the Chicago Bears offense.

“Once the Chargers did not draft Malik Nabers, I said, Rome’s going to the Bears,” Houshmandzadeh told The Athletic. “And this is something that he wanted once he got to that workout with Caleb Williams, this is what he wanted was to be drafted by the Bears. And so I’m just glad that it happened. And that little chemistry that they were working on now will be developed and honed in on.”



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A couple of days before the draft, Bears general manager Ryan Poles heard about the workout. He thought it was “pretty cool,” but he was nervous about Odunze being available at No. 9. He was nervous about it until the Bears went on the clock Thursday night.

“When I found that out, it was cool,” Poles said, “and obviously now, that group’s worked together, which is good.”

Odunze had an early flight to Detroit for the draft. He called Houshmandzadeh and asked if they could fit in a training session before he took off.

They eventually agreed that would be too early, but it speaks to Odunze’s work ethic.

“He’s a pro already,” Houshmandzadeh said. “That acclimation period was Thursday, the day he got drafted, he’s a pro. He approaches things as such.”

Odunze’s wide receivers coach at Washington in 2021, Junior Adams, who is now at Oregon, linked Odunze and Houshmandzadeh. A Pro Bowler in 2007 after 1,143 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns, Houshmandzadeh works with receivers on two main things.

“If you do these two things, you’re going to have a great career: separation at the top of the route and beating press coverage,” he said. “That’s what we work on every single day until we get it, and we never really get it. That’s an ongoing thing with me: Let’s create separation at the top of the route and let’s beat press coverage, because the best receivers in the National Football League from the time I can remember, they do those two things on a consistent basis.”



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The new Bears receiver has impressed Houshmandzadeh with his skill set already. When Houshmandzadeh watched clips, he saw Odunze making “every hard catch look like it’s an easy catch.” When he met him in person, he was struck by Odunze’s size.

“You don’t realize how big he is until you meet him,” Houshmandzadeh said of the 6-foot-2, 212-pounder. “But he’s a really good route runner. He’s smooth and he catches the ball well. It’s very rare that you see what I just said in a receiver of his size. You don’t see a guy with his size that has great ball skills, is a really good route runner and is really smooth.”

Asked if he could think of a comparison in the NFL, Houshmandzadeh was stumped.

“I can’t think of anybody,” he said.

Throughout training, Houshmandzadeh has also seen what kind of person Odunze is.

“Rome is unbelievable as a human being,” he said. “And if you’ve met him, and once you get around him, the way he talks to people, the way he interacts with people, the way he treats you, he is just a good person who was raised the right way and didn’t let Rome the football player take the place of Rome the human being and how you should treat others.”

John Jackson III is a wide receiver who began his career at USC, where he became best friends with Williams. He played the 2023 season for Nevada and has been training with Houshmandzadeh as well.

He broached the topic of getting Odunze to Williams’ workout with the Bears receivers.

“I learned a lot,” Odunze said. “It was a great workout, just four of us getting better, working on our craft. That’s exactly what it was. I see that Keenan’s smooth. I see how explosive DJ is. And I see that Caleb can sling the ball wherever he chooses. I’m super excited to work with that group now, officially, and I think we can do special things.”

Watching from the sideline, Houshmandzadeh knew what to expect from Williams. He has seen Allen run routes and he’s watched Moore. He wanted to see how everyone meshed. Once he did, he saw the potential if it worked out for Odunze to join the Bears.

Houshmandzadeh has also gotten to know Williams through the pre-draft process. His first impression?

“He just cares about football,” he said.



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As he talked about Williams, he went through some of the nonsense that is often referenced when some critique Williams. And Houshmandzadeh had a response.

“Listen, man, I don’t give a f— what you do, man. Can you get us results? Can you get us to where we want to go?” he said. “He’s a good person, man. At the end of the day, Caleb played in college football like no quarterback we’ve ever seen. And normally that translates to the National Football League.”

Now Williams gets to throw to Moore, Allen and Odunze, and he already had a head start.

When the Cincinnati Bengals ended a 15-year playoff drought in 2005, Houshmandzadeh joined wide receiver Chad Ochocinco, quarterback Carson Palmer and running back Rudi Johnson on the league’s fourth-highest-scoring offense.

He knows what it looks like when a team has a bevy of targets, and the Bears also have tight end Cole Kmet, who has trained with Houshmandzadeh as well.

“Pick your poison,” Houshmandzadeh said. “If Caleb is clicking and this offense comes together the way it should, what do you do? DJ Moore is extremely dynamic on the outside. You got Rome on the other side. People don’t know this — Rome ran a 10.5(-second) 100 meters in high school. That is rolling at 6-3. … Don’t get it twisted that Rome is big. Rome will run right by you.

“Then you’ve got one of the best route runners in the slot in Keenan Allen. You also have (D’Andre) Swift in the backfield that can get active. So you have a group of skill-position players that can do so much. … Could quite possibly see something special here.”



Dream scenario plays out for Bears as they pair Caleb Williams, Rome Odunze

When Round 1 ended and Poles met the media, he expressed how grateful he was to have landed the quarterback and receiver, a too-good-to-be-true moment after knowing they recently threw together with his top receivers.

“If you told me we would end up with both Caleb and Rome weeks ago, I would’ve said you were crazy,” Poles said.

Based on what Houshmandzadeh knows about the two rookies and the offense they’re joining, “crazy” is a word he also used.

“The Bears are about to go crazy this year,” he said, “and I’m not a Chicago Bears fan, but they are going to have one of the best offenses in the league if Caleb is what we all think he’s going to be.”

(Top photos of Rome Odunze and Caleb William: Kirby Lee / USA Today)

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