BOURBONNAIS – It’s one thing for a veteran to say nice things about a rookie when there are cameras and notebooks around.
It’s another for that same veteran to say the same nice things when he’s walking off the field, talking to fellow old-timers.
Still, the unwritten rules of the training camp – a place where the experienced would rather give up cash than compliments – haven’t mattered to John Tait when it comes to Greg Olsen. On Thursday, the offensive tackle didn’t deny a rumor he’d been overheard giving – gasp! – praise to the rookie tight end while the rest of the offensive line listened.
So how, pray tell, did the first-round pick from Miami earn such an immediate honor?
Did Olsen agree to carry Tait’s bags for the season?
Did he offer to act as a Halas Hall chauffeur?
Olsen just showed up and went to work.
“Rookies should be seen and not heard, and that’s what he’s done,” said Tait, a nine-year veteran. “He just comes to work and acts like he belongs. It’s like he’s never seen this as overwhelming. He just fit in right away.
“Some guys have trouble with that, but Greg hasn’t seemed to have any trouble at all.”
If you’re a Bears fan, that has to be comforting to hear. Since being drafted with the 31st pick, the 6-foot-5, 254-pound Olsen has been hailed as a franchise tight end, a short-route threat who will right Rex Grossman’s wrongs and summon memories of Mike Ditka – the player. There has been so much early hype that it’s been OK to wonder if Olsen might end up on the injured reserve list with a case of “swollen ego.”
But at this point, that has not been a remote possibility, which comes as a slight surprise considering Olsen hails from the same Miami tight end lineage that produced Jeremy Shockey and Kellen “I’m a Soldier” Winslow.
From the moment Olsen reported to camp – he was on time, by the way – he’s said the right things and shown the right attitude to work on his problem areas, rush-blocking in particular. Now that he’s been here for a few weeks, he’s getting more comfortable with his spot on the team, all while being careful not to upset a delicate situation at tight end with veterans Desmond Clark and John Gilmore.
That’s an effort not lost on Grossman, who found Olsen for a much-celebrated 5-yard pass on the first play from scrimmage in Saturday’s preseason game against Houston. On the first drive, the new duo completed two passes for 17 yards.
“You definitely have to find your spot in your first year,” Grossman said. “You have to fit in at the same time as trying to play well and feel confident about what you’re doing. I think he’s done a good job with that.”
While Olsen might be earning early high marks from teammates, fans and media, there’s no denying he is in a difficult situation.
Sure, it’s true Olsen has been spared a lot of the public skepticism that traditionally greets a first-round pick when he arrives in Chicago. The last time anyone was this optimistic about an unproved commodity was when the Cubs drafted Mark Prior out of USC.
At the same time, Olsen is earning the name tag of most-anticipated offensive weapon this side of Devin Hester.
“I’m not too worried about the expectations because I’m expecting so much from myself,” Olsen said Thursday. “They’re not a concern because I know I’m already going to work hard.”
He’s already well aware of the pressure because Olsen said that Ditka’s name is brought up in every single interview he does. He doesn’t mind the comparison, figuring there are much worse players he could be compared to.
But the role as an offensive force, as he soon will learn, is a lot to live up to in a football-mad city. Playing a key role on the defending NFC champions won’t be easy, either.
Still, Olsen is managing to impress a group of guys who are not supposed to be easily impressed. That has to be worth some early praise.
“Whether you play or not your rookie year, it’s hard to adjust to the pros,” Tait said. “But I think Greg is headed in the right direction.”
– Kevin Kaduk is the Kane County Chronicle’s sports columnist. Write to him at email@example.com. For more, read his blog, “Duk’s Calls,” at KCChronicle.com/kaduk.