Thanks to Caleb Williams, everything feels different for the Bears this time around

In a past life, I would have appreciated the bluntness Patriots head coach Jerod Mayo recently served to rookie quarterback Drake Maye. And I would have asked why a rah-rah Bears head coach, pick a rah-rah Bears head coach, couldn’t be similarly honest about his rookie quarterback, pick a rookie quarterback.

‘‘He has a lot to work on,’’ Mayo said of Maye. ‘‘A lot to work on. But I have no doubt that he will put the time in. He was here all night trying to get on the same page as everyone else.’’

A different me would have poked fun at the over-the-top praise that Bears rookie wide receiver Rome Odunze showered on rookie quarterback Caleb Williams at a minicamp the other day.

‘‘It’s really effortless for him,’’ Odunze said. ‘‘He could do a lot of things that older quarterbacks may think is hard effortlessly. He continues to improve every time I see him, and he’s very smooth. He could throw the ball from any angle, body position, anywhere on the field, to any spot on the field.’’

This was teed up perfectly for me, a confirmed Bears skeptic. Here was a teammate describing the team’s No. 1 draft pick in terms that evoked Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen, if not Joe Montana and Tom Brady. Typical Bears, shoveling sugar over an unproven rookie quarterback while another team offers its young quarterback candor.

Yet now I pause, finger on the bow string. A strange, foreign sensation has come over me. It feels something like belief. With notes of firm conviction.

What is happening to me?

Two things seem to be at work here.

One, for reasons I’m not sure I adequately can explain, I think Williams is going to succeed where the Bears’ previous two high-draft-pick QBs, Mitch Trubisky and Justin Fields, couldn’t. He’s more talented than Trubisky ever was, and he throws better than Fields ever will. I believe Williams is bad-coach-proof, too, though saying that suggests Trubisky and Fields were done in by subpar coaching. They weren’t.

More than anything, something feels different this time around. I know, not exactly the scientific method in action. I’ve spent years maneuvering through the Bears’ trail of horse droppings, so I know to take what they say with a barrel of salt. Perhaps what’s different now is that it doesn’t matter what the Bears say; Williams’ ability does the talking for him. He doesn’t need a head coach to lead cheers for him. He doesn’t need a head coach to protect him publicly. He doesn’t need a head coach to praise his practice habits. He’s better than all of it.

Am I projecting here? After decades of watching bad-to-mediocre quarterbacking, am I hoping more than thinking? Possibly. But the other option is the continued thudding of a head on a wall, and it isn’t palatable. The excitement surrounding Williams isn’t the typical slobbering over a first-round pick that the Bears and their followers do on a yearly basis. This time, the faith seems to be built on soil, not sand.

My second reason for abandoning the tough-love approach won’t go over well with those of you who see Chicago as a rugged town where people eat nails three times a day and wash them down with motor oil:

I don’t sense that public honesty will work with Williams.

No, this isn’t about his habit of painting his fingernails, which has some worried he’s a prima donna. My quick read on him is that he takes in everything, uses what he thinks will benefit him and ignores the rest. He has groomed himself for stardom. Anything that doesn’t push him in that direction doesn’t exist, so criticism and praise are inconsequential. That might be a diplomatic way of saying no one thinks more highly of him than he does.

Whether that’s good, bad or merely a sign of the times is a discussion for another day.

The usual warning has to be issued: Bumps lie ahead in Williams’ journey. There’s so much for a quarterback to process in the NFL, and there are so many good defensive coordinators and defenders itching to make a young one look bad. Especially this young one, who carries himself like a 10-time All-Pro. But he has talent and what appears to be unshakeable confidence. That should take him — and Chicago — a long way.

So this means the Bears finally are going to slay the hated Packers?

Hey, I didn’t say that the kid was a miracle worker.

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