Undrafted Rookie Ryan Nall Keeping NFL Dreams Alive

Ryan Nall, courtesy ChicagoBears.com

Ryan Nall was a free agent out of Oregon State, who left school early. He entered the 2018 NFL draft but went unpicked.  Then, the Chicago Bears offered him a contract. Despite rushing for 223 years, making four pass receptions, and scoring a touchdown in preseason, he failed to make the fifty-three man roster. However, the team did offer Nall a spot on the practice squad.  The Bears may have only won five games in 2017, but they are loaded at running back with Jordan Howard, Tarik Cohen, and Benny Cunningham.

“Initially, it was a little disappointing at first,” says Nall.  “They tell me they want me to come back, and be on a practice squad, so it’s a little bit of relief, because it’s an opportunity that you might be able to play. It happens all the time.”

Nall vividly remembers that first pro touchdown.  “It was a dream come true, honestly. I’ve been thinking about this since I was four or five years old, playing in the NFL. Even if it was preseason, being able to score a touchdown, it’s an unexplainable feeling. It’s amazing.”

Cunningham can relate to Nall’s predicament. “I remember when I was in his situation, as an undrafted guy coming in, just willing to do anything and everything to be part of a team.”

When asked about the difference between college and the pros, Nall acknowledges what most rookies realize. “The speed of the game is definitely elevated,” he says.  “You have the best player from every college team on the field. I’ve noticed that everybody is fast. You have to make sure that you are going just as fast if not faster on every rep. You can’t take any plays off, or you’ll be exposed.”

Nonetheless, at six-foot-two, and 230 pounds, he’s an imposing presence. Nall has the physique of a linebacker, plus the speed and agility of runner.  Bears running backs coach Charles London concurs, “He’s a versatile guy. He’s done a lot.  He played a little linebacker at Oregon State.  He’s a big guy that can run, so all those skills have translated to what he did up here. And he did a good job on special teams as well.”

His current role involves attending all the position meetings. In practice, his job is to simulate an opposing running back. “He goes out there and may play a certain player. He’s done a great job. He goes in there and watches film, and tried to emulate them as best he can,” notes London. In addition, Nall has to know the Bears’ game plan, because any injury to the regulars would thrust him right back onto the depth chart. “He’s gotta know the game plan that we’re putting in place each week. He’s has to be ready in case his number gets called.”

Cohen, an unheralded fourth round draft selection from North Carolina A&T, had high praise for Nall. “He’s a great teammate. He’s going to do what he needs to do to play his part on the team. Right now he’s on the practice squad. He doesn’t take that as a negative, he takes that to his advantage, getting looks  against a great defense that going to be stopping starters in the league. He takes that with pride.”

London adds, “Ryan did a lot of good things this preseason. Unfortunately, he didn’t make the active roster, but he’s doing a great job for us on the practice squad. He knows if he keeps working, he’ll get his chance eventually.”

Cunningham confirms that the running backs are a close knit bunch. He states, “I feel that we’re a family. A tight group.  Gotta have each other’s back.  We compete like crazy, but at the same time have that brotherly relationship.”

Nall appears humble, and appreciative of his situation. Still, he knows full well what is expected. “I got to stay in the playbook, and make sure that I give the looks on scout team they need from the practice squad. Plus, I got to be ready at any moment in case they call me up.”