Sat, 10 Jun 2023

Gabby Hajduk

P.J. Walker had never been to Chicago before last Friday, but as soon as he walked through the doors of Halas Hall, he was met with familiarity.

Signing a two-year contract with the Bears last week after spending three years with the Panthers generated enough excitement by itself for the backup quarterback. But, the best part of Walker's whirlwind week was being greeted with a big hug from coach Matt Eberflus - who Walker spent a season with in Indianapolis when Eberflus served as Colts defensive coordinator.

"I'm super excited just because I think he's a great person," Walker said. "It's not even about the coach. When you get a great person, that also just factors into the coaching and guys want to play for the guy that's always going to be there for his players. And I think he's one of those guys that is there for his players and always there to support his players as well."

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In 2018 - Walker's second year in the NFL - he was the Colts' third-string quarterback while Eberflus had just started his tenure as defensive coordinator.

While the pair were on opposite sides of the ball, Walker spent most of his time on the practice squad, serving as the scout team quarterback. Through competing against and learning the defense, Walker grew an appreciation for Eberflus' scheme and coaching style.

"It was pretty good," Walker said on his relationship with Eberflus, "because me being a scout team guy going up against his defense, just giving him my opinion and also asking the guys around him, 'what is this defense?' and trying to figure things out like that. So the conversation and the communication has always been there.

"I admired what he's done with the group since I'd been in Indy and I saw the defense grow. I saw it grow over the years and I knew what he was capable of as a coach."

Walker will also have two familiar faces in the Bears locker room in receiver DJ Moore and running back D'Onta Foreman, both of whom also joined the team last week. Walker and Moore played in Carolina together for three years, while Foreman spent last season with Walker on the Panthers.

Moore and Walker formed a close relationship at their last stop, as the pair lived close to one another in Charlotte. Walker said the transition to Chicago will be easier because he and Moore can "support each other and get things rolling."

"I'm super excited to be reunited with him because I know what he's capable of," Walker said about Moore. "Just him, his ability, he's smart, knows the game in and out, and I think he's one of the top receivers in this league that doesn't get a lot of respect they deserve, you know, So you're going to get somebody that's going to give you what you want on the football field.

"He's tough. He got a dog mentality when he's out there and it ain't no one person that's gonna sit there and stop him."

While reuniting with people like Eberflus, Moore and Foreman gives Walker an extra boost of confidence heading into Chicago, he's excited to form similar relationships with his new Bears teammates.

Building connections with the entire 53-man roster is a priority of Walker's as a backup quarterback, a habit he picked up in Indianapolis from now-Commanders QB Jacoby Brissett, who was behind Andrew Luck.

As an undrafted free agent out of Temple in 2017, Walker signed with the Colts and was constantly released and re-signed to the team's practice squad. While the time period was difficult for Walker as a competitor, it's when he learned what it takes to be an efficient backup QB in the NFL.

"I was the third guy there, but it was just the opportunity to see [Brissett], the way he presented himself towards the team, the way he presented himself towards the players," Walker said. "I was like, 'OK, if that's the role I will have to have, I know what I have to do.' So for me it was just paying attention and seeing what's around me. I always trusted the way he moved and the way he did things. So for me it was just acknowledge it and accept it and be like, 'that's the way you do it.'"

Walker learned the importance of having constant communication with the receivers and stepping in as a leader at times the starting quarterback was preoccupied. He appreciated how Brissett brought the energy to practice every day and gave teammates the opportunity to have fun.

After heading to the XFL in the spring of 2020 - when he led the league in passing yards and touchdowns - Walker rejoined the NFL after the XFL folded due to COVID-19, signing with the Panthers.

Walker served as the backup to Teddy Bridgewater in 2020 then played behind Sam Darnold and Cam Newton in 2021, appearing in a combined nine games with two starts. Last season, Walker started five games for Carolina, throwing for 731 yards on 63 attempts with three touchdowns.

Being a constant presence in the Panthers organization for three years caused Walker to evolve as a leader and utilize the skills he learned from Brissett.

"Once I got to Carolina, I got the opportunity to be the backup full time," Walker said. "It was just the guys around me; they felt my presence. They felt my energy. They saw what I could bring to the table and also just being a leader to them, towards them, just talking to them because at the end of the day, we all want the same thing. We all want to win. We all want to be successful."

Now in Chicago, Walker wants to bring that same leadership to the quarterback room and be a constant support system for Justin Fields as he enters his third NFL season. Walker said he's been a fan of Fields since his college career with the Ohio State and was "highly impressed" with the his play in 2022, calling him "one of the best runners in this league."

Along with the necessary NFL quarterback experience Walker gives the Bears, his veteran presence in the entire locker room will be a key addition to a young and developing team.

"I'm just trying to be a leader to not just the quarterback room, but just a whole group of guys," Walker said. "Just always try to ride with the guys when Justin can't talk to the receivers and things like that. I'll always be there to try to communicate for him and just have that leadership role and have guys hear me out and hear what I have to say as well. For us, that's the way you can succeed on a football field is by communication. And if we're all locked in as one, we'll have a good chance of winning."

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