Just two days before the Chicago Bears have to report to Bourbonnais for the beginning of training camp, the team added a new face.
Wide receiver/kick returner A.J. Cruz signed a deal with the Bears to become the 90th player on the active roster, according to his agent on Twitter earlier Monday.
Per NFL Network NFL insider Ian Rapoport, Cruz was at Halas Hall Monday for a tryout and general manager Ryan Pace was impressed by what he saw on the field and on film previously.
Cruz, a Brown product stands at 5-foot-9, 195 lbs and played wide receiver, defensive back and "jack" linebacker in the AFL the past two seasons for the L.A. Kiss (2014) and Arizona Rattlers (2015).
He was voted First Team All-Ivy in three of his four seasons at Brown becoming one of only 41 players to accomplish such a feat. He generated 12 interceptions, including a career-high four as a senior in 2012.
Cruz is a speedy return man, who had 39 kick returns for 929 yards (23.8 avg) and a touchdown and 23 punt returns for 139 yards (6.0 avg) in college.
In the AFL, he excelled in the return game with 110 returns for 2,584 and seven touchdowns in two seasons. That includes six with Arizona this season. He also compiled nine other touchdowns (six receiving, three rushing) on 27 receptions for 220 yards and 11 carries for 46 yards. Cruz led all AFL returners in 2014 with a 23.1 average per return.
He is now the 12th receiver on the Bears' roster joining starters Alshon Jeffery, Eddie Royal and Kevin White.
Marquess Wilson is likely ready to take over the No. 4 situational role with Josh Bellamy and Marc Mariani rounding out the group with their special teams experience. The Bears also have youngsters Rashad Lawerence, Cameron Meredith, Levi Norwood, John Chilesa and Ify Umodu.
"As it is there is still a lot of work to be put in. The trials & pain to get here, were overbearing at times," Cruz said via his Twitter account. "But to get this opportunity is a testament to God working in and through others and myself to shape and create this opportunity. I eagerly attack this uphill battle! #DABEARS."
Cruz will be competition for the veteran Mariani and the others competing for the kick returner/punt returner role. Norwood, Royal and running backs Jacquizz Rodgers and Senorise Perry are also in the mix.
The Bears signed a successful AFL player like Cruz back in 2005. That was Rashied Davis. Davis played six of his seven of his NFL seasons in Chicago where he started 15 games, totaling 88 catches and five touchdowns along with 75 career returns.
If Cruz can replicate the success that Davis had then he could be in for a nice role in the NFL. He is good competition for the returner spot.
The Bears don't have Devin Hester anymore, but their return group is much improved over the mess they had in 2014. Cruz could emerge as a underdog for the kick return gig with a great showing in training camp.
Thoughts on the signing of WR/KR A.J. Cruz?
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