Exclusive Interview: Getting to know Bears undrafted rookie WR Kieren Duncan

Exclusive Interview: Getting to know Bears undrafted rookie WR Kieren Duncan
CSU-Pueblo WR Kieren Duncan scores a touchdown in a 49-21 win over Colorado School of Mines on Oct. 25, 2015. Credit: Jason Prescott

Speed is something that every team craves and every player wants to have on their side.

Undrafted rookie wide receiver Kieren Duncan is blazing fast and is out to prove that he is more than a one-trick pony.

Signed by the Bears nearly one month ago on May 15, the Colorado State-Pueblo product brings an added dimension to a crowded wide receiver room. He posted a hand-timed 4.25 40-yard dash and a 4.29 laser time at his pro day on March 29 while posting a 4.32 a month earlier at the regional combine in Arizona.

Provided with a playbook from day one of joining the team, the 5’11”, 170-pounder has been studying it and acclimating to the ins and outs of being an NFL player. He went with teammates to check out two of the top deep dish pizza joints in town, Lou Malnati’s and Giordano’s. Other than that, he’s been hitting the books and practicing.

Duncan called his first practice with the team really weird simply because he was out there with guys he’s looked up to in Eddie Royal, Kevin White and Marc Mariani. Royal and White welcomed him with open arms.

“These are the dudes that you are practicing with each and every day, you aren’t watching them on TV anymore. For me, it was a little nerve racking, I was jittery and needed to relax. It wasn’t a great practice…

“It took guys like Eddie [Royal] and Kevin [White] to settle me down. They pulled me aside and said ‘look you’ve been doing this since you were a kid, it is no different, you wouldn’t be here if you didn’t belong, just relax and let this stuff come naturally to you.’

He says after the talk with Royal and White, that he started to settle into the system.

“I get to wake up every day and go out there and play football for a living. It’s pretty surreal and I’m just very thankful and blessed to have this opportunity.”

Coming from a Division-II program like CSU-Pueblo, Duncan says a lot of the concepts and verbiage that offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains uses is similar to his college days. He played under a pro style offense which he says has helped him be a little bit familiar with things thus far.

Regardless, being a pro is a grueling task and Duncan says he knows it is a matter of putting in the extra hours at night going over the playbook because this is his job now.

“It has been a lot and overwhelming at times. You come in and as soon as they install something you are expected to know it later that day on the field. The learning curve has been a little steep for me and the other rookies. Now, towards the end of OTA’s I know feel myself getting comfortable and picking it up.”

Speaking of the other rookies, Duncan and the draft class took in a seminar last month where wide receivers Cameron Meredith and Kevin White spoke about their rookie seasons and the transition into year two.

He says that the rookies are a tight-knit group. Duncan goes out to eat with a good portion of them almost every day.

Seventh round pick wide receiver Daniel Braverman is someone he gets along with really well considering the positive vibe that Braverman gives off. The two stay after practice catching 50-100 passes from the JUGS, work on punt returns and low balls.

“He’s [Braverman] probably one of the dudes that I consider myself closer to in this rookie class. He’s really cool guy, good head on his shoulders, determined, hardworking and right guy to be around.”

Duncan says seeing a good amount of small school receivers make it to the NFL gives him hope. He tries to model himself after some of his favorite undersized receivers to watch in Cardinals’ John Brown, Steelers’ Antonio Brown, Colts’ T.Y. Hilton and Rams’ Tavon Austin.

Having quick feet is what landed him a spot with the Bears, the first team to contact him after the draft, he says. Duncan says he knows that it’s not all about speed, but if you’re a playmaker and you can impact the game that will show up.

He sure was a playmaker, totaling 1,974 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns in four seasons. Duncan finished as the team’s leading receiver as both a junior and senior which included a career-best 70-yard touchdown last October against Fort Lewis.

He realized quickly into the draft process that his speed was the one thing that would get him noticed so he trained his butt off to put up good numbers on the 40-yard dash.

“As far as speed goes I’ve always been one of the faster guys on my team. My mindset going into it was that my speed could get my foot in the door. I know that you can’t make a living on speed alone...

“I didn’t want people to think I was a one-trick pony who could only run vertical, run in a straight line, I wanted to prove that I can be a route runner and a pass catcher and change the game on special teams as well. All I really wanted was an opportunity and the Bears gave me that.”

Duncan is learning under one of the game’s toughest and most hard working wide receivers coach in Curtis Johnson, who replaced Mike Groh in February. He says Johnson is great and he loves his coaching style.

“The biggest thing with him is that there is never anything you can do that is perfect. That is a good quality in a coach because there’s always room to improve in every facet of the game whether it be route running, your get off the ball, how you caught it or how you turn up the field…

“There’s always things that he’s getting those tiny details to the best that it can be. He’s not a guy who is going to let you be average, take a play or not give your full effort. He’s always going to push you to the max. From the moment you step in the building he has high energy and you have to match it. It’s tough love type coaching.”

In terms of his route running knowledge, he says he came in with a foundation of knowledge and wants to now get down to the nitty gritty details.

From Ryan Pace and John Fox down, Duncan has noticed that everyone is working towards the same goal. He’s proud to wear the C on his helmet. Coaches are more than willing to stay after with him or players to go over tape or a certain concept he says.

“I just love the history of the franchise. There’s so much depth there. There are so many great players that have come through here. The biggest thing that stands out to me is how much everybody cares…

“From the administrative level all the way down to the equipment guys who are washing our jerseys, everybody has this great attitude and it feels like a family atmosphere. When we got fitted for equipment everyone was all smiles.”

Special teams is something that Duncan takes pride in. He averaged the sixth-best mark in Division II last season with 30.1 yards per return. He took back a kick return 98 yards for a score against West Texas A&M last September.

In OTA’s he says he has gotten the opportunity to work with the third phase, but admitted that they are barely scratching the service at this point in the off-season.

“Special teams is not always the most glamorous position but the reality is that you need every single person on every single play on offense, defense and special teams to win ball games. In college, I made sure I was more than just a receiver. I feel like the more you can do on special teams and the more you can bring to the team to help them win that just gives you more of a reason to stick around.”

It’s hard for Duncan to take the field here in Chicago without thinking about Devin Hester, a guy who has looked up to for a long time. The Bears need a burner on special teams and Duncan has a chance to compete for that role this year.

“He [Hester] was one of the guys who literally made you pay for giving him the ball. He was somebody who could change the game and takeover the game in an instant. Coming to the same place as him is humbling in its own way. I’m far away from his level but I hope with time and hard work that I can add it the legacy that he’s created here in Chicago.”

In asking Duncan, the toughest question of the day (how can he make the team?) he said the biggest thing is to make sure he seizes his opportunities.

“Being a rookie and going undrafted in that respect you don’t necessarily get a ton of reps or opportunities. I might only get 12 reps in a practice and one ball thrown to me…

“In order to stay around and prove that I can be asset I have to go 100 percent and go all out and make sure I know what I’m doing. The desire and will to be here every day. I want to improve every single day and be better than I was yesterday. I want to prove that I belong and they didn’t make a mistake bringing me in here.”

It won’t be easy landing a roster spot with 12 receivers on the roster including Alshon Jeffery, Kevin White, Eddie Royal, Marquess Wilson, Marc Mariani, Daniel Braverman, Josh Bellamy and Deonte Thompson.

Duncan has a bright kid who reminds me a lot of former Bears’ speedster Johnny Knox. He’s just an inch shorter and a little skinner, but Duncan is up for the task as he shows off his speed and continues to mature his overall game.

***
Quick hitters

Playlist before games - Kanye West, Kid Cudi, Drake, Bob Marley
Favorite movies - Spiderman, Star Wars, Harry Potter, Superhero movies in general
Favorite TV shows - Breaking Bad, Empire, The Big Bang Theory, Family Guy, American Dad
Fun fact about you that nobody knows - “My mom is Jamaican and my dad is British. I’m pretty mixed in the nationality department.”
Nickname from teammates or friends - “KD”, “Spidey”, “Rasta”

Bonus fact: Duncan started growing the dreads when he was five. He cut them off when he moved from to New York Arizona at age 13 because it was too hot. He then realized he had a peanut shaped head and nothing else looked good on him. He’s been growing them out ever since.

Don’t call him Peanut 2.0. I already tried.

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