Since signing with the Bears a year ago, Gabriel has seen his production and profile rise. The former undrafted free agent caught a career-high 67 passes for 688 yards. According to Gabriel, the Bears’ talent on defense, along with the scheme of defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano, has made a big difference in the preparation on the other side of the ball.
“Just the different things that they give you,” he said. “The d-line, they’re not stopping for anybody, so it’s going to speed a lot of things up.”
Gabriel believes that pressure has helped Mitchell Trubisky improve the timing of his reads. Gabriel says that, in the past year, his chemistry with the quarterback has grown past the need for verbal communication on the field. While there will be occasional slip-ups, the benefit of being tested every day outweighs any negatives.
At 28, Gabriel is the oldest wide receiver on the Bears roster, being exactly one month older than new arrival Cordarrelle Patterson. Coming to Chicago from the Atlanta Falcons, where he played with older, more established receivers like Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu, Gabriel was forced to take on a more prominent role and improve himself.
“Just becoming more of a leader,” said Gabriel. “Just becoming more selfless, being that guy that shows up early and leaves late and just helping the guys and bringing the guys up. And that’s a role that I have to be. I have to be that person just because of the experience. I’ve been to a Super Bowl. And I know what that type of team looks like.”
Still, Gabriel enjoys joking around with his teammates and sometimes dancing on the sideline. Coach Matt Nagy allows the team to be loose at practice, as long as veterans like Gabriel take care of business.
“I’m not saying I’m a vocal leader,” said Gabriel, “and I’m gonna give you this amazing Ray Lewis rah-rah speech, but at the same time, it’s doing it every play, going out there every play and grinding. If those guys see me grinding, working hard every play, they have no choice but to do the same thing.”
With the team returning four of its top five receivers from last season—and adding Patterson and fourth-round pick Riley Ridley—there has been a friendly competition for everyone involved, including Gabriel.
“Competition is always good,” said Gabriel. “Everybody wants to make that big play. Everybody wants to be seen. Everybody wants to be that guy. I mean, and that’s how it should be.”
With crowds of adoring fans shouting his nickname, “Turbo,” Gabriel has made himself one of the more popular players in Chicago. The admiration is mutual.
“I love Chicago,” said Gabriel, “Everything about it. Everything last year was amazing, from the fans to the media, you guys, it’s been amazing since I’ve been here.”