Bears GM Ryan Poles, coach Matt Eberflus promise change. That’s also a warning.
As they try to repair and rebuild the ramshackle Bears, they’re evaluating the roster with clear eyes. The fresh start might help some players, but others won’t get any of the margin the previous administration was giving them.
INDIANAPOLIS — Bears general manager Ryan Poles and coach Matt Eberflus have been running the team for about a month, and they’ve consistently mentioned that players will get a fresh start under the new administration.
That usually carries a positive connotation, but it cuts both ways. Poles said he needs to “fix the roster,” and its many flaws are why this job was open in the first place. So giving everyone a fresh start also means many players, especially those with enormous contracts, must prove they should be part of the future he’s designing.
“You see it for what it is,” Poles said Tuesday at the NFL Scouting Combine. “The bias and opinions from the past don’t water down your evaluations. You see it for what the tape is telling you.”
That sets the table for what will surely be some difficult conversations as Poles tries to correct the mistakes that got predecessor Ryan Pace fired.
While Poles and Eberflus revealed as little as possible about their plans — Eberflus even ducked a harmless question about which defensive players on the roster are natural fits for his scheme — it’s clear when Poles talks about raising the standard throughout Halas Hall, his mind goes straight to the offensive line and skill players.
Pace fell short of delivering an O-line that could protect quarterback Justin Fields. Poles is adamant about fixing it. So Poles won’t care, for example, about the great success story of center Sam Mustipher rising from afterthought to starter or that Pace spent a second-round pick on tackle Teven Jenkins.
His judgment also won’t be clouded by the investment of draft capital and development in running back David Montgomery, tight end Cole Kmet and safety Eddie Jackson. The backstory is irrelevant. They either meet his specifications or they don’t. It’s not on him to make Pace’s decisions look smart.
Some of the current players might have the capacity, but a big part of Poles’ evaluation is discerning whether they’re willing to adjust. He said he’s “asking a lot of questions” to figure that out.
On the positive side, his ongoing deep dive into the 2021 film has illuminated at least three players he views as pillars: Fields, wide receiver Darnell Mooney and linebacker Roquan Smith.
“Those three guys — there’s more, but those are the ones that get you excited,” Poles told the Sun-Times. “I can’t wait to see where they go.”
He said he has seen enough flashes from Fields to believe in him but noted that those moments only happened when everything was done right, including sturdy blocking, accurate route running and sound mechanics by the quarterback himself. That coalescence was rare for the Bears.
Mooney wowed Poles not only with his 1,055 yards and four touchdowns on 81 catches amid the Bears’ dysfunction last season, but also in their recent meeting.
He seemed most excited about Smith, though, which bodes well for the Bears securing him on a long-term contract extension.
“Roquan with coach Eberflus gets me excited — that’s one of the first things I thought about when we hired him,” Poles said. “He has the potential to be really good and do some of the things the other linebackers have done in this defense.”
There’s no doubt he was daydreaming about the Colts’ Darius Leonard when he said that. He was a three-time All-Pro in four seasons with Eberflus.
For just about everyone else on the defense, perhaps with the exception of star pass rusher Khalil Mack, the new coach and new scheme present a challenge. Eberflus has been meeting with players over the last month and has conveyed to them that they are “walking on fresh grass” with the new staff.
But he said it Tuesday in a way that sounded like a warning.
“This is a new staff, new systems — you have to learn it,” he said. “You’ve got to dive into it, and you’ve got to put everything you have into it. Our systems are not hard to understand, but they’re hard to implement . . . because of the way we ask them to play in terms of the physical style, the effort, the mental intensity.
“Those things right there are gonna be different to those players when they come in [for offseason practices]. They will understand that pretty quick.”
Keep in mind, these comments from Poles and Eberflus come after extensive study of last season. When Eberflus says this will be a big change, that’s an opinion informed by comparing the underwhelming film he has been watching with the way he envisions the team playing under him.
“It’s gonna be a little bit different for them,” he said.
Just as he was about to move on to the next question, he circled back and added, “But refreshing.”
And after how stale the Bears have gotten on both sides of the ball, there’s no doubt a refresh is necessary.