Bears offensive line’s halfhearted protection of QB Justin Fields ‘bothers’ GM Ryan Poles
Poles was just as angry as Bears fans when he rewatched the 2021 tape and saw an offensive line that lacked the fierce mentality he’s prioritizing.
INDIANAPOLIS — As a connoisseur of fine offensive line play, new Bears general manager Ryan Poles’ nerves roiled as he endured an extensive study of last season.
First off, God bless anyone who sat through even a single viewing of the 2021 Bears, let alone Poles’ excruciating task of clicking rewind over and over to assess how much work lies ahead in the rebuild.
As Poles zipped through play after play, his evaluation took a sharp turn. This went beyond simply handing out poor grades and jotting down notes. As a former offensive lineman, he was offended as he observed what he considered to be a weak effort in front of quarterback Justin Fields.
‘‘You’ve gotta take pride in protecting that quarterback every single snap,’’ Poles told the Sun-Times. ‘‘When you see some things that have happened . . . .
‘‘You always have to take the side of your quarterback. That sets the tone. That allows the quarterback to have confidence in his group ahead of him and know that he has a group of five people that care about him and value him. They want him to succeed. That just breeds a different type of mentality.’’
It was a flagrant deficiency for the Bears.
‘‘That tells me a lot,’’ Poles said. ‘‘So when it doesn’t happen — and there’s definitely clips that it didn’t — it bothers me. We’ll fix that.’’
Fixing it starts with deactivating some key cards to Halas Hall.
But no matter how strong the impulse to sweep the entire unit out the door might have surged in Poles’ chest as he watched the film, he can’t do that. So it’ll be a combination of cuts, signings and reshuffling. And the best thing about it for the Bears is that it’ll be done coldly and analytically.
It’s irrelevant to Poles that previous GM Ryan Pace envisioned Teven Jenkins as a fixture at left tackle for the next decade or that he spent a second-round pick to get him. Poles wouldn’t commit to a position for Jenkins.
Maybe Larry Borom, a fifth-rounder, is better suited to play left tackle. Maybe the Bears will bring Jason Peters back at age 40 or sign a veteran in free agency, regardless of what it means for Jenkins.
Jenkins does seem to have one quality Poles makes a priority, however: nastiness. It’s hard to think of anyone else from that unit who consistently conveyed that.
In only his third NFL game, Jenkins went after Vikings defensive end D.J. Wonnum for hitting Fields out of bounds. The ensuing skirmish led to a costly unnecessary-roughness penalty, leading fellow lineman Germain Ifedi to chide him on the sideline, but Poles likely would argue it was worth it.
Fields absolutely would.
‘‘I definitely love the mindset, and I love him sticking up for me,’’ Fields said at the time. ‘‘I think that’s what we need more of.’’
That quality is prominent in Poles’ criteria as he works on the offensive line for the upcoming season.
As Poles tries to fix a problem that Pace wrongly thought he had solved, there’s no doubt he sees shortfalls in talent. But that isn’t the part that keeps resurfacing in these conversations; it’s the ferocity. More than anything else, he’s looking for people who will protect — in the fullest and most literal sense of the word — Fields without hesitation.
‘‘If we need one of those enforcers, maybe we do bring someone in who can establish that toughness of what’s acceptable and what’s not acceptable,’’ Poles said. ‘‘That’s your guy. You’re his security guard. If anyone touches him, you should have an attitude about it. I need to see more of that.’’
He must ascertain which of his linemen think like that and fortify the Bears with more of them. Poles can’t do anything about the maddening tape from last season, but it’s up to him to make sure he — and, more important, Fields — doesn’t feel like that again.