A lot on the line for new Bears GM Ryan Poles
His background as a guard provides hope he’ll give the Bears’ offensive line a needed upgrade. But he faces big decisions. Is Teven Jenkins a left or right tackle? Will he re-sign James Daniels? Is Larry Borom a keeper? Can Cody Whitehair regain his Pro Bowl form? Can Poles find a front-line center?
While his youthful earnestness and enthusiasm are admirable, Ryan Poles’ mission statement as the Bears’ new general manager was one big cliche.
“We’re gonna build through the draft,” Poles said at his introductory press conference Jan. 31 at Halas Hall. “We’re gonna acquire young, fast and physical football players. We’re gonna be selective in free agency. And we’re gonna connect evaluation with valuation. We’re gonna have a relentless approach to fix our weaknesses. We’re gonna solve problems with open communication and candor And were gonna consistently put players in positions to succeed.”
And then, a little red meat for the base, for the mic-drop closer: “And the last thing, the most important piece, is we’re gonna take the North and never give it back.”
No doubt about it, that sounds like a plan. But that’s everybody’s plan. Who — besides former Bears assistant George Allen when he was coach of the Redskins — doesn’t want to build through the draft? Who doesn’t want fast, physical players? And what Bears coach doesn’t want to beat the Packers and take over the division?
For the record, Ryan Pace planned to do all those things, and Phil Emery before him promised the same. Will Poles be any more successful as following what, in actuality, is a pretty standard GM template for success?
We don’t know that, of course. Poles has been on the job for less than a month. He’s barely touched the roster. Free agency doesn’t open until March 16. The draft isn’t until April 28.
Change is good, and especially elicits optimism after seven years without a playoff victory under Pace. Poles’ 13 seasons in the Chiefs personnel department — having a hand in drafting the core of their Super Bowl-contending teams, including Patrick Mahomes —is impressive.
But one more minor part of his resume provides hope that a key part of his plan will become reality: his background as an offensive lineman gives a little more credence to his vow to make the offensive line the key element in the Bears’ offensive rebuild.
“I think it starts with the foundation of the offensive line and establishing a run gam, which then leads to explosive plays,” Poles said when asked about the offense in particular. “We have to continue to work on that, get that to a level and I think you will see more points scored and more efficiency, more explosive plays — everything plays off of that. So that’s going to be a focal point.”
Poles was a two-year starter at left guard for Boston College in 2006-07 and played in three preseason games at guard for the Bears in 2008 before he was waived in the cutdown to 53 players. His background on the offensive line presumably gives him an edge in both evaluation and valuation — two critical elements with the offensive line he has inherited with the Bears.
In fact, the offensive line will be one of the key areas that will determine Poles’ approach to the current roster. It is far from a finished product, but not exactly an automatic rebuild.
You can argue that the Bears’ have four pieces in place for their 2022 offensive line: left tackle Teven Jenkins, left guard Cody Whitehair, right guard James Daniels and right tackle Larry Borom. But you can also argue that — especially with Daniels a free agent — that a near-total rebuild is in order.
That’s Poles’ call, and it will be an interesting one. The Bears’ offensive line was a mixed bag at best in 2022. But the discombobulation of Matt Nagy’s offense last season makes it tough to judge any player —it hardly put any of them in a position to succeed.
Here’s a starter-by-starter look at what Poles has to work with:
Teven Jenkins — The second-round pick from Oklahoma State started two games and played just 161 snaps on offense after preseason back surgery, but still figures to be a foundation piece. The question is, will be at left or right tackle?
Cody Whitehair — The 2016 second-round pick made the Pro Bowl as an alternate in 2018 but is coming off his worst season — albeit in Nagy’s offense. He’ll be 30 when training camp begins.
Sam Mustipher —The former undrafted free agent bulked up in 2022 but was not as effective — the weakest link in the line by many accounts —and looks to be the most likely to be replaced.
James Daniels —Still just 24 entering his fifth NFL season, Daniels is a Pro Bowl player in an NFL-caliber offense and should be a keeper, but would be expensive to sign. He could command $10 million in free agency.
Larry Borom —The fifth-round draft pick from Missouri acquitted himself well in 10 games (eight starts) as a rookie — at both right and left tackle. He has versatility and room for growth, but does he have the ceiling Poles is looking for at a critical position?
Poles has shown a keen eye for offensive linemen. When the Chiefs needed a re-start on their injury-impacted line after it was the culprit in the Super Bowl LV loss, Poles had a hand in the drafting of two eventual starters last year — second-round center Creed Humphrey and sixth-round guard Trey Smith. The Bears are hoping he hasn’t lost his touch.