The Chicago Bears are a week into training camp and some answers have begun to emerge, while other developments raise more questions. As he does every week, the Tribune’s Brad Biggs attempts to answer them.
What grade would you give Ryan Poles so far? What have you seen from him that has impressed you or given you a level of concern about the future of the Bears under his watch? — @tns5280
I know we’re sometimes in a world of social media that wants to make snap judgments on everything, but I’d have a hard time taking someone seriously who wants to judge a GM after less than seven months on the job. Are there any individual moves that look good or iffy? Of course. But the Bears still have a game to play this season, and the only way I know of to determine a GM’s success is to inspect his team’s record and postseason results.
This is a multi-year project for the Bears that could make the never-ending construction on I-294 look streamlined. This is not a quick rebuild or a list that the Poles can reload in a year. So trying to judge what it has done so far and whether it will work is impossible. He chose to clear some cap space to reorder things starting in 2023, and he was short on draft capital. The Poles and their staff seem to have taken a long view of what they are doing, so we have to be patient and see what comes out.
Giving it a rating right now would be more pointless than the ratings some give to NFL drafts right after they wrap up. Those are largely based on whether a team filled perceived needs and how high players were ranked by certain draftniks, players who haven’t yet played in the NFL. Let’s see how the Bears fare after Year 3 with the Poles. Then I can give you a very good answer. If they’re not clearly headed in the right direction at that point, they could run into some trouble.
Can you name a decision that Ryan Poles has made that has worked? — @hozeking
I’m not going to say that Kyler Gordon and Jaquan Brisker will be stars for this defense in the near future, but they have a real shot. Both have been calm during a week of training camp. They have almost no competition to start jobs. They’ll make mistakes as rookies, but from what we’ve seen so far, they have a knack for getting their hands on the ball.
Remember what Poles said after the draft when he used his top two picks at defensive backs. He said the Bears went strong on the board at the time and didn’t want to hit an offensive lineman or wide receiver. The reality is that the Bears also had pressing needs in the secondary, and the Poles met those needs. This was not a quick fix and there will be a lot of needs after this season.
Maybe adding players at corner and safety who seem to have a chance to be very good doesn’t generate the interest that other positions would, but ultimately the Poles needed good players, period. I think he did it with those two picks. How’s that for something that looks like it will work?
What do you think about the Teven Jenkins situation? Do you honestly think taking out Charles Leno was a mistake after Jenkins was drafted? — @just_acy
This is not a good situation for the player or the team. Jenkins has participated in a grand total of a training camp practice since he was drafted in the second round in 2021. His back injury sidelined him last summer, and we haven’t seen him this year since the initial practice. the 28th of July. All Coach Matt What Eberflus has said is that Jenkins is day to day and working with the training staff. But we haven’t seen Jenkins on the field watching practices like some players who are working through injuries.
Jenkins performed poorly when he was on the field last season, and that’s not a complete surprise considering he missed all of training camp and preseason and had very little work with full protections. It may not be an ideal scheme for what the Bears are looking to do offensively. NFL Media reported that the Bears are getting calls about Jenkins, and with that out in the open, the next step could be a separation for the parties. The Bears wouldn’t get anything close to what they spent on Jenkins if they trade him. My guess is that he’d be a sixth-round pick at best, especially if Jenkins is dealing with an injury.
Do I think the Bears made a mistake by cutting Leno? Yes. Leno had his worst season as a pro in 2020, and I understand why many felt the team made the right decision in releasing him. He played much better last season in Washington, leading to a three-year, $37 million extension from the Commanders this spring. Leno is a mid-level left tackle, and the Bears didn’t have that last season and probably won’t this year. Jason Peters helped the Bears through last season, but he was wearing thin late in the season and there’s a reason he doesn’t have a team right now.
Would the Bears have been in good shape if they had signed Trent Williams in free agency in 2021 like they tried? Of course. That would have been a great improvement. Williams stayed with the San Francisco 49ers, and the Bears tried to improve and create some salary-cap savings and it just didn’t work out. They now have a bridge player to line up at left tackle. I hope Riley Reiff starts the season there. Who knows? Maybe rookie Braxton Jones will buy time at the job sometime this season. But there’s a good chance left tackle will be a question mark for the Bears next offseason, meaning they’d be another year out of Leno without finding an upgrade.
Is Roquan Smith really hurt? — @treyroyal3
I don’t think he’s dealing with an injury, but that’s just an opinion as the team has been so incomplete under Smith for reasons that don’t make much sense to me.
Here’s what defensive coordinator Alan Williams had to say earlier this week:
“When I get off PUP (the physically incapable of acting list), and I’m working with Ryan (Polish) to get it done, we’ll see what happens and it’ll be day by day. And when it happens, we’ll make our adjustment and plug it in and that’s it. The most important thing while on PUP is to do a good job of staying mentally, which you are doing.”
If you’re trying to read what Williams said, Smith is working with the GM, not the coaching staff. Hopefully, the Bears will have a happy solution to this sooner rather than later.
What does Larry Borom look like? How does the staff feel about him? — @mosconml
Actions speak louder than words, and Borom has taken the vast majority of reps with the first team at right tackle. The Bears have had only one practice with full protections, and they mixed things up a bit Tuesday and had Riley Reiff play right tackle with Braxton Jones at left tackle. That said, Borom has to be the favorite to be the starting right tackle for Week 1.
How does the size of the crowds at the Lake Forest camp compare to the one at Bourbonnais? — @mikemichalski7
The Bears are limited by the size of their facility at Halas Hall, so the capacity is about 1,500 fans. The crowds seem a bit larger than they were last year, when the team likely found that many of the tickets distributed went unused. There was a lot more space at Olivet Nazarene University, and when the team was winning, and after that when Jay Cutler was acquired, the weekend crowds approached or exceeded 10,000 fans.
What is the plus/minus of how many players currently not on the roster are at 53 on opening day? Five? Seven? 10? — @btcampbell34
That’s a tough question to answer because we don’t know if injuries will create needs and the team has no way of knowing what will be available on the waiver cable. A better figure is probably 3½. I also expect the team to be aggressive on the waiver wire throughout the season, not just when cuts are being made across the league.
Line D looks very thin with minimal depth. Are any of the rookies likely to do the internal rotation? — @speelmaned
This is a good question and one of the reasons I would definitely keep an eye on the defensive line for possible additions between now and the start of the season on 9/11. Angelo Blackson has been sidelined for three straight practices with an unknown issue, and he’s getting even skinnier. with him out. Khyiris Tonga, last year’s seventh-round pick, has a chance to break through. The only rookie in the mix at tackle is Micah Dew-Treadway, the former Notre Dame player who finished his college career at Minnesota. He has a good chance of staying, especially if he performs well in the preseason. In the end, fifth-round pick Dominique Robinson caught the coaches’ attention early on. Sam Kamara and Charles Snowden are also in the mix for places on the list. Matt Eberflus preferred to play his linemen in waves in Indianapolis, so the Bears will want to carry as many as nine on the 53-man roster.
Most likely the starting linebackers if the Roquan Smith situation isn’t resolved before Week 1? — @gavinsmyth99
As Matt Eberflus said, the situation at linebacker creates opportunities for others, and we’ve seen Matthew Adams and Joe Thomas do a lot of reps with the starters. Adams had a good pass breakup defending Cole Kmet in one-on-one drills in the red zone. My guess is that Adams will start at strongside linebacker, but he could find himself playing weakside if Smith loses time. I’d be pretty surprised if Smith isn’t on the field in Week 1. There’s a lot of time between now and then, and missing regular-season games wouldn’t serve him well.