Bears aim to set a new standard in 2023
LAKE FOREST, Ill. — Veteran safety Eddie Jackson has been with the Bears since he was selected as a fourth-round pick in the 2017 NFL Draft. Now entering his seventh season, he’s considered a key figure and influential presence at Halas Hall.
Jackson has experienced just one winning season in that time with the Bears. He has played for three head coaches, two general managers and taken the field alongside countless teammates. This tenure hasn’t gone the way that Jackson would’ve hoped because the Bears haven’t won.
“I’m tired of the same old standard that the Bears have,” Jackson said on Tuesday after he reported to Halas Hall for training camp. “The same results in and out every year.
“We want to make it to the playoffs and eventually win a Super Bowl.”
Eventually is the key word as it relates to the Bears’ hopes under the plan of second-year general manager Ryan Poles.
Since he was hired to lead the Bears’ football operations in January of 2022, Poles set this franchise on an ambitious rebuilding plan that would require great diligence. Year 2 begins in earnest for the Bears when they take the field for their first practice of training camp Wednesday morning – the start of a campaign that must reveal significant growth.
“We’re excited about the season,” Poles said. “We’ve improved our roster. We’ve improved continuity and we’re excited about that. We’re excited about raising the level and raising the expectations. I think great teams have high expectations and they go chase that.”
During Poles’ first year as general manager, the Bears finished with a 3-14 record, lost their last 10 games and secured the No. 1 overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. It was a difficult year of transition, as these often are, but this franchise emerged with a foundation in place.
Poles converted the first overall pick into a potentially franchise-altering trade with the Panthers that returned two first-round picks, two second-round slots and dynamic wide receiver DJ Moore. The Bears fortified their roster in free agency by signing linebackers Tremaine Edmunds and T.J. Edwards, guard Nate Davis and pass rusher DeMarcus Walker.
Ultimately, the Bears understand they will only go as far this season as third-year quarterback Justin Fields will take them.
“We all know what the ultimate goal is and that is to win the Super Bowl,” Fields said.
As Moore sat alongside Fields on Tuesday morning, he stated his goal clearly.
“I just want to win,” Moore said.
With the sweltering summer sun beating down on the back practice fields at Halas Hall, the Bears will be 0-0 at the start of training camp and boasting hope on the horizon. This franchise stands confident in the roster Poles has constructed, hopeful in the development Eberflus and his coaches can offer these players, and optimistic in the opportunity this season.
The NFC North is a wide-open division following the Packers’ trade of future Hall of Fame quarterback Aaron Rodgers. They are expected to fall off significantly this season and perhaps begin their own rebuilding efforts. The Vikings, who claimed the division crown in 2022, are likely to take a step back. The Lions are considered an intriguing selection to make the playoffs, though their roster is far from proven.
Poles set the goal for the Bears to “take the North and never give it back” when he was first introduced as general manager. The reality is that vision may be still at least a year away. But the hope for this season is to take significant strides towards the top of the division.
The Bears are looking to build off the foundation they set last year.
“I know that the opportunity that presented itself allowed us to do some really good things to help our team get in position to be successful for a long period of time,” Poles said.
Year 2 for the Bears’ blueprint brings greater expectations in place. From the front office at Halas Hall down to the locker room, there are now demands for better. This is a team that hopes for brighter days ahead.
The Bears are ready to change those same old standards and strive for something more.
“It motivates you a lot because it’s very frustrating,” Jackson said. “Nothing about me is a loser. I hate losing. I don’t like it. I feel like it shouldn’t be acceptable.
“We really can turn it around.”
Cleared to go
Bears wide receiver Darnell Mooney will be on the field with his team Wednesday morning for the first time in eight months.
Mooney has been cleared to return from a fractured fibula he suffered late last November. However, the Bears plan to ease him back into full form with a gradual process in practice.
“He worked his butt off with the training staff,” Poles said.
Mooney played in 12 games last season, recording 40 receptions for 493 yards and 2 touchdowns before the season-ending injury. In 2021, he hauled in a career-best 80 receptions for 1,055 yards and 4 scores.
“He’s faced it head up,” Fields said. “Every day, he’s probably been in here rehabbing, doing two-a-days, working out a lot, just trying to get back right.
“He’s going to be good to go.”
The Bears also cleared wide receiver Chase Claypool, who was activated from the physically-unable-to-perform list on Monday night – nearly 24 hours from when he was placed on that list.
The Bears have declined to reveal specifics on Claypool’s status, though Fields indicated he was hampered by a knee issue. Claypool did not participate during the team’s work in veteran minicamp back in June.
Acquired by the Bears last year for a second-round pick, Claypool had just 14 receptions for 140 yards over seven games in Chicago.
The Bears do not anticipate any players other than Mooney being limited by injuries at the start of training camp, Poles said on Tuesday.
Fitting Wright in
When the Bears held their first practice of the offseason program in May, the team lined up top overall draft pick Darnell Wright at right tackle.
The Bears believe in Wright’s future – but also what he can provide for the present. During the offseason program, he made quite the strong impression on his new team.
“This offseason, he busted his butt,” Poles said of Wright. “He lost weight. He lost body fat. He absolutely crushed his conditioning test. Like, he didn’t break a sweat.
“He’s focused. He cares. He wants to be really good.”
Let’s make a deal?
The Bears have several key players prepared for potential long-term contract extensions, but Poles declined to delve into those details.
Mooney, Claypool, cornerback Jaylon Johnson and tight end Cole Kmet are among key players who could be in line for new deals. While Poles didn’t want to address those players, he said there is no timeline for a contract extension.
“If I was in that position, I would want it done sooner than later,” Poles said.
Gaining an edge?
It still remains possible that the Bears could make a key addition in the coming days.
Free-agent pass rusher Yannick Ngakoue remains available and has interest in the Bears, multiple sources have said. The 28-year-old Ngakoue had 9.5 sacks last season with the Colts and has posted no fewer than eight over each of his seven years in the NFL.
Ngakoue is seeking a multi-year deal, this after playing for four different teams over the last three seasons.
“Obviously, there’s no certainty,” Poles said. “It takes two to make sure it works out. So, there’s a level of patience that comes with it. There’s no guarantee.
“If not, I’m happy about the guys that are here. (DeMarcus) Walker has done a great job. (Dominique) Robinson is coming along. (Trevis) Gipson is coming along.
“Obviously, we’re going to look to improve if we can. If it works out, we’ll attack it.”
Take the field
The Bears will hold their first practice of training camp on Wednesday morning at 10 a.m. from Halas Hall, working each of the next four days. The team’s first full-contact practice will take place the following Wednesday.
The Bears will hold their annual Family Fest practice on Sunday, Aug. 6, at Soldier Field. The first preseason game will be held Saturday, Aug. 12, in Chicago. The team will conduct two joint practices Aug. 16-17 with the Colts in Westfield, Ind., prior to the Aug. 19 exhibition at Lucas Oil Stadium. The Bears’ preseason finale is Saturday, Aug. 26, in Chicago.
The Bears will kick off the new season Sunday, Sept. 10, when they host the Packers at Soldier Field.