Emma’s OTAs notebook: Tremaine Edmunds hopes to lead the way for Bears
LAKE FOREST, Ill. — Tremaine Edmunds got his hands on an interception in the final play of practice Tuesday and as he sprinted towards the end zone on the back fields of Halas Hall, many of his Bears teammates followed behind him.
The Bears have been guided behind the veteran linebacker Edmunds’ lead ever since he first arrived to Halas Hall. Signed to a four-year, $72-million deal in March, Edmunds is not only the team’s premier free-agent addition — he’s becoming a driving force behind the Bears’ hopes for the future.
With the Bears looking for their cornerstones to build into a perennial contender, Edmunds is prepared to take that lead.
“Rome wasn’t built in a day,” Edmunds said. “There’s going to be mistakes that we have to be corrected. That’s what this time is for. This is not about going out there and being perfect from Day 1 or Day 2. Each day we have to continue to build.”
In signing Edmunds to his largest contract awarded thus far, general manager Ryan Poles was confident in the tremendous talent he was bringing for the Bears’ defense. Edmunds was a two-time Pro Bowl linebacker with the Bills who had 565 tackles and 5 interceptions over the last five seasons. He only turned 25 this month and could prove to be even better in coach Matt Eberflus’ defensive scheme.
Eberflus has been struck more by the man that Edmunds is for his football team than the dynamic player he is at linebacker. Though he’s new to the Bears and their defensive identity, Edmunds is the one stepping up in team meetings and helping his teammates improve.
“He really takes command in the defensive room,” Eberflus said.
Bears defensive coordinator Alan Williams sees Edmunds the same way as Eberflus.
“We don’t want him to change,” Williams said. “We want him to be more of what he is.”
Edmunds’ influence as a leader came during his five years with the Bills, who rose in that time from AFC East bottom-dweller to becoming one of the top teams in the NFL. Buffalo created a culture led by its locker room and relies on that as a foundation. Edmunds found his voice in Buffalo and has now brought that to Chicago.
Edmunds was tabbed by the Bears as their next star at linebacker, this after trading Roquan Smith to the Ravens late last October. Contract negotiations between Poles and Smith’s party had reached a breaking point from last offseason right up until the Nov. 1 trade deadline. Poles felt he had no choice but to make this bold move, bringing the Bears a second-round pick (used to draft Gervon Dexter Sr.) in exchange.
After moving on without Smith, the Bears turned to a player in Edmunds who was the second linebacker taken in the 2018 NFL Draft — only eight picks behind Smith. His performance over the last five seasons stacks up similarly to Smith. It became clear to Poles and the Bears that they were landing a key figure to transform their defense in signing Edmunds.
Edmunds signed with a Bears team that was coming off its worst season in the modern era and at the very beginning of a challenging rebuilding process. He arrived to Halas Hall ready to lead the Bears to the type of lasting success they have long coveted.
“It’s a journey,” Edmunds said. “We have to keep taking that journey because at the end of the day, once we fulfill the dreams that we have and the goals we set forth to ourselves, it’s going to feel a lot better just knowing where we started from.”
DJ Moore extended himself on a deep ball down the right sidelines from Justin Fields that offered a glimpse of what the Bears hope to find for many years to come.
Moore was the key acquisition for the Bears in their March trade of the No. 1 overall pick. The Panthers were offering three first-round picks as part of their trade package. Poles instead coveted the 26-year-old Moore over Carolina’s first-round pick in 2025.
In landing Moore, the Bears were bringing in a key target whom they hope will help Fields thrive in his third NFL season.
“Strength. Speed. Body control. Great hands,” Fields said of Moore. “I think he knows how to use his body to get open.
“He has that second gear to go get the ball. So, I think that’s what makes him a great receiver.”
Moore feels the same type of admiration for Fields’ talents.
“He’s on par to be great for this season,” Moore said.
Fields and the Bears have made it clear that Moore is their new No. 1 wide receiver. Darnell Mooney, who played that role last season, can be utilized more effectively in a supporting role at receiver. Chase Claypool, whom Chicago acquired prior to the trade deadline last fall, has “improved tremendously” this offseason to Fields.
But the Bears were missing a game-breaking player of Moore’s caliber on offense — the type of gifted receiver who simply doesn’t become available in free agency. He hauled in 364 receptions for 5,201 yards and 21 touchdowns over five seasons with the Panthers.
Moore’s total in receptions and receiving yards would make him the Bears’ all-time best wide receiver. They believe he can transform this offense.
“Wow, there’s a different gear there,” Eberflus said of Moore.
Fields has found that gear early in working with Moore. He sees how that savvy route running and top-flight speed and create opportunities deep downfield.
The Bears are counting on Moore for more spectacular catches like he showed on Tuesday.
“When a play needs to be made, to have a guy to make those plays, obviously it means a lot to our team,” Edmunds said. “That’s another guy that makes you excited about what’s to come.”
Under the watch of Eberflus, the Bears have been willing to play young players in key roles. They’re not waiting around for their top draft pick.
As the Bears’ starting offense took to the line of scrimmage Tuesday, rookie Darnell Wright lined up at right tackle. He filled the void that was left open throughout this offseason as Poles passed on veteran tackles on the open market, waiting for his opportunity in the draft.
The No. 10 overall pick, Wright isn’t being asked to develop with a scout team during OTAs or even into training camp. He’s lined up where the Bears expect him to start for many years to come.
“I think Darnell did a nice job of really retaining the things and improving,” Eberflus said.
With Wright lined up at right tackle, the Bears are getting a glimpse at how they expect their starting offensive line to form for this season. Braxton Jones, who went into this offseason intending to bulk up, is trusted at left tackle. Teven Jenkins has made the move over to left guard. Cody Whitehair has taken over as the new starting center. And veteran free agent Nate Davis is likely to start at right guard.
Early in the on-field work of this offseason program, the Bears can work towards continuity for their offensive line.
The Bears were missing four key players for practice on Tuesday. Mooney, Davis, cornerback Jaylon Johnson and safety Eddie Jackson were not present on the field.
Eberflus declined to comment on the absences of each player, pointing to how participation in the offseason program is not required.
“This is a voluntary time for all the players,” Eberflus said. “Some players have certain things going on. It’s their right to be here or not be here.”
Mooney is still recovering from a fractured fibula suffered last season while Jackson is returning from a Lisfranc injury. Both players are making progress in their recoveries, Eberflus said.
Player attendance is not mandatory until veteran minicamp June 13-15 at Halas Hall.