Ryan Poles seeking progress, victories in Year 2 of Bears’ plan
LAKE FOREST, Ill. — When George McCaskey drove away from the White Sox parking floor at O’Hare Airport with Ryan Poles sitting in the passenger’s seat of his car, he was ready to commit for a long-term vision that could bring change to Halas Hall.
McCaskey was preparing to hire Poles as the Bears’ new general manager and the man to lead forward a football franchise that needed direction. Poles’ blueprint required tearing this team down to the studs and rebuild over the course of several years, this with hopes of constructing a championship-caliber team in Chicago. He had McCaskey’s blessing for this ambitious plan.
The Bears enter their second season with Poles and head coach Matt Eberflus leading their football operations having set a firm foundation and built towards becoming sustainable. With that in mind, Poles didn’t mince words for how he will measure progress this season – and what to expect of the Bears in 2023.
“Win more games,” Poles said.
When Poles was introduced as the Bears’ general manager in late January of 2022, he announced the goal to “take the (NFC) North and never give it back.” He recognized that accomplishing that would take time.
Poles estimates that he and his front office brass have addressed 75%-to-80% of the holes that needed to be filled on this Bears roster – through notable additions like DJ Moore, Tremaine Edmunds, Darnell Wright and other marquee additions, but also many understated players such as Jaquan Brisker, Braxton Jones, Gervon Dexter Sr. and Zacch Pickens.
Eighteen times over the last two decades, at least one team has gone from last place to claiming the division crown. The Bears are looking at an NFC North that’s wide open for the taking and believing that they can go from worst to first this season.
“Like, you want to take the division over and really put your flag in it because that’s where it starts,” Poles said. “And I feel like that’s where you can really move the needle to being a championship caliber team.”
The Bears’ hope for this season rests with 24-year-old quarterback Justin Fields, the No. 11 overall pick in 2021 who is entering his third NFL season bearing the weight of expectations.
Fields is being asked to take a significant jump in performance this season and elevate the Bears into becoming a true contender. He carries the hopes to emerge as the type of franchise quarterback that Chicago has never seen before.
There is even a national conversation that is considering Fields as a potential MVP darkhorse this season.
By the end of this season, the Bears hope to find whether Fields is the franchise quarterback they can sign to a lucrative long-term contract extension or perhaps just another player they must let go from the previous regime. Poles is positioned to either commit with Fields or identify his own young quarterback next offseason.
“You’re looking for progress to feel good about it,” Poles said of Fields. “And also, to watch the tape and get a feel for a guy if he can take you to that next level.”
Given where Poles found this franchise, the Bears can hope to find plenty of progress this season. From kickoff Sept. 10 at Soldier Field through the course of this fascinating campaign to come, progress is the goal that must be attained.
Poles believes it’s only fair to measure the Bears by the win column – and he’s confident in what the results will reveal.
“I really believe this team is set up to elevate and go to the next level,” Poles said.
Bagent’s unlikely story continues on
Tyson Bagent is an underdog story, a former Division-II standout at Shepherd University who has earned a place on the Bears’ roster.
Bagent doesn’t see himself as a longshot.
“It’s something that always made sense to me,” Bagent said on Wednesday after earning a place on the initial 53-man roster.
The Bears have not publicly declared Bagent as their backup quarterback behind starter Justin Fields. The team is expected to sign veteran Nathan Peterman as the third quarterback, though there is faith in Bagent and his future.
“We’ve seen it every day since his rookie minicamp, just his poise,” assistant general manager Ian Cunningham said. “He’s got this moxie; he has this confidence about him.
“He’s displayed it ever since he’s been here and then in game exposure, his accuracy, decision-making, his poise, we saw what he was able to do with his legs. I think the kid’s got a bright future.”
Bagent threw for a Division-II record 17,034 passing yards and 159 touchdowns, the most ever at any level of NCAA football. Bagent is one of the most accomplished college football players of all time. Despite all that, he went undrafted in April.
The Bears were eager to sign Bagent as an undrafted free agent, offering his chance in the NFL. While veteran backup PJ Walker struggled during the course of training camp and the preseason, Bagent continued to ascend.
The Bears released Walker on Sunday night despite having signed him to a two-year deal in April. It marked the team’s confidence in Bagent’s future.
Bears tight end Cole Kmet said he first took true notice of Bagent’s abilities during joint practices with the Colts in Westfield, Ind., during one of their first routes together. Bagent told Kmet where the football would be placed before dropping back to pass.
“It was right on the money,” Kmet said. “He told me where to run the route, how to run it, and he was on point with it. Then you kind of saw what he did in the game as well, kind of really takes notice. When you see a guy really execute like that in a game setting and live bullets like that, it’s pretty impressive. Starting at that point and on, I just really took notice of it.”
As the Bears made their decision to release Walker, Bagent received a text message from Poles. He shared the news that Bagent would be on the team’s initial roster – and likely positioned as the backup.
After taking this unlikely journey from Shepherd to Chicago, Bagent is heading home this weekend during off days for the Bears and will savor what he has done. Then it’s back to Halas Hall for the start of Week 1.
“Really, I just took to it as every single day trying to put my best foot forward,” Bagent said. “Trying to give it my all, trying to execute at the highest level that I know how to. Thankfully enough, that all has paid off so far.”
Bears bid farewell to Gipson
As the Bears played out their preseason finale last Saturday afternoon at Soldier Field, a strange development occurred. A report from ESPN said that pass rusher Trevis Gipson was granted permission to seek a trade from Chicago.
Gipson was at field level of Soldier Field playing out what would become his final appearance with the Bears, who selected him the fifth round of the 2020 NFL Draft.
The Bears waived Gipson on Tuesday afternoon as they set their roster to the initial 53-man form. He became expendable in early August when veteran pass rusher Yannick Ngakoue was signed. However, Poles denied the report that Gipson sought a trade.
“Trevis Gipson never came in my office and said that he wanted to be traded,” Poles said. “So, just want to make that stuff clear. In terms of Gipson, love that kid. It was more of a fit thing, scheme fit. I think his success came in a different scheme.”
Gipson produced seven sacks in 2021 while playing in the Bears’ 3-4 defensive identity. He struggled to emerge as a consistent pass rusher last season in his first year playing for Eberflus’ 4-3 base scheme.
Gipson went unclaimed on waivers and is free to be signed on the open market.
“He did a lot for us, just in terms of the leadership and who he was,” Cunningham said. “Showed up every day. We just wanted the best situation for him and ultimately that was the decision we came to.”
Tonyan’s cutdown tale
As an undrafted rookie out of Indiana State, Robert Tonyan was cut by the Lions as they formed a 53-man roster in 2017. One year later, he thought he experienced the same fate.
After a strong preseason with the Packers, Tonyan believed he had made the roster. He received a long text message asking him to come into Lambeau Field – the dreaded request before being released. It was a prank from a teammate.
The text message seemed suspicious at the time and came from a Green Bay area code. Tonyan drove to Lambeau Field fearing the worst.
“I literally drove like so mad to the building,” Tonyan said. “I hand in my iPad. Then my tight ends coach and GM are super excited to see me. It was weird.”
Indeed, Tonyan had made the Packers’ initial 53-man roster and set course on a five-year career in Green Bay. He hauled in 17 touchdowns in 68 games, including 11 scores in 2020. Tonyan signed with the Bears on a one-year deal this offseason.
Tonyan is expected to play a key role for the Bears, this coming five years after wrongfully believing his career may be over.
Tonyan has a unique perspective on the NFL’s cutdown day.
“It really isn’t how it starts,” Tonyan said. “But when you get your opportunity, finishing and executing and just making do with your opportunities.”
Ready for the Packers
With the roster cut to the initial 53-man form, the Bears marked the end of their preseason work. But they are not quite into Week 1.
That didn’t stop second-year cornerback Kyler Gordon from starting his preparation to face quarterback Jordan Love and the Packers.
Gordon has scouted each of Love’s 157 snaps taken during the course of his three-year career as the Packers’ backup quarterback, working to get a sense of what he can bring as the new starter in Green Bay.
Gordon is eager to take the field with the Bears’ defense for the season opener.
“I think it’s extremely important to put that front foot forward and really show what the 2023 Bears are going to be like,” Gordon said. “No better way than to start with a dub against our own rivals.”
After a training camp mired by injuries, the Bears are heading into Week 1 as a mostly healthy team.
The Bears anticipate having most of their roster ready for the season opener – with the notable exception being left guard Teven Jenkins (leg), who is still considered week-to-week with his status. Jenkins will start the regular season on injured reserve, which will require a minimum four-game absence.
Bears wide receiver Chase Claypool, right guard Nate Davis and safety Eddie Jackson were among players who returned to practice on Wednesday afternoon.
The Bears are not required to issue their first formal injury report until next Wednesday.
After setting their initial 53-man roster on Tuesday, the Bears got back to work with transactions on Wednesday.
The Bears are signing wide receiver/punt returner Trent Taylor, who was released by the Bengals. The team is clearing a roster spot for him by placing Jenkins on injured reserve. The Bears also claimed pass rusher Khalid Kareem and safety Quindell Johnson off waivers. Chicago waived pass rusher Terrell Lewis and safety A.J. Thomas in corresponding roster moves.
Former Bears cornerback Kindle Vildor was claimed off waivers by the Titans while Walker and former offensive lineman Alex Leatherwood were each signed to the Browns’ practice squad.
The Bears hold the top priority position for waiver claims through Week 3 of the regular season.