LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) — Chicago Bears general manager Ryan Poles envisions more explosive plays from a revamped offense and a retooled defense creating turnovers more often.
A busy offseason has him thinking his team is positioned to make a jump. Considering the Bears finished with the worst record in the NFL last year, there seems to be nowhere to go but up.
“I really believe this team is set up to elevate and really go to the next level, which we’re all excited for,” Poles said Wednesday.
The Bears made some big moves after going 3-14 and setting a franchise record for losses, with Poles estimating they filled 75% to 80% of their holes. They'll start to find out if the changes paid off when they open the season at Green Bay on Sept. 10.
The Bears swung a major trade for a playmaking receiver when they dealt the No. 1 overall draft pick to Carolina for DJ Moore and a package of draft picks. They added to their offensive line by drafting tackle Darnell Wright with the No. 10 overall pick and signing guard Nate Davis. They also brought in help for their defense, signing two-time Pro Bowl linebacker Tremaine Edmunds, linebacker T.J. Edwards and veteran edge rusher Yannick Ngakoue.
“At the end of the day, like when the lights come on and we play a real game, the energy levels differ, the speed is different,” Poles said. "We’ll be able to evaluate that as we go through the season. But I feel good again. Just on paper, I feel good about the progress and I feel we took a chunk out of what we needed to.”
The Bears are counting on Justin Fields to improve as a passer in his third season after he dazzled with his legs last year. The former Ohio State star threw for just 2,242 yards and was sacked 55 times, tying Russell Wilson for the most in the league.
“Obviously we need to see that number change,” Poles said. “It’s a relationship, right? Where protection’s gotta be better, and I feel better about our setup in terms of the guys in front of him, and the tackles, with Braxton going into Year 2. Darnell’s doing a good job. That alone should help us. And then Justin’s ability to execute our offense more efficiently and get the ball out quicker too. All of that should run together and that number should drop.”
The Bears figure to be down one key blocker to start the season. Poles said left guard Teven Jenkins (leg) will open on injured reserve with a designation to return, meaning he will miss at least the first four games.
Chicago is also thin behind Fields. The team's only other quarterback is rookie Tyson Bagent, who went undrafted after a record-setting career at Division II Shepherd University.
“He’s got this moxie, he has this confidence about him,” assistant general manager Ian Cunningham said.
Whether Bagent will be the No. 2 QB for the season opener or the Bears add a veteran remains to be seen.
“It’s hard to answer that question right now,” Poles said.
Poles had no update on contract extension talks with receiver Darnell Mooney and cornerback Jaylon Johnson, saying “We’re taking that kind of week by week."
“I really don’t want to get into it,” he added. "It kind of creates a distraction for the entire year. We like those guys. We’d love to have them here long-term, so we’ll just kind of stick with our plan.”
He smirked and — unprompted — said he “never thought about or had any conversations about trading Mooney.” He also insisted defensive end Trevis Gipson never requested a trade before the Bears waived him on Tuesday. Gipson, who had seven sacks in 2021, ultimately lost out in a roster battle to Dominique Robinson and Terrell Lewis behind starters Ngakoue and DeMarcus Walker and backup Rasheem Green.
The Bears added veteran Trent Taylor on Wednesday to be their punt returner, with Velus Jones Jr. struggling in the preseason following a rough rookie season. Taylor spent the past two years with Cincinnati after playing from 2017 to 2020 for San Francisco, where he worked with Bears special teams coordinator Richard Hightower.
“Consistency," Poles said. "That’s the biggest thing. You know, when the ball gets punted you can go grab a snack and go to the bathroom and come back and you feel confident about it. That’s the big part.”
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Andrew Seligman, The Associated Press