Bears GM Ryan Poles and Head Coach Matt Eberflus spoke to the media ahead of the start of Bears training camp
By Herb Howard
The Chicago Bears began their 2022 Training Camp on Wednesday, with veterans having reported to Halas Hall on Tuesday. General Manager Ryan Poles, Head Coach Matt Eberflus, and several Bears players, including QB Justin Fields, spoke with the media on the eve of their first practice and a number of things stood out. Here are three things I heard, and three things I inferred from the press conferences.
Things I Heard
1. Poles Loves Roquan Smith, as a player and person
When asked about Smith’s impending holdout, as he seeks a long-term contract extension, the Bears GM said that nothing has changed about the way he feels about Roquan as a player and a person. Head Coach Matt Eberflus called Roquan a leader on their team. It would behoove this rebuilding franchise to secure the 25 year old All-Pro LB, if they hope to expedite their journey into contention.
2. Borom and Jenkins were challenged to improve their bodies and understanding of the Bears offensive scheme.
GM Ryan Poles said that he and the coaching staff challenged second year offensive linemen Larry Borom and Teven Jenkins to improve their bodies and overall understanding of the Bears scheme ahead of training camp. This week the Bears signed veteran offensive linemen Michael Schoefield and Riley Reiff, both of whom have lots of experience as starters in the NFL. I asked Coach Eberflus who would be taking the 1st Team reps to start training camp, and he said “You’ll see tomorrow”. Ideally the younger guys will perform well enough to earn those starting jobs, and the Bears will be on their way to finding long term solutions on the OLine. But, if they don’t, the Bears have added some proven players as temporary placeholders. Clearly Poles and Eberflus have not seen enough from Borom and Jenkins to feel comfortable with them as starters just yet.
3. QB Justin Fields is motivated by failure.
I’ve been watching “Captain”, a 3-part docu-series on New York Yankees Hall of Fame Shortstop Derek Jeter. There is a part in which Jeter discusses having to deal with failure early in his professional career. Failure was very unfamiliar to the 1st Rd pick, who had dominated on the diamond his entire life. The future HOFer said he began to doubt himself, cried often, and even admitted to wanting to go home. I told the Bears second year Quarterback that I thought of him while watching Jeter detail his struggles to cope with failure for the first time, and I asked him how he menatlly and physically dealt with not dominating on the football field for the first time in his life. Justin Fields said that everything happens for a reason, and that if he had been great every game, he might not still have the hunger that he does now. Fields told me that failure motivates him, and that it will continue to motivate him until he wins a Super Bowl.
4. (Bonus) Coach Eberflus said he has no problem playing young players…A LOT!
Referring to the possibility of the Bears two 2nd Rd picks, CB Kyler Gordon and S Jaquan Brisker, becoming Week 1 starters, Coach Eberflus said if they are ready, he has no problem playing them for 65 snaps a game. Here’s hoping they are ready, because the Bears definitely need them both to come in and be difference makers!
Things I Inferred
1. The Roquan Smith holdout could be lengthy.
I know this isn’t what Bears fans wanna hear, but this holdout may drag on deep into training camp, and maybe even further. When asked simply if it is his preference to sign Roquan to an extension (not about specific contract negotiations), Ryan Poles was non-committable to perhaps the Bears very best player. Poles could’ve easily said that they would like to sign Smith, but both sides have to come to an agreement. His unwillingness to even say that much was quite concerning to me, and I’d bet it was to Roquan as well. Roquan has been an exceptional player, a great leader on and off the field, and a model citizen during his time in Chicago. He is also a guy that is not afraid to stand up for what he believes in. The 8th overall pick in 2018, Smith was the very last player in his draft class to sign his rookie contract, holding out for 29 days before reporting to the team. Poles, a first-time GM, may not want to set a precedent of him giving in to the demands of players in contract negotiations. This could turn into a long game of waiting to see which side blinks first.
2. Fields knows he was put in a tough spot last year.
As we’ve come to expect from the Bears signal caller, Justin Fields was not going to throw the previous regime under the bus. He’s consistently shown a willingness to take accountability, and shield teammates and coaches from criticism. So his response came as no surprise to me when he was asked if he was put in a bad position by his coaches last year. Fields, without acknowledging that he was put into a bad position by his coaches, said that even if you are put in a bad position, you still have to find a way to succeed. I have all the respect in the world for him being the leader that he is, but that is definitely the answer of a guy who knows he was put in a tough spot to succeed.
3. Justin Jones don’t want NO smoke!
The Chicago Bears initially planned to fill their hole at the 3-Technique Defensive Tackle, a critical position in their new defense, with former Bengals standout Larry Ogunjobi. The two sides had agreed to a 3yr contract worth $40.5 million dollars, but then Ogunjobi failed his physical and the contract was never finalized. The Bears then moved on to Plan B: enter Justin Jones, the former Charger. He signed with the Bears for 2yrs and $12 million dollars, with much less excitement around his addition than there was for Ogunjobi. Asked multiple times if he understood the importance of his role on the defense, and if he was confident in his ability to fill that role, Justin Jones constantly sidestepped the question, choosing to highlight that it's a team game and it will take all 11 guys to do well, not just him. I don’t know about y’all, but I would've Loved to hear something along the lines of “That’s what they brought me in here for, and I’m ready to show my coaches, teammates, and Bears fans exactly the type of player they’re getting!” I didn’t get that vibe from him at all. To me, he sounded like a guy that doesn’t want that responsibility and may not be all that confident in his ability to deliver. I could be wrong. I certainly hope I am.