Evaluating the Chicago Bears’ current offensive line — and meeting the top new prospects: Get Brad Biggs’ 10 thoughts from the Senior Bowl

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Evaluating the Chicago Bears’ current offensive line — and meeting the top new prospects: Get Brad Biggs’ 10 thoughts from the Senior Bowl
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10 thoughts after watching Senior Bowl practices and talking to folks from throughout the league, plus some leftovers from an eventful week at Halas Hall with the Chicago Bears introducing general manager Ryan Poles and coach Matt Eberflus.

1. Ryan Poles said the starting point for building a roster begins on the offensive line, so let’s kick this off in the trenches.

Poles wanted to make sure he delivered that point during the introductory news conference when he followed an answer by Eberflus regarding the offense.

“I’d like to add to that,” Poles said. “Iit starts with the foundation in terms of the O-line and establishing that run game, which then leads to explosive plays. We’ve got to continue to work on that, get that to a level, and I think you’ll start to see more points be scored and more efficiency, more explosive plays. Everything plays off of that. That’s going to be a focal point.”

Poles was an offensive lineman at Boston College, which at times has been a factory for NFL-ready prospects at the position, and was briefly with the Bears as an undrafted free agent. He was part of a front office in Kansas City, Mo., that moved mountains to fix the offensive line 12 months ago after the Chiefs front was demolished by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Super Bowl LV with quarterback Patrick Mahomes scrambling on most passing downs. The Chiefs went down about every imaginable avenue to bring in new linemen. Three, including guard Joe Thuney ($80 million over five seasons), were signed in free agency. The team drafted two, including center Creed Humphrey, and traded with the Baltimore Ravens for left tackle Orlando Brown, who likely will be secured with the franchise tag if a new contract cannot be hammered out.

In other words, the Chiefs looked high and low for upgrades after releasing starting tackles Eric Fisher and Mitchell Schwartz because of injuries. Schwartz had been the last bona fide starter the team signed in free agency for the line — and that was in 2016, and the Chiefs weren’t using top picks on linemen. Push came to shove after the Super Bowl loss. The decline of the line in Kansas City, an issue exacerbated by injuries, sounds a little familiar.

So where do the Bears start? First, they must take inventory of what they have. The team on Wednesday announced the hiring of offensive line coach Chris Morgan. He was the interim line coach for the Pittsburgh Steelers this season and the top guy in Atlanta for a good stretch. He’s rooted in the outside-zone scheme and once worked in Washington alongside Kyle Shanahan, Sean McVay, Matt LaFleur and Mike McDaniel. The connection to new offensive coordinator Luke Getsy is through LaFleur. The Bears thought about trying to hire Luke Butkus from Green Bay as the line coach, but that never got moving, and the Packers wound up elevating Dick Butkus’ nephew. I was told the Bears submitted a request to interview Minnesota O-line coach Phil Rauscher — one of multiple requests that were denied by the Vikings.

Morgan was well-regarded by those who worked with him in Atlanta, where he also was paired with Shanahan, and you would think the coaching staff and front office would waste little time diving in on the film from last season. What pieces do they like? What players are they interested in working with?

  • Does the new regime believe Teven Jenkins can play left tackle?
  • How does the staff evaluate Larry Borom, a fifth-round draft pick who got on the field for 56.4% of snaps as a rookie? He played primarily at right tackle but also could be projected as a guard.
  • What do they think of pending unrestricted free agent James Daniels?
  • How do they see the play of Sam Mustipher and the need at center in relation to other priorities on the line? In other words, the Bears have be multiple needs, and how they rank those could be affected by the available options.

Daniels is an interesting one to keep an eye on. At 24, he will be the youngest guard on the market. One veteran agent I spoke with Wednesday — he does not represent Daniels — predicted the market for the former second-round pick could reach $12 million per season. Considering Cody Whitehair’s five-year extension in 2019 was for more than $10 million annually, that seems plausible. It would be surprising if Daniels didn’t come in at $10 million per year or more.

There is a lot to be sorted out, so much so that any plan will require multiple contingencies.

2. The Cincinnati Bengals offer hope for every down-and-out team.

That’s the theory multiple fan bases are rallying around. The Bengals were 4-11-1 in 2020, and coach Zac Taylor entered his third season with only six victories to his credit. Even in Cincinnati, where ownership is generally exceedingly patient, the seat had to be getting a little warm. Now the Bengals have gone from having the No. 1 pick in 2020 as the worst team in the league to preparing for Super Bowl LVI. It’s the sort of turnaround Bears fans want to wrap their arms around and squeeze. The Bears aren’t the worst team in football and they weren’t even last in the NFC North.

A parallel between the clubs is the Bengals and Bears both have young quarterbacks. Joe Burrow is in Year 2, and Justin Fields is preparing for his second season. Burrow certainly shined more in his first season before suffering a torn ACL in his left knee than did Fields, and the development of the Bears’ first-round pick last year is the most important part of the rebuilding process at Halas Hall. For the Bears to be relevant quickly, former GM Ryan Pace and ex-coach Matt Nagy will have to be proved right about the selection of Fields.

The Bengals are loaded with young skill-position talent. The Bears cannot make the same claim. The Bengals drafted wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase with the No. 5 pick, and he had 1,455 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns as a rookie. He’s paired with Tee Higgins, a high-level No. 2 receiver who would be a No. 1 for some teams, the Bears included. Tyler Boyd is one of the more talented No. 3 receivers around, and tight end C.J. Uzomah was productive and would have greater numbers with a team that wasn’t so stacked at wide receiver.

Running back Joe Mixon is considered better than David Montgomery by scouts. Most important, Burrow transitioned into the league almost seamlessly. The Bengals have multiple receivers who consistently win one-on-one matchups and can turn contested catches into explosive plays. The Bears are lacking there. If you go through every position on the roster, defense included, the Bengals are really young in more key spots than the Bears.

This isn’t to say the Bears cannot make a quick rebound. If Fields makes major gains under new offensive coordinator Luke Getsy, the Bears would be very intriguing. But this is to illustrate the Bears have to do some heavy lifting, Ryan Poles will need a creative plan and possibly some patience as he works to fortify (overhaul?) the offensive line and add skill-position talent. When looking at how Burrow has emerged so quickly, I asked Poles if he needs to put more skill talent around Fields before getting an accurate barometer of his talent level.

“I would agree with that,” Poles said. “In terms of getting that line set — I think that is first and foremost — and then giving him talent to work with. Without a lot of draft capital, without a lot of money, it’s going to take some strategy to get that done.

“So when I mentioned the Bengals, they took a different approach. I was critical of it, but at the same time, it’s worked out pretty good, right? The main (point) is support the quarterback. If that means giving him weapons or giving him linemen, I’m an O-line guy so I believe it starts there. But I’m not going to be blind to the fact that if there isn’t the right players (at one position), then maybe we’ve got to go a different direction.”

That’s an interesting point. The Bengals went into the draft in April weighing the idea of getting the top receiver on the board in Chase or the top offensive tackle in Penei Sewell to protect Burrow. The Bengals offensive line was deficient in Burrow’s rookie season, so it would have been an easy decision to invest on the line. They went with Chase. Sewell went two picks later to the Detroit Lions, who are badly lacking skill-position talent on the outside.

“I would have started up front,” Poles said. “The beautiful thing is we can learn from these teams to say there are more ways to do it than doing just what I said. Just learn. And it should get teams like the Bears excited that if we do things the right way we can make those steps and be a championship-caliber team.”

Poles isn’t giving away his strategy ahead to free agency and the draft but he’s sharing his vision for turning around a moribund offense. If the right players aren’t there on the line, or a clearly superior one is available at another position, he will have to pivot. But talk to Poles about the Bengals and their fast ascent to a grand stage and the conversation turns back to the offensive line. That’s worth remembering.

3. Actions will speak louder than words about Ryan Poles’ plan for the development of the roster.

It’s not news when a general manager is hired and he declares his approach is to run a draft-driven organization. What would be newsworthy is if someone were hired and went the other direction and said draft-driven approaches are overrated.

“What am I about and what’s my philosophy?” Poles said. “We’re going to build through the draft. We’re going to acquire young, fast and physical football players. We’re going to be selective in free agency, and we’re going to connect evaluation with valuation.”

Ryan Pace talked about wanting to build through the draft but at times strayed from that approach. Every good team will use every imaginable path to building a roster, which means the draft, undrafted rookies, free agency, signing players who are cut, trades — anything and everything you can imagine.

For the Bears to build a young core that can fortify a roster capable of sustained success, they have to start producing more in the draft, which must start with keeping more of their picks. Over the last seven years — the Pace era — only two teams have had fewer draft picks than the Bears with 46. The New Orleans Saints had 43 picks in that span and the Houston Texans had 45. It’s hard to talk about being a draft-driven organization when you are working with a smaller inventory of picks, especially in the case of the Bears, who traded away multiple high picks. The league average for the period is 55.8 picks (eight per year) while the Bears averaged 6.4 picks from 2015-21. Thirteen teams had 60 or more picks.

The top five

  • Minnesota Vikings: 75
  • Cleveland Browns: 67
  • Cincinnati Bengals: 65
  • Baltimore Ravens: 65
  • Washington: 63

The bottom five

  • Kansas City Chiefs: 48
  • Atlanta Falcons: 47
  • Bears: 46
  • Houston Texans: 45
  • New Orleans Saints: 43

The Bears are almost 10 picks below the average in a seven-year period — more than one entire draft class. Poles’ challenge, and he talked about it, is starting with a short deck. The Bears have two picks in the top 100 — second- and third-rounders — in 2022. They are without picks in Rounds 1 and 4. They have five picks this year. Of course, that number could grow with trades.

Poles said he wants free agency to be a “supplement” when it comes to building the roster. Again, that’s what you hear from just about every team. A variety of factors can push teams to become more aggressive with the checkbook. Pressure to win from ownership. Pressure from the head coach. A lack of available players at specific positions in the draft. A desire to strengthen a position. Injuries. A background of a player that fits for the coaching staff.

“If you are always going to (free agency), it becomes (a short cut) because you’re overcoming the fact you’re not keeping the guys that you drafted,” Poles said. “Being disciplined with that is huge because at the end of the day we want to create this core of guys that we’ve drafted. They know how to operate, and we know everything about them. Once you go outside the building over and over again, you don’t have all the answers.”

I asked Poles if he viewed it as a greater challenge or a greater opportunity with the roster he’s inheriting because the team has only 29 veterans under contract for 2022 and 19 for 2023.

“I would say both,” Poles said. “It’s exciting because you have the ability to create that core pretty fast. The challenge becomes when you don’t have a lot of draft picks. It’s hard to do that. We’re going to have to be strategic with, again, free agency, going to that second and third wave of free agency, shorter contracts to supplement the roster as we start to add more draft picks. And if there are opportunities to get more draft picks with trades of players or going up or down, then that’s great. We have to take it one step at a time to know where the value is with each year. It may not make sense this year.”

Don’t overlook that Poles said about “valuation.” That’s significant because he has to mesh his thoughts on roster construction and positional significance with coach Matt Eberflus and how his assistants view the schemes. That’s a big deal and something that can shift slightly as a team evaluates what it has to start with. You make some mistakes and end up in the situation former GM Jerry Angelo used to describe — trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.

“You’ve got to be able to prioritize certain positions because of supply and demand,” Poles said, “and place them on the board where you can get them. That’s the other important part.”

There’s plenty of time to get into how the Bears will stack up needs, but one thing that will be explored as free agency and the draft approach — if Eberflus is going to lean on his adapted version of the Cover-2 defense — is a real need for a three-technique defensive tackle.

4. A pretty talented crop of offensive linemen are at the Senior Bowl.

I asked a national scout for one team what prospects here would be potential second- or third-round picks, considering the Bears are without a selection in Round 1. He quickly ticked off four names without consideration of scheme fit or traits.

  • Daniel Faalele, Minnesota
  • Zion Johnson, Boston College
  • Trevor Penning, Northern Iowa
  • Bernhard Raimann, Central Michigan

I chatted with all four, and Raimann was very interesting. Some might be familiar with his backstory as an exchange student from Steinbrunn, Austria. Raimann was a soccer player as a kid and moved to the suburbs of Vienna when he was 13. He saw some neighborhood kids playing catch with a football one day and was immediately intrigued.

“That is the first time I actually saw a football in real life, touched it and played with it,” Raimann said. “We tried tackling each other. That’s sort of how I stumbled across the sport of American football. I was already looking for a new sport. Soccer wasn’t physical enough for me.”

Raimann tried out for the Vienna Vikings and earned a spot on the team as a wide receiver. His passion for the sport was just budding and he wanted to explore it more, a major factor in the decision to travel to the U.S. during his junior year of high school.

“You watch the NFL and you also watch the movies and you see ‘Friday Night Light,’ and you’re like, wow, this is awesome,” he said. “ ‘This is huge. I want to experience that.’ ”

He landed with the Ferris family in Delton, Mich., a small town in the western part of the state. The Ferrises had a son, Tyden, who excelled in football. His father was a three-year letterman for the Central Michigan football team in the mid-1990s.

Raimann became a blocking tight end in a Wing-T offense at Delton-Kellogg High School. The team wound up reaching the state playoffs for the first time since 2001. Friday Night Lights had come to life for him.

“It was a pretty big deal,” Raimann said. “The whole town came out to support us. Cool experience.”

Tyden, an offensive lineman, was entering the recruiting process, and the Ferris family included Raimann in it. Central Michigan coaches liked what they saw and offered Raimann a scholarship. He returned to Austria for his senior year of high school and after graduation served six months in basic training for the military, a requirement for all males in Austria. In January 2018, he enrolled at Central Michigan as a 6-foot-6, 240-pound tight end.

Raimann remained a tight end for two years before coaches approached him about a switch to left tackle. Graduations and injuries had left the Chippewas without anyone at the position, and Raimann’s frame had continued to fill out, reaching about 270 pounds.

“I was a little hesitant at first,” Raimann said. “It was my dream to play in the NFL, and this was the path I had to take. I was just trying to do what was best for the team.”

He was asked to bulk up and started spring ball in 2020 at left tackle before COVID-19 hit. He was forced to do a lot of learning on his own, trying to incorporate what he saw on video in individual drills, and when the MAC played a six-game season in the fall of 2020, Raimann looked like a natural.

“When I threw on the tape last summer, I had no idea who this kid was,” said a national scout for one team. “But I wanted to see more.”

Raimann was even better when the Chippewas got back on the field in the fall of 2021, playing against SEC schools LSU and Missouri without allowing a quarterback pressure. It’s not out of the question that he could be a first-round pick. He’s known as “Baby Drago” for his likeness to Ivan Drago, the “Rocky IV” character played by Dolph Lundgren.

He measured 6-foot-6 ⅛ and 304 pounds Monday with 10 ⅜-inch hands and 33-inch arms with an 80-inch wingspan. That fits what NFL teams look for in a left tackle. The scout said Raimann could project anywhere on an offensive line, even at center. It’s a decision NFL teams will be sorting through. Maybe he’ll be on the board when the Bears pick in Round 2 at No. 39.

5. Daniel Faalele and Trevor Penning have intriguing stories about finding ways to improve during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Like Raimann, Faalele also is new to the sport. Faalele grew up in Melbourne, Australia, as a basketball and rugby player. A football camp run by the University of Michigan in Australia, where college programs are more likely to be on the lookout for kicking and punting specialists, happened to unearth Faalele. IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., caught wind of the 6-foot-9, 400-pound giant, and during his junior year of high school in 2016 he enrolled there, learning the sport and the art of playing on the offensive line.

Faalele earned a starting spot in 2017 and wound up signing with P.J. Fleck and the Golden Gophers. Now, he’s a giant among draft prospects, measuring 6-foot-8 ⅛ inches and weighing 387 pounds. He has 35 ⅜-inch arms and an 86 ¼-inch wing span.

Teams are working to learn more about Faalele, what makes him tick and how much room there is for growth.

“For me, just being a bigger guy, I had huge concerns about COVID and how that could affect me,” Faalele said. “We didn’t have the answers we wanted at the time, so I decided to opt out the (2020) season, and that was after the (Big Ten) canceled the season. … And after we got more answers about vaccines and stuff, I decided to come back.

“During COVID, I was in my apartment by myself and I still wanted to be involved with the team. So I was able to Zoom in every day for practices, meetings. Not wanting to feel like I wasn’t doing anything for them, I decided to make lifestyle changes. I started eating better, working out more consistently and just being more disciplined with everything in my life. I was able to do that for a while and I went from 410 in the spring when COVID hit to like 380 in the fall. That was just something I wanted to do for my teammates. I felt I owed that to them.”

His apartment complex had moved some small pieces of cardio equipment from a small workout room into a courtyard, and Faalele used the machines twice a day. Slimmed down, he was better this fall for the Gophers, and he’s an intriguing right tackle prospect.

“Teams just asked me how I feel at this weight and what my ideal playing weight is,” Faalele said. “I just tell them I played the season last year from 380 to 385. I have a 5-pound window. I felt comfortable there. I wouldn’t mind trying a consistent 380, maybe a little bit lower, and see how that feels.”

Questions remain about how he can bend on the edge against elite pass rushers who can get underneath linemen who are so long. Faalele acknowledged he’s busy working on his pass-protection sets and wants to get better setting the right angles at the second level. He’s a project but has the length, strength and mass that cannot be taught.

Penning was industrious when the pandemic struck leaving him and his younger brother Jared, also a lineman for the Panthers, at home in Clear Lake, Iowa.

“We built our own gym in the garage,” Penning said. “It was very hard to find weights and a squat rack, barbells. We went pretty much all over Iowa to find the stuff. We had to find enough weight, first of all. We got like 650 pounds of plates. We would go all over. Every morning we would go in the garage right near where my mom slept. We probably woke her up a couple times. It was awesome. … We didn’t take a day off. We didn’t have that option. If we were going to be great offensive linemen, we had to lift, doing that O-line technique afterward.”

One adventure to find plates was a two-hour drive. Another trip took 90 minutes. The Penning brothers scoured Facebook Marketplace to find people selling equipment and even made a purchase in a church parking lot. After lifting every day, they would play one-on-one basketball in the driveway to get in some conditioning.

“We got so much stronger during that time,” Penning said. “We had to get better. I know some guys wanted to maintain. That wasn’t us. Missing that spring ball, we had to add something else.”

Penning’s hard work paid off when he tipped the scales at 330 pounds Monday, measuring 6-6 ¾ inches. He’s an imposing figure who dominated at the FCS level and has been more than holding his own against talent from Power Five schools in practice. He could go in the back end of Round 1 or he slide into Round 2.

Zion Johnson is one of the better interior prospects in the draft. He’s a fluid athlete who likely make him a good fit in the Bears’ zone-blocking scheme and started for three years at Boston College, primarily playing left guard with some at tackle. Some have wondered about a possibility of him moving to center, and he took some snaps there this week, but most project him at guard.

“I don’t think too much about that,” he said. “I can play any position on the line. I am going to play whatever a team needs me to play. I have no preference. I have played guard the most, so there is a level of comfortability there.”

Johnson has a company build at 6-2 ¾ inches and 314 pounds and moves well. He could be an early Day 2 pick.

6. Bloomington (Ill.) High School product John Ridgeway, an Arkansas defensive tackle, is among 3 other prospects of note.

Ridgeway began his college career at Illinois State before deciding to transfer in April.

“I had one more year left,” Ridgeway said. “And I really want to play in the NFL. I want to get my name called. And seeing some of the talent (at the FCS level) that never got their names called, and I knew they were really talented and they went undrafted, I didn’t want that to happen to me. I took a leap of faith. I went into the portal.”

Ridgeway made that decision after Illinois State completed its 2020 season in the spring, delayed by COVID. His email address and phone number were in the portal, and he had no idea what to expect. Would anyone be interested in him?

“My phone was blowing up,” he said. “At 10 o’clock each night, I had to turn my phone off. It was constantly ringing and I had to go to sleep. A lot of SEC offers came late. They didn’t really know who I was.”

Eventually, Ridgeway’s name became so hot in the portal that he actually was trending on Google. How often does a defensive tackle from an FCS program become that hot?

“That was pretty cool,” he said, shrugging. “It was the first time ever. You’d think you beat someone up or something. No.

“I miss the ISU coaches. I miss my boys back on the D-line. Those are my friends. I went through the program with them, and for me to leave them my senior year, that was hard. But they knew I had to do what was best for me, and they supported me through it.”

Ridgeway, 6-foot-4 ¾ inches and 327 pounds, projects as a midround pick and performed well in practices, winning one-on-ones while being disruptive. He has gained a lot in less than 12 months.

“I stacked up 20 games this year,” Ridgeway said. “The competition here has been really nice going against elite guys every snap. It’s been cool to have good-on-good film. I knew I was going to stand a chance. I knew that there would be times, ‘Hey, I might not win this rep.’ Going from Illinois State to the SEC and seeing the change and getting used to the style of play and then coming here, I haven’t really noticed a big difference.

“I’ve got a lot of people saying I’m a third- or fourth-round pick, maybe later. I don’t know. I just really want to get my name called Day 2 (second or third round). That’s my plan. If it doesn’t happen, that’s OK. It’s not going to be the end of the world. Whatever team gets me, I’ll be a hard worker. Won’t take any plays off.”

Western Kentucky pass rusher D’Angelo Malone thought about coming out for the draft a year ago but had only six sacks coming off an 11 ½ sack year in 2019 and figured using a fifth year of eligibility provided by COVID would serve him best. He earned a degree in sports management and is on his way to getting a masters degree in sociology.

Malone is an intriguing prospect even if he’s a little undersized at 6-3 ¼ inches and 234 pounds. He has a frame capable of carrying a little more weight but is focused on the 40-yard dash at the scouting combine that could boost his status.

“My goal is to run a 4.4, but I am pretty sure of a 4.5,” he said. “I feel like I can fit any defensive scheme. I’m comfortable dropping in coverage. It starts in Mobile. I am going to make a name for myself. I am going to show the world what I can do. Turning heads.”

Malone has showed a knack for being able to run down plays from the back side in practices. He’s going to have issues at the point of attack defending the run, but teams are not looking at him as a run defender. They’re eyeing him as an edge rusher who can be a gem as a midround pick.

Texas-San Antonio cornerback Tariq Woolen is a player Senior Bowl director Jim Nagy said NFL teams were happy to look at here. Woolen is 6-3 ⅜ inches, 205 pounds, and scouts want to see how he moves in and out of his breaks with impressive length and 33 ½-inch arms. A converted wide receiver who has played cornerback only two years, Woolen has studied bigger cornerbacks such as Richard Sherman and Jalen Ramsey

“I feel confident in my ability,” Woolen said. “I just wanted to show I could come here and play against these guys, I can compete too. Not too many guys know what UTSA is. We put a lot of people on notice.”

Testing numbers in Indianapolis will go a long way toward determining where Woolen will fall on teams’ draft boards.

7. When news broke that special teams coordinator Chris Tabor was leaving to sign a 3-year contract with the Carolina Panthers, multiple sources said the Bears’ top target for the position was Rich Bisaccia.

At the time, Bisaccia was still a candidate for the top job with the Las Vegas Raiders after guiding them to the playoffs as the interim coach in a tumultuous season punctuated by the resignation of Jon Gruden days after the Bears’ Week 5 victory in Vegas. ESPN reported Bisaccia interviewed with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Another candidate the Bears are known to have considered for the role, Thomas McGaughey, re-signed with the New York Giants.

While Bisaccia is still potentially in play for the Bears, he’s going to have options if the Jaguars do not hire him as their head coach. Teams in need of a special teams coach will be lining up to meet with Bisaccia, and sources have said if he doesn’t get a top job his preference could be to seek a job in Florida.

Does this rule out the Bears? Absolutely not. Eberflus and Bisaccia worked together with the Dallas Cowboys and have a relationship that would make him a natural fit. The Bears might have to move on to Plan D, however, after trying to get Tabor to slow play an offer from the Panthers. In that scenario, the list of experienced special teams coordinators thins out. Maybe fired Giants coach Joe Judge will surface somewhere. He was a special teams coordinator for five seasons with the New England Patriots. Bisaccia likely will have multiple offers to weigh.

8. What will Matt Eberflus’ defense look like?

Eberflus talked about getting faster, more athletic and tougher. We’ll see how that plays out. Eberflus’ background is rooted in the Cover-2 scheme. He studied it with Lovie Smith when the former Bears coach was a defensive coordinator for the St. Louis Rams. Eberflus worked alongside Rod Marinelli in Dallas. The Bears haven’t named a defensive line coach yet.

I checked in with ESPN analyst Matt Bowen, who played under Smith in St. Louis, about what to expect as the Bears begin building the defense with the pieces in place.

“There is a misconception about his defense,” Bowen said. “Kind of pegged as a Cover-2, zone-heavy defense, keep the ball in front of you and play top down. Do they still play some Cover-2? Sure. He’s adapted tremendously based on the tape I have watched over the last two seasons. Much more multiple in terms of their fronts and alignment. He will scheme pressures. He will mug up his linebackers to try to create matchup advantages from a pass-rush perspective and also to make the quarterback work post-snap.

“A lot of late rotation from that second level to get underneath zone droppers into throwing lanes. What they did this year I thought was very cool is they started turning into a much more man-heavy defense on third down. Not just man but man with pressure and again, you’re talking about a base Cover-2 coach adapting and doing different things to, in my opinion, keep up with offensive trends in the NFL, to attack the quick game, to make the quarterback feel pressure and to create unnecessary movement in the pocket.

“Where is this defense strong? That’s always important when you look at a new defensive coach. They do not have lock-down corners. They do not have high-priced safeties. Their money is up the middle of the defense, the two linebackers Darius Leonard and (Bobby) Okereke and DeForest Buckner. That is a dominant defensive tackle that can be looked at as one of the most disruptive defensive players when he’s on. They did draft some young pass rushers. They drafted Kwity Paye this year out of Michigan and he flashed quite a bit, and he was developed with coaching by that defensive staff throughout the season. Staying in the middle, their slot corner, Kenny Moore, is the best in the NFL in my opinion. He can blitz, he can cover, he can play in space, he can tackle. He checks all the boxes. They did draft Julian Blackmon, young safety out of Utah. He was a Day 2 pick and he played really well. That’s developing your own talent. The arrow is really pointing up.

“They’re not super complicated on defense. But they do enough to be multiple and fit today’s trends and schemes in the NFL. They do a lot more late movement than people expect, so they haven’t recreated Lovie Smith’s defense. I think people are trying to look at it that way. Can he coach? Based on what he did in Indianapolis, yeah, he can coach on the defensive side of the ball. As a head coach? I can’t answer that. I’m not in the meeting room with him.”

9. Count Senior Bowl director Jim Nagy as a fan of new Bears GM Ryan Poles.

Nagy was a national scout for the Chiefs when Poles was hired by then-GM Scott Pioli, and Nagy talked in glowing terms about Poles and what he can accomplish at Halas Hall.

“Ryan was our college scouting coordinator, and what always struck me was he was always mature beyond his age,” Nagy said. “I know there was concern about him being too young (36), but he’s always been mature going back to when he started. He always handled himself as a professional, and there were never any of those young-guy moments where he was feeling his way through it.

“He’s bright, he connects well with people. It doesn’t surprise me that Ryan is in this role. I am sure he is going to pull different ideas from the different leaders that he’s been under and find his way. I know he is ready for this.”

10. One of the first questions Chairman George McCaskey had for Matt Eberflus wasn’t about football. It was about Eberflus’ family tree.

“When I walked into the building, George says to me, ‘You got a cousin named McCaskey? Is there any relation?’ ” Eberfluis said. “I go, ‘George, there is no relation, but he is an outstanding citizen. He (Michael McCaskey) is married to my eldest sister, who is 8 years my senior, Christel, and they live over in Columbus (Ohio). He was a Dublin (Ohio) police officer and an Ohio State police officer before that and he’s recently retired. It was hot on Twitter.”

Wait a minute? Eberflus is on Twitter?

“Absolutely not,” he replied. “I have email and text messages, and you will not find me anywhere else.”

10a. Key dates for the NFL calendar after Super Bowl LVI on Feb. 13.

  • March 1-7: Scouting combine in Indianapolis
  • March 8: Deadline for teams to use the franchise or transition tags
  • March 14: Teams can begin contacting agents for pending free agents at 11 a.m.
  • March 16: The 2022 league year opens at 3 p.m.
  • April 4: Teams that hired a new head coach can begin voluntary offseason workout programs
  • April 18: Teams with a returning head coach can begin voluntary offseason workout programs
  • April 28-30: NFL draft
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