Until Ryan Poles makes moves on the offensive line that turn heads, he’s going to come across as an Illinois politician talking about reforming the state’s tollway system.
That’s to say it’s going to be hard to put much weight into what the first-year general manager has to say about the line until something is actually done.
As needy as the Chicago Bears are on the offensive line — and at wide receiver — intense focus on an offense that has been a wreck the last couple seasons distracted from the reality the secondary was especially poor in 2021, creating a need that matched where the strength of the draft was Friday evening at the beginning of Round 2.
Poles moved to help shore up that area, using his two second-round picks on Washington cornerback Kyler Gordon and Penn State safety Jaquan Brisker. Gordon figures to compete for a starting job opposite Jaylon Johnson, another cornerback the Bears tabbed in Round 2 from a Pac-12 school two years ago. Brisker ought to push for a spot next to Eddie Jackson right away as well.
The team’s well-documented needs on the offensive line remain unchanged through three rounds of the draft. They have two certain starters — Cody Whitehair at left guard and Lucas Patrick at center. The team is still learning about second-year players Larry Borom and Teven Jenkins, who got the first shot as starting tackles earlier this month in minicamp. Right guard is a question.
The Bears are also in need of more targets for quarterback Justin Fields. The biggest moves have been signing Byron Pringle to a one-year, $4.1 million contract and adding Equanimeous St. Brown on a one-year deal for the minimum. Later Friday, the team drafted Tennessee wide receiver Velus Jones Jr., who blazed through his 40-yard dash at the scouting combine in 4.31 seconds and is considered by some analysts to be the elite returner in the class.
Still, that’s not much to compensate for seeing Allen Robinson depart via free agency and knowing Darnell Mooney is the only established receiver remaining from the previous staff.
While everyone knows how poorly Fields, Andy Dalton, Nick Foles and the passing offense performed last season, less publicized is how bad the secondary was.
The Bears ranked 27th in the NFL allowing 7.6 yards per attempt. They allowed 31 passing touchdowns, tied for 26th with only two teams surrendering more. They made only eight interceptions, which ranked 29th. Opposing quarterbacks combined for a 103.3 passer rating, dead last in the league.
Sounds a lot like the company the Bears kept in key offensive categories, doesn’t it?
All of those struggles came with the Bears ranking fourth in sacks with 49, making you wonder about the correlation between a good pass rush and pass coverage. With Khalil Mack traded away for the pick that produced Brisker and 32-year-old Robert Quinn potentially trade bait down the line, it’s difficult to imagine the defense approaching the same number of sacks.
So with a defensive-minded head coach in Matt Eberflus and gaping holes in the secondary, Poles doubled down on defensive backs.
Some figured Gordon, whom the Bears selected at No. 39, would be selected in Round 1 and one national scout for another franchise said he preferred Gordon to Trent McDuffie, his Washington teammate that went 21st overall to the Kansas City Chiefs. The scout said Gordon has greater short-area burst than McDuffie, so Gordon’s 4.52-second, 40-yard dash at the scouting combine wasn’t concerning. That slower time that might have helped the Bears.
“When we watched him on tape and he ran that time, the 4.52, we kind of got a little excited,” Bears national scout Francis St. Paul said. “We were like, ‘Uh oh, we may have a chance now.’ He plays way faster than that time. And you see it all the time, there’s a lot of players that don’t run as fast as we’re all expecting but they play faster. And he has great play speed.”
The Bears did well in 2004 when they drafted a cornerback in the fourth round that was knocked for having a sub-par 40 time. That was Nathan Vasher, who had 16 interceptions in his first three seasons.
Brisker, whom the Bears selected with the 48th overall pick, is the highest-drafted safety by the Bears since they used the 42nd pick on Danieal Manning in 2006. The 6-foot-1, 199-pound Brisker was lauded by scouts for his combination to play physically as a big hitter and with range that will provide some versatility for defensive coordinator Alan Williams.
The Bears praised the leadership traits of Gordon and Brisker, and while that’s always significant, it’s of particular importance in the first year of a new regime in a rebuild (even if that’s not what the organization wants to call it).
Poles said earlier this week his goal was to trade down and add more picks. That didn’t materialize and perhaps three trades in the six picks before the Bears were on the clock left them with no potential partners. Now, the Bears will sit out Round 4 Saturday before they pick twice in Round 5 and once in Round 6. Any trades down at that point won’t net much in return.
The Bears haven’t benefitted from a tremendous draft for offensive linemen — nine were selected Thursday night — but no matter what Poles did in Rounds 2 and 3, you were going to be able to say he still has sizable holes, perhaps gaping ones, to fill.
If Gordon and Brisker step in right away and perform, the Bears ought to be better on the back end with some potential building blocks for the future. That doesn’t do a thing to improve the offensive line, but just because Poles didn’t talk about needing to overhaul the defensive backfield in the same way doesn’t mean it wasn’t a glaring need.
Source: Berkshire mont