LAKE FOREST — There is one clear objective the Bears need to accomplish going into the 2023 NFL season: Surround quarterback Justin Fields with enough offensive talent so he has the opportunity to take the next step in Year 3.
So far, Ryan Poles is seeing that process through.
After trading the No.1 pick to the Panthers for a haul that included standout receiver D.J. Moore, Poles spent the ninth pick in the draft on protection for Fields.
Enter Darnell Wright, who Poles made the newest Chicago Bear on Thursday night. The 6-foot-5, 335-pound offensive lineman anchored down the right side for Tennessee’s high-powered offense. In 13 games played with 507 pass block snaps, Wright allowed zero sacks, two quarterback hits and only six pressures.
“That’s the cool thing when you talk about SEC football, this year is that. there’s guys that were on our board that are really talented that he is going against and he did a really good job,” Poles said late Thursday night at Halas Hall. “Go to last year and go on the left side and see guys that were first overall picks. Guys played in the league, guys that have production in the league and he did really well.
“So that always helps because it’s hard, right? You got to make that jump and it’s a big jump and you’re going to get combination of length, size, speed, guys who studied all the details and find your weaknesses. This kid’s ability to win against really high-end players again made us feel even more convicted about him.”
Alabama’s Will Anderson, Georgia’s Nolan Smith, LSU’s BJ Ojulari and Pitt’s Calijah Kancey all faced Wright in college. The quarter had a combined 25 sacks in 2022, but all were shutout against the Bears’ newest addition to the offensive line.
When pass rushers attempted to go through Wright with a bullrush, his strength and anchor mitigated some of the top opposition. When defensive linemen tried to win with speed, his accurate and heavy hands disrupted their rush.
The Bears have drafted a player who will help keep Fields upright as he surveys the field to distribute the ball to his playmakers. Wright understands the value he adds to the team and specifically Fields.
“That’s my only plan. That’s what I’m here for is for anything he (Fields) needs,” Wright said. “That’s my job to keep him clean. Amazing. Amazing quarterback and the things he does, we’re going to have a great team. We’re going to have a very good team and it’s going to be great. Whatever I can do, no matter what that role is for the team, protecting him is going to be … that’s my job.”
The addition of Wright also means the Bears will have another player to help raise the level of competition on the offensive line. Even though Wright will likely play at right tackle for the Bears, Poles left that decision open, for now.
“We talked about this last year: how can you put the best five together?,” Poles said. “If that’s right tackle, it’s right tackle. We’ll compete keep it open, and whatever that front five is, that’s what we’ll roll with. Today, it’s hard to just put him at one spot and say, ‘hey, you earned your job.’ He’s got to come in and earn it like everybody else.”
Left tackle Braxton Jones didn’t miss a single offensive snap during his rookie season and was a nice surprise for the team. And Poles mentioned that the former fifth-round draft pick deserves an opportunity to start again at left tackle, but he will have to compete for it.
Wright did play at left tackle in 2021 at Tennessee — registering 920 offensive snaps at the position. Regardless, the addition of Wright will help the Bears put the best five offensive linemen on the field and at the position they believe suits the offense best.
Before the trade with Philadelphia, Poles could’ve had an opportunity to take Carter. Iowa’s Lukas Van Ness was also available and so was Oregon’s Christian Gonzalez.
But Poles wanted Wright, and that was the right decision to help the Bears’ offense to become a more effective and dangerous unit this upcoming season.