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LAKE FOREST — Considering what we were used to under the last regime, I certainly wasn’t expecting new Bears general manager Ryan Poles to call an impromptu press conference Tuesday at Soldier Field.
That’s where we’ll start this week’s “Bears Things” newsletter, as the Roquan Smith situation has gotten messy.
The Lead: Poles makes quite the (literal) statement
Time will tell how significant of a press conference it really was, but my gut tells me it was a moment we’ll be talking about in years to come. At best, Poles may have saved the organization’s future with its best defensive player. At worst, well, Poles still came off looking better than he did at 7:44 a.m. Tuesday when Smith officially submitted a trade request through the NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport.
Here are three reasons why the move from Poles was a good one:
- He stole the narrative back from Roquan.
- He handled the situation like a veteran GM would.
- He showed he’s not going to hide when things get tough, and he’s willing to provide some refreshing transparency when it is warranted.
Poles has faced his fair share of tests in his first seven months on the job, and this is easily his biggest one yet. Smith’s statement was pretty damn bold, claiming “the new front office regime doesn’t value me here. They’ve refused to negotiate in good faith.”
That would qualify as a strong charge coming from an agent, let alone the actual player trying to earn a contract. But the negotiating tactic appeared to work on the PR front, as fans immediately questioned whether Poles was cut out for this job.
Poles responded by first showering Smith with praise, before then providing transparency by admitting he’s “really disappointed with where we’re at right now. I thought we’d be in a better situation to be completely honest with you.”
But Poles also expressed an organizational desire “to take care of our homegrown talent” and made it clear he has every intent to sign Smith instead of trading him.
It was really well handled. This is a tricky situation, especially with Smith not having an agent. The move to formally ask for a trade was significant, and surely caught the Bears off guard. But consider this: If Smith’s feet were really dug in, he wouldn’t have been on the field Tuesday at Soldier Field. Poles certainly took note of that and said: “I think he wants to be a Chicago Bear.”
Now we’ll see if the two sides can figure this out. There are still 32 days until the opener against the 49ers.
2022 rookie ‘first impressions’
One of my favorite things to do in training camp every year is assess the rookie class after a couple weeks of practice. We’re years away from being able to make conclusions on Poles’ first rookie class, but that doesn’t mean you can’t learn a lot from first-year players after the pads go on in their first training camp.
I call these “first impressions,” which matter more than you might think. We might not know the full potential of these rookies yet, but you can usually tell early on if they belong on an NFL football field or not. Let’s dive in:
CB Kyler Gordon — When Gordon (above) has been on the field, he has looked the part of an athletic, ball-hawking cornerback. His feet are impressive and usually put him in position to make a play on the ball. The problem is that Gordon missed a significant portion of offseason practices with an undisclosed injury and has been on the sideline since late last week. If healthy, he figures to be a Week 1 starter, but the missed practices are starting to add up, causing some concern.
S Jaquan Brisker — It wouldn’t surprise anyone if Brisker ends up being the best draft pick from this class. From the first day he walked into Halas Hall, Brisker looked like a starter and has run with the opportunity ever since. It wouldn’t shock me if Brisker ends up in the conversation for defensive rookie of the year, and his presence on the field should have a positive impact on Eddie Jackson, who is looking to have a bounce back season.
WR Velus Jones Jr. — If healthy, Jones Jr. still figures to have a role in the offense as a rookie, but it’s unclear how much offensive coordinator Luke Getsy will put on his plate. Jones has some Cordarrelle Patterson in him and will be used in a variety of ways, but that will require him to be locked in on a large portion of the playbook. The wide receiver has been out since last week with an undisclosed injury, stalling his progress.
LT Braxton Jones — Jones continues to get work as the first-team left tackle and figures to start there in the team’s first preseason game against the Chiefs on Saturday. If he continues to pass each test, he likely will be the starting left tackle Week 1 against the 49ers. That would be a hell of an accomplishment for the fifth-round pick. I’ll say this: He certainly looks like an NFL left tackle.
DE Dominique Robinson — Robinson has had some flashes in camp — enough that he needs to be taken seriously in the defensive line rotation. A possible four-phase special teamer, it would be surprising if Robinson doesn’t make the 53-man roster.
OG Zachary Thomas — It has been a quiet training camp for Thomas, who has primarily worked with the third-team. He might be destined for the practice squad.
RB Trestan Ebner — Ebner’s speed is as advertised, but he also has some surprising suddenness. He could factor in the return game — especially if Jones Jr. continues to miss time — but it also wouldn’t be surprising to see him get a few carries per game.
C Doug Kramer — Kramer did enough early on to earn some first-team reps at center following Lucas Patrick’s hand injury, but the rookie is still behind Sam Mustipher on the depth chart. If Patrick is healthy by Week 1, it’s unlikely both Mustipher and Kramer would be on the roster.
OG Ja’Tyre Carter — Carter has done enough to earn more second-team reps than Thomas. Occasionally, he has even snuck in some right guard reps with the starters. Still, Carter is likely a developmental prospect.
S Elijah Hicks — It’s been a mostly quiet training camp for Hicks, who is usually the opposite of quiet. Still, he has a shot to make the roster as a backup safety and special teamer. The preseason games will be a big factor.
P Trenton Gill — Gill has been impressive since he first arrived in May and is the team’s unquestioned punter going into the season.
LB Jack Sanborn — Sanborn still has a chance to push for the starting SAM linebacker position, but projects as a solid backup with special teams ability. He has a real shot to make the 53-man roster.
DL Micah Dew-Treadway — The Bears weren’t able to address the interior of their defensive line with any of their 11 draft picks, but Dew-Treadway has held his own as an undrafted free agent. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him make the team.
5 questions with… Cody Whitehair
With a young, revamped offensive line set to take the field Saturday at Soldier Field, veteran left guard Cody Whitehair remains the mainstay as he enters his seventh season with the Bears. Always durable — he has started 95 of a possible 97 games with the Bears — Whitehair also welcomed a baby boy into the world during veteran minicamp in June.
That doesn’t make training camp any easier, but Whitehair still found some time to sit down for five questions with CHGO:
1. How would you describe your new offensive line coach, Chris Morgan?
I would say he’s very passionate, very intense, but he also knows when to have fun and knows when to turn it on. So that’s pretty fun, especially with a few guys that are veterans, but mostly young guys, being able to teach them how to have fun and turn it on is always cool. In individual (period), we’ll get our work in and then take a little break and joke around a little bit, and then obviously it’s back to work. But he’s great. He’s very passionate, cares about the group, and likes to have fun.
2. What is the best and worst thing about having an infant at home during football season?
Worst thing is leaving him. Best thing would probably be having him come out to practice and getting to see him after a long, hot, hard day. I’d say that’s the best.
3. You obviously play with your back to the quarterback. So how often does Justin Fields surprise you with his speed, where maybe the rep is over and you’re like, “How the hell did he get over there?”
I think the craziest part is when you’re blocking and he sees an opening, and maybe the pocket is caving in, he’ll find an opening and slip out of it and you’re like, man that guy, the burst he had through that hole was crazy. And then obviously you’ll see him get past the line of scrimmage and make a guy miss and then continue to go too.
4. Braxton Jones is certainly impressing people and getting a lot of first team reps at left tackle. What’s the thing that has impressed you the most about him?
I’d probably say his athleticism and being able to get to the second level. And then being physical at the point. Obviously you see how long he is. He’s quick with his hands and his punch, but I think the biggest thing that impresses me is the way he finishes at the second level. You know, whether he’ll be out-leveraged and he’ll have to chase a guy down, and he still gives the runner a lane to run. I think that’s the most impressive thing. He’s doing well.
5. Between now and Week 1, what is the most important thing you guys have to work on as an offensive line?
I think the biggest thing for us is everybody being on the same page. Obviously it’s a new offense. It’s new to basically everyone except for Lucas (Patrick). Just being able to be on the same page. Being able to use the same terminology, everybody speaking the same language and seeing everything through one set of eyes, so that when defenses move and stuff hits the fan, you’re able to be on the same page. I think it will just take repetition for us. That’s how we’ll get that done.
Best/Worst from Week 2 of training camp
The best: Not a day goes by without Darnell Mooney looking like a star NFL wide receiver. His route running has been ridiculous and the one-handed grab he pulled down at Soldier Field Tuesday was the best catch of training camp so far.
The worst: How can the worst be anything other than Roquan Smith — the best player on the roster — formally requesting a trade? I still believe he’ll be on the field Week 1 against the 49ers, but s*** just got real.
Wide Receiver Power Rankings
There have been A LOT of wide receiver injuries since we debuted these rankings last week. That has shaken things up quite a bit (except at the top):
- Darnell Mooney – Mooney is technically the Bears’ No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 wide receiver right now.
- Equanimeous St. Brown – EQ has been surprisingly steady. With Pringle nursing an injury, he might emerge as the No. 2 receiver.
- Tajae Sharpe — Sharpe started camp on the non-football Injury List, but with all the injuries, he has emerged as a possibility to stick on the roster.
- Byron Pringle — Pringle is dealing with a quad injury that is going to cost him preseason reps. Still, it would be surprising if he’s not on the team when the regular season starts.
- Velus Jones Jr. — Jones’ roster spot is safe, but it’s not ideal to miss practices this early.
- Isaiah Coulter — Coulter is still getting work with the second-team, but some of the efforts on 50-50 balls have been disappointing.
- Chris Finke — Finke is good for one or two nice plays every practice. It will be interesting to see what he does in the preseason games.
- Nsimba Webster — With all the injuries, Webster is suddenly in the mix.
- Dante Pettis — Pettis has missed time with an injury this past week, moving him down the rankings.
- Dazz Newsome — You would think Newsome would be a bigger factor at this point with so many receivers dealing with injuries.
- Kevin Shaa — Until I see otherwise, he’s still just a guy on the roster.
- N’Keal Harry — Reportedly dealing with a high ankle sprain, Harry’s preseason appears to be wiped out, severely hurting his chances to make a difference on his new team.
- David Moore — Moore suffered what appeared to be a right knee injury in Tuesday’s practice and was carted off. It didn’t look good.
Thank you for jumping on board as a member of the CHGO family. Don’t miss our first Bears postgame show this Saturday following the game against the Chiefs!
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