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LAKE FOREST — Ryan Poles and Ian Cunningham sat next to each other on Wednesday while sporting the same Bears navy blue quarter zip polo with a white t-shirt underneath.
For 27 minutes, the general manager and assistant general manager answered a variety of questions surrounding their team.
Here are my top five takeaways from Poles and Cunningham’s press conference.
QB No. 2 Still Not Set
Outside of Justin Fields, Tyson Bagent is the only quarterback currently on the Bears’ roster. Still, the undrafted rookie out of Shepherd University hasn’t officially won the backup job.
“We’re working through that,” Poles said. “Again, I talk about Nate (Peterman) coming in. We gotta work through that and see what we’re comfortable with. It’s hard to answer that question right now.”
Poles was asked about Nathan Peterman, “Nate,” potentially returning to the practice squad and left the door open to that possibility. There is also a chance Poles could bring in another veteran quarterback, especially since this coaching staff puts a high emphasis on experience.
Understandably, Poles doesn’t just want to hand the No. 2 quarterback job to a Division II rookie, but at the same time, if it’s between Bagent and Peterman, the job should absolutely be Bagent’s.
At this point, everyone understands and recognizes who Peterman is as player. Bagent is an entirely different story. Whether it’s his teammates, the coaching staff or assistant general manger, there is just something about how Bagent goes about his business that exudes confidence that the young quarterback can operate an NFL offense.
“I think we’ve seen it every day since his rookie minicamp, just his poise,” Cunningham said. “He’s got this moxie, he has this confidence about him. I remember walking out of the tunnel with him against Tennessee and it was like, he’s been here before. Right? And he’s showed it. He’s displayed it ever since he’s been here and then in game exposure, his accuracy, decision-making, his poise, we saw what he was able to do with his legs. I think the kid’s got a bright future.”
Bears have a new punt returner
When Trent Taylor officially becomes a part of this Bears organization, he will be the team’s No. 1 punt returner. One particular word that Poles used to describe Taylor is exactly what was needed at the position.
“Yeah consistency,” Poles said. “That’s the biggest thing. You know, when the ball gets punted you can go grab a snack and go to the bathroom and come back and you feel confident about it. That’s the big part.”
Outside of Dante Pettis’ 18 punt returns last season, the punt return game has been as inconsistent as trying to guess where the roulette ball will land (odd, even, red, black, 1-18, 19-36). Just never knowing exactly what is going to happen.
Taylor, though, provides some much-needed consistency as Poles said. The former 49er and Bengal wide receiver fielded 89 punts for 863 yards and averaged 9.7 yards per punt return over the last five seasons.
With Taylor as the primary punt returner, what does that mean for Velus Jones Jr. and Tyler Scott?
“As we continue to develop out guys — Tyler Scott and Velus — we’ve gotta get Velus comfortable in that position,” Poles said. “The injury kind of hurt – the two preseason games where he could get more reps so we could feel comfortable, he could feel comfortable moving forward. But we believe in those guys and we’re going to keep pouring into them to improve.”
Poles also double down that Jones isn’t out as the punt returner picture. The Bears’ general manager mentioned that the team is going to work on trying to instill the confidence back that Jones displayed while he was at Tennessee.
That’s a great idea in theory, but it’s tough to accomplish that goal if Jones is only getting reps in practice — which Jones has done well in. It’s the games where he looks out of place and, at times, lost.
Did you say a trade? What about contracts?
Like you and me, Poles likes to look at his phone even though he knows he shouldn’t. That’s how he found out about the Darnell Mooney trade rumor.
“Trade rumors, kind of cracked me up the stuff that I hear,” Poles said. “You know we turned every stone. We investigate everything. Nothing really got serious. Never thought about or had any conversations about trading Mooney, which is interesting. …”
It also appears there hasn’t been much movement regarding a new contract for Mooney or Jaylon Johnson. Poles said there have been “no updates there. Everything is quiet right now.”
Poles was asked once more about contracts, and it was clear he didn’t want to get into, saying it “creates a distraction for the entire year.” That is true, but it only becomes a distraction if both sides are far a part in what they believe is fair for one another. So, it will be interesting to see what happens with Mooney and Johnson.
“We like those guys,” Poles said. “We’d love to have them here long-term, so we’ll just kind of stick with our plan.”
As for Trevis Gipson, Poles said the former Bears defensive lineman “never came in my office and said that he wanted to be traded.”
“In terms of Gipson, love that kid. It was more of a fit thing, scheme fit. I think his success came in a different scheme. We had a great conversation yesterday. I’m excited to see where he goes and what he does.”
No long-term injuries
You could count the number of Bears players not practicing on one hand for Wednesday’s practice.
Only Jaquan Brisker, Dylan Cole, Doug Kramer and Teven Jenkins didn’t participate — which is a huge improvement from the week before. Poles did highlight that the team did see a large volume of soft-tissue injuries among his team, and that different players from the previous year were dealing with these types of injuries.
“We gotta look at that, kind of do our after-action deal and see if we can kind of move the needle the other way,” Poles said. “Our data shows us that it is going the other way. It’s less than what it was.”
Jenkins, however, will be gone for at least four weeks as he will go on injured reserve and be designated to return. Poles didn’t want to provide any specifics as to what Jenkins was and is currently going through.
The answers about Nate Davis’ absence this summer also will remain a mystery. All Poles mentioned when pertaining to Davis was that “it was a combination of things. I just feel like he’s in a better place now.”
It’s obviously a positive that only one of the four starting offensive lineman is being sidelined, but there are still plenty of questions about the unit. The Bears did add veteran Dan Feeney, but where will he exactly play? It will most likely be based on whether Cody Whitehair is capable of snapping and if the Bears feel comfortable with Lucas Patrick being a part of their best five linemen.
The Bears will have nine days to identify what the interior offensive line will look like and what combination gives the team the best chance to succeed against the Packers in Week 1.
Bears claim two defensive players off waivers
The Bears wasted no time using their first-place status on the waiver wire to add some new additions to the roster. After waiving preseason standout Terrell Lewis and safety A.J. Thomas, Poles claimed defensive lineman Khalid Kareem and defensive back Quindell Johnson on Wednesday.
The Bengals drafted Kareem in the fifth round out of Notre Dame in 2020. He played two seasons and had just 12 total tackles and one sack. With the Colts last season, he registered just four total tackles.
Eberflus and the Bears did get a chance to see Kareem up close during the joint practices with the Colts and in the preseason game. The defensive lineman finished with five total tackles, a sack and two quarterback hits in the Colts’ 24-17 win over the Bears.
Throughout Kareem’s career, he has dealt with a series of injuries, ranging from his shoulder, hamstring, a concussion and illness.
“With Kareem, we had a chance to see him a couple weeks ago in Indy,” Cunningham said. “Just the athleticism, the motor. We watched him last night as well again, probably for the third time. His flexibility as a pass rusher, another Notre Dame connection to the Bears roster.”
Johnson finished his 2022 season at Memphis with 77 total tackles, two forced fumbles, eight passes defensed and four interceptions. The 6-foot, 201-pound safety played in 50 career games at Memphis.
“And then with Quindell, we had a really good feel for him coming out,” Cunningham said. “Breck Ackley did a really good job on him evaluating him. We were in the process of trying to get him during the UDFA process but we weren’t lucky enough to get him but we are now. He’s a physical, downhill safety. He had 10 career interceptions in college so he’s got good ball skills. He’s going to help HT on special teams, so we’re excited.”
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