It’s been a busy few days for the Chicago Bears, who had to narrow the roster down to the NFL-mandated 53 players. That meant making some difficult cuts and assembling the best roster possible.
Chicago also made some moves after their initial 53-man roster, including claiming defensive end Khalid Kareem and safety Quindell Johnson, as well as signing wide receiver/punt returner Trent Taylor.
Bears general manager Ryan Poles and assistant general manager Ian Cunningham met with the media Wednesday to discuss their roster moves, as well as discuss other topics ahead of the team’s Week 1 opener against the Green Bay Packers.
Here’s what we learned from Poles and Cunningham’s press conference:
Bears feel like they improved the roster significantly
The Bears spent the offseason overhauling the roster at various positions of need, and Poles believes they’ve improved the roster significantly. That includes the additions of linebackers Tremaine Edmunds and T.J. Edwards; defensive ends Yannick Ngakoue and DeMarcus Walker; defensive tackles Andrew Billings, Gervon Dexter Sr. and Zacch Pickens; wide receivers DJ Moore and Tyler Scott; offensive linemen Nate Davis and Darnell Wright; tight ends Robert Tonyan and Marcedes Lewis; running backs D’Onta Foreman and Roschon Johnson; and cornerbacks Tyrique Stevenson and Terell Smith.
“On paper, I feel like we’ve filled 75-80% of the holes on this roster,” Poles said. “Obviously, we won’t know for sure until the games start, but we feel like we took a pretty good chunk out of it.”
Teven Jenkins to start season on IR
Poles announced that left guard Teven Jenkins will be placed on injured reserve, which means he’ll miss at least the first four games of the 2023 NFL season. He’s eligible to return in Week 5, when the Bears face the Washington Commanders on Thursday Night Football.
Jenkins is considered “week-to-week” with what has been reported as a leg injury. According to Adam Schefter, Jenkins has a calf strain in both legs. Last week, head coach Matt Eberflus revealed Jenkins reported discomfort after joint practices with the Indianapolis Colts.
No injuries long term
Chicago has dealt with a laundry list of injuries this summer, including to a number of starters including safeties Eddie Jackson and Jaquan Brisker; defensive lineman DeMarcus Walker; offensive linemen Nate Davis, Teven Jenkins, Cody Whitehair, Lucas Patrick and Darnell Wright; and linebacker Tremaine Edmunds.
But the good news is none of them are considered to be long-term — and that includes Jenkins, who is considered week-to-week.
“There, the positive side is there is no major injuries that are going to be longterm which is really good,” Poles said. “In terms of a lot of the volume of some of the soft-tissue things that we’re dealing with, 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. Our data shows us that it is going the other way.”
Poles wouldn’t name Tyson Bagent QB2 just yet
Undrafted rookie Tyson Bagent is currently QB2 behind Justin Fields after the releases of veterans P.J. Walker and Nathan Peterman. Poles messaged Bagent after he made the 53-man roster. His message to Bagent?
Poles’ message to Bagent?
“Congratulations. Be an asset to Justin. Be ready.”
While Bagent is the only other quarterback on the roster, that doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll be the backup come Week 1. Like Matt Eberflus, Poles wasn’t quick to name Bagent QB2 just yet.
“We’re working thru that…Hard to answer that question right now,” he said, explaining that it has to do with the fact that they haven’t determined their third quarterback yet.
Poles said they’re hoping to sign Nathan Peterman to the practice squad in the next couple of days, which will add that veteran presence in the quarterback room.
Trent Taylor will return punts, Velus Jones Jr. will return kickoffs
When the Bears finalized their initial 53-man roster, there was a glaring hole at punt returner after Dante Pettis landed on injured reserve. While they tried out Velus Jones Jr. and Tyler Scott, there still wasn’t a consistent presence at punt returner. Which is why they signed former Bengals wide receiver Trent Taylor.
Last season, Taylor ranked fourth in the NFL with 340 punt return yards, averaging 10.3 return yards per return (6th). Taylor led the league in punt returns over 20 yards last season.
As for what Poles likes about Taylor as a punt returner?
“Consistency,” Poles said. “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.”
As for Jones, Poles said he’s not out of the competition. But Taylor will be the starter in Week 1. While Taylor will be the punt returner, Jones will serve as the kickoff returner, where he thrived at the end of his rookie season.
Poles clears up trade rumors
There were a slew of trade rumors floating around leading up to roster cuts, including wide receiver Darnell Mooney, defensive end Trevis Gipson and even Colts running back Jonathan Taylor. Poles addressed those during his press conference, saying “nothing really got serious.”
First, Poles said that the trade rumors about Mooney cracked him up: “I never thought about trading Mooney.”
Poles also cleared things up regarding Gipson, who was part of final roster cuts. Poles made it clear Gipson never came to his office to request a trade.
“Love that kid,” Poles said. “Just a scheme thing.”
Contract updates on Darnell Mooney, Jaylon Johnson
After tight end Cole Kmet’s extension earlier this summer, all eyes turn to cornerback Jaylon Johnson and receiver Darnell Mooney’s futures in Chicago in the midst of contract years.
Poles made it clear that he wasn’t going to discuss potential extensions with Mooney or Johnson. He did say contract talks are “week by week” and made it clear that the Bears want to keep them in Chicago.
“We’re taking that week by week,” Poles said. “I really don’t want to get into it. It creates a distraction for the entire year. We like those guys. We’d love to have them here long term, so we’ll just stick with our plan.”
Why the Bears parted ways with Trevis Gipson
There’s been plenty of discussion about the Bears choosing to part ways with Trevis Gipson, who had a strong preseason. After waiving Gipson — and later Terrell Smith — Chicago claimed former Colts defensive end Khalid Kareem off waivers.
Poles and Cunningham praised Gipson but chalked his release up to him not being a scheme fit. By comparison, Kareem is a better fir in their 4-3 scheme.
“He had his most production in a (3-4) scheme versus a 4-3,” Cunningham said. “He did a lot for us, just in terms of the leadership and who he was, showed up every day. We just wanted the best situation for him, and ultimately that was the decision we came to.”
Where Poles has seen progress from Justin Fields
All eyes will be on quarterback Justin Fields this season, as many are expecting the third-year signal caller to have a breakout year. While there’s no denying his elite rushing ability, Fields needs to improve as a passer.
Poles was asked where he has seen improvement in Fields‘ passing game this summer.
“Anticipation,” Poles said. “Trust in his receivers to let them go make plays.”
Poles said he expects Fields to continue to improve this season, and it comes down to three simple words: “Win more games.”
Now, wins aren’t a quarterback stat. But if Fields takes the next step in his development, it should equate to the Bears winning more games.
“Progress,” Poles said. “I can’t tell you how many boxes need to be checked [with Fields]. I always think your gut instinct is always going to be a part of decision-making as well. So all of the above. You’re looking for progress to feel good about it and also to watch the tape and get a feel for a guy if he can take you to that next level.”
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