Bears general manager Ryan Pace spoke to the media Monday. Outside of the closely followed quarterback competition, here are four things we learned:
1. It's no coincidence that Pace pays a premium for pass rushers.
Two years ago, Pace completed the blockbuster deal to bring Khalil Mack to Chicago. This offseason, the Bears brought in Robert Quinn as a free agent. It's not an accident that Pace's most significant moves as general manager have centered around building a top pass-rushing attack.
"I think it all starts with affecting the quarterback," said Pace, "hitting the quarterback, getting after the quarterback, affecting his timing. It makes your whole defense better. You know it's a passing league. I think if you hit the quarterback, your corners are better, your safeties are better, and it's just such a value position."
The Bears now have a former Defensive Player of the Year on both edges, which Pace believes will create more turnovers and explosive plays.
Pace addressed Mack's performance last season, which was less productive than previous years; his 8.5 sacks marked his lowest total since his rookie season. He doesn't believe there is a single cause.
"I think it was a collection of things," said Pace. "I think it's complicated to answer because I think the injuries we had on defense really affected him. I think when Akiem [Hicks] is injured and Roquan [Smith] is injured or [Danny] Trevathan and different things we're going through with our defensive line, I think it affects Khalil."
Pace believes that Mack has had the type of offseason that bodes well for a bounce-back year. He was amused by Mack's decision last month to give a press conference while exercising on his Peloton bike.
"It's constantly 'What can make him a better football player?'" said Pace, "so when he's not here, he's investing in his body. Whether it's private chefs, massage therapists, and additional workouts, and talk about a guy who's obsessed with being the best, that's him to a tee, and it affects our whole team."
2. Pace is confident in the team's COVID-19 protocols.
The Bears made it through training camp without anyone on the roster contracting COVID-19, despite one stressful Sunday morning when the team reported nine false-positive tests.
The next challenge will be maintaining that record as the team travels to other cities.
"We've really streamlined our travel party," said Pace, "so it's a much smaller group in how we're doing this, how we're traveling when it comes to the planes and the hotels, having most of our meetings here at Halas because we've created a safe environment here. Yeah, those are challenges. We feel like the league's given us a lot of protocol, a lot of guidance to help us through this, but a lot of that responsibility falls on each individual club."
The lack of open training camps created difficulty in the scouting department. In past seasons, pro scouts could get eyes on other team's players with an eye on potential acquisitions. Pace said his scouts made the best of their situation but noted that waiver claims were down league-wide.
"We relied on our college grades a lot on a lot of these guys," said Pace. "We were able to capture any time a team was streaming their practice. We captured that and watched that, and just got really creative on how we were gathering that information. You saw a lot less claims this year. If you look at the average claims per year compared to this year, it went down a lot."
3. Pace sees a significant upgrade at tight end.
Pace worked in the New Orleans Saints front office when the team drafted Jimmy Graham in the third round of the 2010 draft. Having seen Graham's early career up close, he's excited to see what the veteran can bring to the team.
"It's awesome to have Jimmy here," said Pace. "I remember when we drafted him, the very first practice, he was kind of a raw basketball player. The very first practice, it was one of those deals where you knew, immediately, right away, first practice: this guy's going to be different."
Coming off a season in which injuries and inconsistency decimated the position group, Pace sees Graham's veteran leadership as one of his most valuable qualities.
"But to have him here now, at a different point in his career," said Pace, "and feel his leadership and the kind of teammate [he is], it's been awesome. His veteran presence in the locker room has been outstanding. And honestly, we needed that on our team."
Pace also speaks highly of Cole Kmet, the Bears' rookie second-round pick. Kmet has made a strong impression by absorbing the offense quickly in a shortened offseason program.
"Kmet might be one of the more football-intelligent rookies that we've ever been around," said Pace. "I mean, you felt it right away. He's just such a well-rounded tight end who can do a lot of things in a lot of areas. His teammates have embraced him because of the personality he has, but I feel like with how quickly he picked up the offense with his football intelligence, and then just how well-rounded he is, it's going to be an awesome asset for us to have."
4. Pace sees depth at cornerback.
The team parted ways with third-year cornerback Kevin Toliver II this weekend. Toliver had been in contention to fill the starting spot vacated by departed free agent Prince Amukamara. However, Pace feels that the cornerback room has plenty of options.
"First off, obviously we know what we have in [Kyle] Fuller," said Pace, "and then Buster [Skrine] is a proven player in this league, especially in the nickel spot. Both those guys had excellent training camps."
Pace was impressed by the performance of rookies Jaylon Johnson and Kindle Vildor. Johnson has been expected to play a critical role after the Bears drafted him in the second round. As a fifth-round pick, Vildor may have exceeded expectations.
"It was really cool to see the two young draft picks come in and play the way they played," said Pace. "They played really well, with Vildor and Jaylon Johnson. It's neat to see where they're at. I think both those guys, especially with no offseason, just their football IQ, their professionalism, they made plays throughout camp. I think both those guys gained the confidence of their teammates around them."