Bears general manager Ryan Pace spoke to the media Wednesday at Halas Hall. Here are five things that we learned from that session:
(1) Pace is pleased with what recent free agent addition Jason Peters has already brought to the Bears and is excited to see the 19th-year pro line up at the all-important left tackle position.
"He's exceeded expectations already in a short time here," Pace said.
The Bears signed Peters Aug. 16. He made his preseason debut in last Saturday's finale in Tennessee and will continue to work on his conditioning in advance of the regular-season opener a week from Sunday night against the Rams in Los Angeles.
"He's working back into football shape," Pace said. "He knows that, so we're being smart with that. But if you just watch his foot quickness and how he moves, his technique, his experience, he's just a savvy vet that's still moving very well. I think that's a credit to the athlete he is and just keeping himself in good shape."
Peters has been voted to nine Pro Bowls in 17 NFL seasons with the Bills (2004-08) and Eagles (2009-20). In 2017, he helped Philadelphia win its first Super Bowl in franchise history. In joining the Bears, Peters reunites with offensive line coach Juan Castillo, who served in that same capacity during Peters' first two seasons with the Eagles.
(2) Pace provided clarity about the back injury and subsequent surgery that second-round pick Teven Jenkins underwent last month.
Pace said the Bears were well aware of the back issues that the left tackle had at Oklahoma State but stressed that "when he showed up for training camp, he started experiencing different symptoms than he ever had in college." Pace later revealed that the new symptom he was referring to was pain down Jenkins' leg likely caused by a nerve.
"When you have the surgery, it can alleviate that symptom and, in fact, it already has," Pace said. "He's in a really good place right now. Now it's just positive steps going forward."
The Bears waited until Wednesday to put Jenkins on injured reserve because it gives them the ability to activate him after the first three games. All players placed on IR prior to final cuts Tuesday are prohibited from returning to action this season.
"The good thing is just because he had back surgery doesn't mean he's not going to have a good NFL career," Pace said. "We're excited about the player, excited about where he's heading. Now, we feel like we fixed the problem."
(3) The Bears have the luxury of grooming rookie quarterback Justin Fields in large part due to their high confidence level in veteran starter Andy Dalton.
"I just feel like we're just in a good position with Andy," Pace said. "It starts with how we feel about Andy, and we're very confident in him and where he's at. So, there's no need for us to rush Justin."
A three-time Pro Bowler in 10 NFL seasons with the Bengals (2011-19) and Cowboys (2020), Dalton signed with the Bears in March having appeared in 144 games and passed for 33,764 yards and 218 TDs. He has also rushed for 1,335 yards and 22 TDs on 422 attempts.
"We're confident in Andy," Pace said. "There's a lot of things with Andy: his experience—he's won a lot of games in this league—his decision-making, his intangibles, his leadership. There's so many veteran players that have come up to me and made comments about Andy Dalton and what he's doing in practices, in the locker room, in the huddle; all those little things that I think we're going to see pay off as we get into the season."
(4) Pace has been impressed with Fields and believes that the first-round draft pick will benefit from learning behind Dalton.
"Playing quarterback in the NFL, there's so much that goes into that and so much different than you'd even see in the preseason—the weekly preparation, seeing NFL defenses in the regular season and all those things," Pace said. "I just think the more time he has to learn that and observe that, the better off for him."
Pace said that Fields' performance in the preseason was exactly what the Bears had envisioned when they traded up in the first round to pick him at No. 11. He showed his dual threat ability, completing 30 of 49 passes for 276 yards with two touchdowns and a 90.2 passer rating while also leading the Bears in rushing with 92 yards and one TD on 11 carries.
"We obviously knew about the arm talent, the athleticism, the work ethic, all those things," Pace said. "But when you get him out there in an NFL environment, he stays calm in the moment. His heart rate stays low, he processes fast. He goes through progressions.
"I think you feel like you see a lot of young quarterbacks who kind of stare down an intended target. [But] you see him working through his progressions which I think is really good to see from a young quarterback."
Johnson had a promising rookie season, starting from Day 1 and leading the Bears with 15 pass breakups despite missing the final three games with a shoulder injury. The 6-foot, 196-pounder has stepped up his play to another level this summer and appears primed to have a breakout season.
"He's had an awesome camp," Pace said. "He's probably had one of the best camps of any of our players. He's taken on a leadership role. I can tell he feels way more confident just being vocal here, and he's a well-rounded player.
"His ball skills, every practice, jump out. The amount of interceptions that he has, the amount of PBUs that he has, he's just got a really good feel for the game. He prepares extremely hard in the film room and also physically just taking care of his body. I think he's set up to have a really good year."
Vildor has also shown more confidence this summer. The 2020 fifth-round pick from Georgia Southern appeared in all 16 games with one start as a rookie, compiling 17 tackles and one pass breakup. All but one of the 135 snaps Vildor played on defense in 2020 came in the final four games after Johnson was sidelined.
"He plays with so much confidence," Pace said. "He's just well-rounded. He's got ball skills, he has speed, he has man cover ability, he has zone awareness. When I think [about] a lot of those mid-round picks from Bilal [Nichols] to [Darnell] Mooney to Kindle, that's a credit to our scouts, and he's one of those guys. Eddie Jackson. He's one of those guys that I think the scouts did a really good job on and he's getting better. He works his butt off. This game means a lot to him and I think we're going to continue to see an ascending player."