5 things we learned from Ryan Pace

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Bears general manager Ryan Pace appeared on the “Mully and Haugh Show” on WSCR-AM 670 Monday morning to discuss the draft. Here are five things we learned from that conversation:

(1) The Bears had coveted David Montgomery for a long time and didn’t think twice about trading up 14 spots in the third round to pick the Iowa State running back.

“We felt this one coming for a long time,” Pace said. “Through the whole process, through the season, and the Combine, met with him there and then he came in and had an unbelievable visit here at Halas Hall. He kept on saying how bad he wanted to be here, too.” 

The Bears landed Montgomery by sending the No. 87 pick and selections in the fifth round this year (No. 162) and fourth round next year to the Patriots in exchange for the No. 73 pick and a sixth-round selection (No. 205) they spent on Kansas State cornerback Duke Shelley.

Montgomery declared for the draft following his junior season. He played in 37 games the past three seasons at Iowa State, rushing for 2,925 yards and 26 touchdowns on 624 carries and catching 71 passes for 582 yards. Last year he appeared in 12 games, rushing for a career-high 1,216 yards and 13 TDs on 257 attempts and had 22 receptions for 157 yards.

“Everything just kind of fit together,” Pace said. “It’s a player we targeted. It’s a player that the scouts and coaches were on the same page with. So when he was on the board kind of falling down in the third round, that’s when we knew we wanted to be aggressive.”

(2) The Bears were 100 percent committed to trading up for Montgomery, but there were some tense moments before the deal was finalized.

“At that moment in the third round you only have five minutes,” Pace said. “The trade wasn’t concluded with the Patriots until like a minute to go on the clock. And then once both teams [agree to the trade], you both have to call it into the league independently and then they say, ‘OK, you’re on the clock,’ and that can take some time. You’re always a little tense in those moments, but I think working with people you’re familiar with helps a lot.”

Pace’s excellent working relationship with Bears director of football administration Joey Laine, the point person for trades who has been with Pace since their days together with the Saints, was a major factor in completing the trade. So was the familiarity with Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio and coach Bill Belichick; Pace has now made five trades with New England since becoming Bears general manager in 2015.

“We just knew that a player we really liked was within reach,” Pace said. “And operating with that ‘no regret’ mindset, when you’ve got a guy like that that we all like, you really just don’t want to risk it. The worst thing is to have a disappointed draft room.” 

(3) The Bears were surprised that Georgia receiver Riley Ridley was still available in the fourth round and didn’t hesitate to draft him even though they’re strong at the position.

“We thought he’d be off the board by then,” Pace said. “As the draft kept on falling, these magnets are coming off all around him and he’s kind of shining on your board pretty high up there for us. He’s another guy we brought into Halas Hall and had a great visit with him. We really like his tape. We really like everything we’ve heard out of Georgia.”

Ridley declared for the draft following his junior season. In three years at Georgia, he caught 69 passes for 1,015 yards and 13 touchdowns in 28 games. Last year he established career highs with 14 games played, 43 catches, 559 yards and nine TDs.

“You have to stay true to your board,” Pace said. “You’ll regret it if you don’t. Take the best players. When I look at the bandwidth of grades on these guys, that bandwidth was very tight from everybody. We might have 10 reports on him and we all have got him graded pretty much the same. So when he was there at that point, we were thrilled to get him.”

(4) The Bears are intrigued by seventh-round pick Stephen Denmark, a receiver-turned-cornerback who possesses off-the-chart measurables.

Denmark stands nearly 6-3, weighs 220 pounds, ran a 4.46 in the 40 and has a 43.5-inch vertical jump. After playing receiver his first three seasons at Valdosta State, he switched to cornerback last season and helped the Blazers win the Division II national championship by recording 55 tackles, three interceptions and 12 pass breakups.

“A lot of times in that area of the draft, the late seventh round, you’re looking at a couple things,” Pace said. “You’re looking at upside, some of these measurables are coming into effect, you’re looking at special teams. [Denmark] has all the traits and then you go to the background and this was his first year playing corner. He kind of caught our eye.”

The Bears sent secondary coach Deshea Townsend and assistant director of player personnel Champ Kelly to Valdosta State to work out Denmark before the draft.

“They came back excited,” Pace said. “So we kind of had him marked: if he’s there late in the seventh round, just because of those intriguing traits, let’s entertain it, and that’s just how it played out.”

(5) Pace revealed that one of 21 undrafted free agents the Bears plan to sign later this week is a kicker, which would increase the number of kickers on the roster to four.

During the offseason, the Bears signed free agents Redford Jones, Chris Blewitt and Elliott Fry as they look to replace Cody Parkey.

“We just want to increase the competition and let it all battle out,” Pace said. “The competition really has already started. All these guys are intriguing. They’re all unproven, they’re all young. We’re going to do our best to create pressure situations throughout practice and camp. We’re all hopeful that the dust will settle and somebody will be standing tall through this process.”

Pace acknowledged that the Bears’ kicker this season may not be on the roster and that the team could look to pick up a veteran who is cut by another team after training camp.

“I want to leave all our options open, so that’s a possibility,” he said. “We’re going to see how these guys look. I’ll be watching the kickers every single practice. We’ll see how it plays out, but we’re going to keep our options open. If that’s how it plays out, if something becomes available, we’ll consider it. But we’re excited about these four guys that we have. I felt like every other week we were bringing in 15 guys and having these kicking competitions and now we’re down to these four. They all have unique things and we’re excited to just let it play out.”

See photos of all the new Bears rookies selected in the 2019 NFL Draft.

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