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6 things we learned from Poles, Cunningham

Bears general manager Ryan Poles and assistant GM Ian Cunningham
Bears general manager Ryan Poles and assistant GM Ian Cunningham

Bears general manager Ryan Poles and assistant GM Ian Cunningham spoke to the media Wednesday at Halas Hall. Here are six things we learned from that session:

(1) Poles feels that the Bears filled 75-80 percent of their holes during the offseason, though he acknowledged he won't know for sure until the regular season begins.

"When the lights come on and we play a real game, the energy levels differ, the speed is different," Poles said. "We'll be able to evaluate that as we go through the season. But I feel good. Just on paper, I feel good about the progress, and I feel we took a chunk out of what we needed to."

Areas in which Poles expects improvement include takeaways on defense and explosive plays and run-after-the-catch on offense.

One position group that excites Poles is the offensive line. The unit added interior veterans Nate Davis and Dan Feeney via free agency and trade, respectively, and selected right tackle Darnell Wright with the 10th pick in the first round of the draft.

"We're in a much better place up front," Poles said.

With upgrades throughout the roster, Poles is convinced that the Bears are much closer to contending for a championship than they were in his first season last year.

"I really believe this team is set up to elevate and really go to the next level, which we're all excited for," said the Bears GM.

"I feel like we've made really good progress … We're in a much better place than we were last year. I feel we've been able to move the needle and be in a position to go after our goals and to have more aggressive goals in terms of being a championship organization."

(2) While the Bears came out of training camp with no major injuries, Poles revealed that guard Teven Jenkins will be placed on injured reserve, sidelining him for the first four games of the season.

"I'm not going to get into details with [the injury], but we feel like it's a week-to-week thing," Poles said. "Not too serious. He'll be designated for return and then when he comes back, he should be good to go."

With Jenkins unavailable for the Sept. 10 season opener against the Packers, the Bears are in the process of determining who they'll start at guard and center.

"That's one of the things we're working on right now," Poles said. "It's fluid right now. By the time we get into next week, I'm sure we'll have that thing solidified, which is important too. The one thing I'll say just about the injuries in general is you get these opportunities to plug these other guys in, because that's what's going to happen during the season. So we've been able to move guys around a little bit and get experience because if we have to do that in the season, we should be in a better position."

(3) The biggest strides that Poles has seen quarterback Justin Fields make have been with his anticipation and "trust in his receivers to let him go make plays."

"We were just out at practice, and it was happening again, which is good," Poles said.

The Bears GM added that his expectations for Fields this season are for him "just to continue to improve. Want those sack numbers to come down, interceptions to come down, make good reads, protect himself, just see him take that next step."

Poles is confident the Bears won't allow as many sacks as they did last season when they surrendered 58.

"Obviously, we need to see that number change," he said. "It's a relationship, right, where protection's got to be better and I feel better about our setup in terms of guys in front of him, and the tackles, with Braxton [Jones] going into Year 2. Darnell's doing a good job. That alone should help us. And then Justin's ability to execute our offense more efficiently and get the ball out quicker too. All of that should run together and that number should drop."

Take a look at the players on the Bears' initial active roster for the 2023 season. (As of Aug. 29, 2023)

(4) Poles lauded Tyson Bagent for landing a roster spot as an undrafted rookie but would not commit to the Division II product serving as the Bears' No. 2 quarterback.

Poles indicated that the Bears are trying to re-sign veteran Nathan Peterman—who was released Tuesday as part of final cuts—to either the active roster or practice squad.

"Really hopeful we get Nate back here in the next few days," Poles said. "He's important to us. He's important to that room as well."

Asked if Bagent would be the Bears' No. 2 quarterback, Poles said: "We're working through that. Again, I talk about Nate coming in. We've got to work through that and see what we're comfortable with. It's hard to answer that question right now."

(5) Poles dismissed media reports that the Bears were trying to trade receiver Darnell Mooney and that defensive end Trevis Gipson asked to be traded.

"Trade rumors kind of cracked me up," Poles said. "Never thought about or had any conversations about trading Mooney … and Trevis Gipson never came in my office and said he wanted to be traded. Just want to make that stuff clear."

(6) Poles explained that Gipson was waived Tuesday mainly because he's a better fit in a 3-4 defense.

Selected by the Bears in the fifth round of the 2020 draft out of Tulsa, Gipson registered 7.0 sacks playing in a 3-4 scheme in 2021 and 3.0 sacks in a 4-3 system last year.

"In terms of Gipson, love that kid," Poles said. "It was more of a fit thing, scheme fit. I think his success came in a different scheme. We had a great conversation [Tuesday]. I'm excited to see where he goes and what he does."

"I don't think he fell short," Cunningham added. "Like Ryan touched on, he had his most production in a '34' scheme versus a 4-3. 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."