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Bears set to evaluate Senior Bowl draft prospects

Bears general manager Ryan Poles
Bears general manager Ryan Poles

What transpires on and off the field this week at the Senior Bowl could help determine who the Bears draft—or don't draft—in April.

General manager Ryan Poles and members of his personnel department will travel to Mobile, Ala., to watch practices and meet with players.

Last year, the Bears drafted four prospects who participated in the Senior Bowl: third-round receiver Velus Jones Jr., fifth-round tackle Braxton Jones, fifth-round defensive end Dominique Robinson and seventh-round guard Ja'Tyre Carter.

Seeing small-school offensive linemen Jones (Southern Utah) and Carter (Southern) hold their own against prospects from Division I powerhouses at the Senior Bowl helped convince the Bears to draft them.

Jones was inserted as the starting left tackle during OTAs the first week of June and never relinquished the position. He not only opened all 17 games as a rookie but was the only Bears player who played every snap in 2022. The 6-5, 310-pounder was named to the 2022 NFL All-Rookie Team by Pro Football Focus and the Pro Football Writers of America.

Poles and company will be seeking similar gems in Mobile this week. Senior Bowl practices will be held Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, with the game scheduled to kick off Saturday at 1:30 p.m. (CT). All three practices will be televised on NFL Network and ESPN, while the game will be aired live on NFL Network.

The practices and the game will be held at Hancock Whitney Stadium on the campus of the University of South Alabama.

The Bears, who have the first pick in the draft for the first time since 1947, will have an even better opportunity to evaluate the prospects than usual, with offensive coordinator Luke Getsy serving as head coach of the American team. In addition to Getsy, linebackers coach Dave Borgonzi, assistant special teams coach Carlos Polk and assistant tight ends coach Tim Zetts will also be part of the game's coaching staffs.

This year marks the first time that two full staffs from NFL teams will not be coaching the Senior Bowl. Under a new arrangement to promote professional development, NFL Football Operations has implemented a "coach up" format where coordinators and assistant coaches are placed into elevated or different roles from the ones they currently hold with their clubs.

Head coaches and general managers from all non-playoff teams had the opportunity to nominate assistant coaches. Those candidates were then selected by a group comprised of league office executives, representatives from the General Managers Advisory Committee and Senior Bowl leadership.

In total, at least one coach from all 16 teams that submitted nominations were chosen and six clubs had multiple coaches appointed to this year's American and National rosters (Bears 4, New Orleans Saints 4, Washington Commanders 4, Las Vegas Raiders 3, Cleveland Browns 2, and Pittsburgh Steelers 2).

The Senior Bowl has been played annually since 1950, traditionally showcasing some of the nation's top prospects who have completed their college eligibility. The Bears have coached in the game four times: in 1976 (led by head coach Jack Pardee), 1992 (Mike Ditka), 1996 (Dave Wannstedt) and 2017 (John Fox).