With the Bears' 2022 season coming to a close after Sunday's loss to the Vikings, coach Matt Eberflus is shifting his focus to improving and assessing the team—which started with exit interviews Monday at Halas Hall.
While Eberflus told reporters after the game that his first season as head coach was disappointing in terms of the team's 3-14 record, he's proud of the foundation that was built and is hopeful for the future.
"I think one of the main focuses of this year was to build a foundational floor to build up, and I think we did that," Eberflus said. "That's a credit to those players in that locker room. They did a really good job. We all know what it is. The effort, the intensity, those guys being smart, being one of the least penalized teams in the league. Doing that, taking care of the ball. We didn't do that great. It wasn't elite. It was OK, and we certainly have to improve on that, but really my hat's off to those guys in the locker room."
Along with setting the standard, Eberflus said a big goal for the season was developing the team's young group of players. Several rookies like left tackle Braxton Jones, cornerback Kyler Gordon, safety Jaquan Brisker and linebacker Jack Sanborn were given key roles and proved they can be building blocks for the future.
That young core also includes second- and third-year players like quarterback Justin Fields, receiver Darnell Mooney, tight end Cole Kmet and cornerback Jaylon Johnson. Eberflus said seeing that group evolve, while taking on some leadership roles, provided another layer to the foundational floor.
While the scores and number of wins don't properly reflect the culture being built, Eberflus sees it in how the players' relationships grew throughout the season.
"I would just say the feeling you have of the brother next to you that you can trust in him that he is going to do his very best, to be the best version of himself," Eberflus said. "He is going to do right, and he is going to work hard. If you have that and you start adding talent, guess what, that buoy starts to rise. That's going to happen here. So we're excited about that going forward."
With nearly a full year under his belt, Eberflus is eager to attack the offseason with general manager Ryan Poles, now having a good sense of where the organization stands.
Between free agency and the 2023 NFL Draft – the Bears hold the No. 1 overall pick – Eberflus said there's no question he has "high confidence" in Poles' ability to continue building a championship roster.
"The first thing of a personnel manager is the ability to pick players, and he can do that," Eberflus said. "The place where he came from (Kansas City), he has shown that this year already, and we look at the guys the same way. We like long, lean, fast, physical players. That's certainly -- we've both have been a part of that in our past, and we're excited about getting that going."
As the Bears begin to bring players in via free agency and the draft this offseason, Eberflus knows continuing to expand upon the established foundation will be crucial.
While there will inevitably be turnover between the 2022 and 2023 rosters, Eberflus is confident the remaining players will transfer over the positive habits they created this year.
"When you are establishing culture, you understand you're doing that every single year," Eberflus said. "It's like lacing up your shoes every year in training camp and really the offseason. It starts in April. You have to rebuild that, but what you have now is you have the young group that's in there that was here that understand it, so when we on-board free agents and we on-board these draft picks, then it will just be stronger. It will come together faster and stronger, and that's what the benefit of that is."