When offensive coordinator Luke Getsy coached in the Senior Bowl this February, coach Matt Eberflus and several Bears staffers made the trip to Mobile, Ala. to get a closer look at some of the nation's top prospects.
Tennessee offensive lineman Darnell Wright was part of Getsy's American Team rosster Feb. 4, giving Eberflus plenty of time to evaluate the skillset of the Bears' eventual first-round selection of the 2023 NFL Draft.
"He's just a really big athlete," Eberflus told reporters. "We talked about his feet and his ability to regain, if he loses his balance and gets off balance, he can regain and reset his hands inside to be able to protect. So, a fabulous energy with him.
"He's a willing learner, wants to get better. We see a lot of upside with him too. We feel that he was the best lineman in the draft, but we also know that he's got the best upside for growth potential. We're excited about where he is."
When it comes to evaluating draft prospects, Eberflus said he takes direction from general manager Ryan Poles in terms of who to look at and give feedback on. While Poles and the Bears' scouts handle most of the evaluation process, Eberflus said he was more involved this year, which is something he loves as it takes him back to his college days.
As Eberflus continued to assess Wright prior to Round 1, he continued to find appreciation for the offensive lineman's character and high ceiling.
"In terms of Darnell, just like I said, an outstanding person and a great worker," Eberflus said, "and you could see the raw traits for him to be able to really improve and get better. He's already good, but we're excited to have him, and he's going to be a force in there."
Interior linemen add excitement
With the three-technique position being the heart of Eberflus' defense, the head coach is excited about the three defensive tackles the Bears selected on Day 3.
With pick No. 53, the Bears added Florida's Gervon Dexter Sr. who played three technique for the Gators. On a Zoom call with Chicago media Friday, Dexter said he "loves being on an island with just you and that guard."
The Bears then selected South Carolina's Zacch Pickens at No. 64 overall in the third round. The 6-4, 300-pounder said he's focused on stuffing the run for the Bears, adding: "I get mad and aggressive about stuff in the run, and that's one thing I know y'all like doing and that's one thing I'm going to bring."
Kennesaw State's Travis Bell was added in the seventh round with pick No. 218. Bell described himself as a "nasty guy" and "disruptive in the run game."
"I'm excited to get those guys in here, get our hands on them," Eberflus said, "and work with them and see how they work, No. 1, and see their movement skills up front and in person. Those guys are going to be dynamic. Obviously, they're all different shapes and sizes, all the three guys that we drafted. They're big, they're long, they're fast, they're athletic.
"So it's exciting to be able to have those guys and add those guys into the middle of our defense. We really feel that's a very important part to play in good run defense and also being able to push the pocket inside and to have some big athletes in there, it's certainly harder to throw around those guys, too, in the pass rush."
While it's typical for defenses to rely on edge rushers to generate opportunities for the interior linemen, Eberflus prioritizes tackles that can create initial pressure and disturb the quarterback up the middle.
"I would say that the quarterbacks now, for the most part, aren't as big, aren't as tall, so their sight lines are a little bit less than they used to be," Eberflus said. "So I really believe if you have a nice guy that can dent the pocket inside, I really think that that pressure is felt right away because they're closer to the quarterback. I think it frees up the guys, gives them one-on-ones on the outside when you have two guys in there that can really do that.
"We've done it in the past where we had guys on the outside that are bigger type ends, and we kick them inside just because of their length and they're going against shorter players, shorter arm players typically in there with your guards and centers, so we like that mismatch at times."
Cornerback additions embody HITS principle
Strengthening the Bears defensive line was a priority in this year's draft, but adding dynamic players in the secondary was also a focal point for Eberflus and Poles. The Bears accomplished this by drafting Miami cornerback Tyrique Stevenson in the second round and Minnesota cornerback Terell Smith in the fifth round.
Stevenson played two seasons at Georgia, then finished his final two collegiate years with the Hurricanes and adds size and physicality at the cornerback position for the Bears. Smith, who played five years with the Gophers, also brings a physical presence to the defensive back room while adding special teams value.
"There's two things that a defensive player, any defensive player, has to do: take the ball away and tackle," Eberflus said. "That's line 1 and line 2. The guys on our team know that. So those guys are physical, both of them are physical. They like to hit. They've got quickness. They've got instincts and they've got strikes. Those are the things we look for, and they're hits principle guys. That's what Ryan and his staff did an outstanding job, area scouts, coaches, of really identifying that trait to be able to bring those guys into the building.
"If you want to have a team that hustles, you want to have a team that hits, want to have a team that plays tough, you bring those guys in, and we take it from here and we bring them to here with standards. That's what we're all about, and that's what we're doing here together, scouts and coaches. We're excited about those two guys."
Darnell Wright, Gervon Dexter Sr., Tyrique Stevenson, Zacch Pickens, Roschon Johnson, Tyler Scott, Noah Sewell, Terell Smith, Travis Bell and Kendall Williamson. See photos of all the new Bears rookies selected in the 2023 NFL Draft.