Ryan Poles rarely if ever accompanies assistant coaches when they travel to conduct private workouts with draft prospects. But the Bears general manager made one notable exception earlier this month.
Already impressed with Tennessee offensive tackle Darnell Wright after seeing him at the Combine and Senior Bowl, Poles flew to Knoxville the day before Easter with offensive line coach Chris Morgan.
"I mean, this was the first one," Poles said when asked how often he attends private workouts. "It's in my background, right? So, I'm not going to sit here and hang out and watch the video. I want to put my hands on guys and be around him. I want to feel the person. So, we jumped on a little small plane; a plane without first class or anything like that. The cool thing with those visits is 'C-Mo' and I had some really good conversations and got to know each other even more than what we did. All around it was a really good trip."
Morgan put Wright through a grueling hour-long workout, and the 6-6, 335-pounder showed Poles exactly what he wanted to see.
"There's an attitude," Poles said. "There's a mental toughness that you have to have to play this game. We brought him in deep water to see if he could swim or not, and he accepted the challenge and he showed us the grit and the mental toughness to be able to fight through fatigue and all those things that we look for. It was really a good experience from start to finish, a guy that we were comfortable with as being the top tackle in the draft, so we're pumped about that."
Poles described the private workout as "a really big piece" in Thursday night's decision to select Wright with the 10th pick in the draft—after the Bears had traded down one spot with the Eagles.
"What we wanted to do is, one, have him on his turf where he's nice and comfortable," Poles said. "Put him on the board, install a bunch of run and pass plays, erase it, go over some different concepts—things that we do here—go back, have him regurgitate it, teach it back to us, and we really talked about details. And he showed the ability to adapt and learn really, really fast, which was good.
"After that, we brought him outside, warmed him up, did an individual, got him fatigued. And then he got up to the line of scrimmage and C-Mo would call out the play and then change it last second to see if he had the mental quickness to change and adjust. He did that for a while, started breathing heavy. We basically put him through a conditioning drill for 5-10 minutes. We got him exhausted, and the kid had no fight in him. His body language was excellent. He stayed aggressive, finished. Again, that attitude we're looking for up front.
"You're always looking to be convicted about things, and that was the final box we were able to check and feel good about it."
“We brought him in deep water to see if he could swim or not, and he accepted the challenge and he showed us the grit and the mental toughness to be able to fight through fatigue and all those things that we look for.” Ryan Poles on Darnell Wright
Poles feels just as good about what he's seen on tape from Wright, who appeared in 47 games with 42 starts over four seasons at Tennessee, where he did not allow a sack in his final 19 contests.
"Big, athletic guy," Poles said. "Physical. The one thing that stands out with him is he's a tone-setter. He plays with an edge to him, which we love and want more of. He's definitely going to add that to our front."
Asked to expand on Wright being a tone-setter, Poles said: "He's a nasty dude who when you watch the tape and are like, 'all right, we've got to play the Bears next week,' you go, 'OK, this is going to be a long day.'"
Wright also boasts positional versatility; at Tennessee he started 27 games at right tackle, two at right guard and 13 at left tackle. He opened all 13 contests at left tackle in 2021 and all 13 at right tackle in 2022.
Poles isn't sure which tackle position Wright will play with the Bears.
"We talked about this last year: how can you put the best five together?" Poles said. "If that's right tackle, it's right tackle. Today, it's hard to just put him at one spot and say, 'hey, you earned your job.' He's got to come in and earn it like everybody else."
Wright also made a positive impression at the Senior Bowl, playing on the American Team that was coached by Bears offensive coordinator Luke Getsy.
"He loves him," Poles said of Getsy. "When you're up close to him, you can feel the power, you can feel the size, the anchor.
"When you're looking at offensive linemen, you want clean hands. He's got some technique to work on—all of them do—but the one thing that I look for is if you miss with your hands and your technique's a little bit off on a certain play, [do you] still have the ability to anchor up? If we can clean those little details up—hand usage, angles, things like that, pad level—we think the sky's the limit for him."