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Ideal scenario unfolds for Bears, Poles in Round 1

“Not only are they really good players but really good people as well that are going to continue to enhance our locker room and our team moving forward. Ryan Poles on Caleb Williams and Rome Odunze

General manager Ryan Poles was excited, surprised and relieved that the Bears were able to land both quarterback Caleb Williams and receiver Rome Odunze in the first round of Thursday night's NFL Draft.

"If you told me we would end up with both Caleb and Rome weeks ago, I would've said you were crazy," Poles said. "But they were two guys that obviously we were really excited to have. Not only are they really good players but really good people as well that are going to continue to enhance our locker room and our team moving forward."

As expected, the Bears chose Williams with the No. 1 pick they had obtained in a blockbuster trade with the Panthers last year. Then they held their breath that Odunze would be available at No. 9.

"I was nervous that he wasn't going to be there at 9," Poles said. "Our simulations, it was about a 50/50 shot if he was going to be there. But as it started to unfold, [assistant general manager] Ian [Cunningham] had to hold me back from not trying to trade up and do something crazy to get him. But it ended up working out really well."

It worked out really well because the Titans chose Alabama tackle JC Latham at No. 7 and the Falcons followed with the biggest surprise of the first round. Despite having signed veteran free agent Kirk Cousins to a lucrative four-year contract, Atlanta chose Washington quarterback Michael Penix Jr. at No. 8.

Those developments enabled the Bears to grab Odunze, an AP First-Team All-American and Biletnikoff Award finalist last year after catching 92 passes for an FBS-leading 1,640 yards and 13 touchdowns.

Asked what aspects of Odunze's skillset appealed to the Bears, Poles said: "Man, I don't know where to start with that guy. First of all, a human being, what a great guy. Work ethic, just blue collar in the way he goes about things. But as a receiver, he can line [up] anywhere: inside, outside. You love his ability to finish in contested situations. Plays strong, plays big, run-after-catch is very good. He's a punt returner as well.

"I mean, the kid's just put time in and he got better and better every single year and he's a winner. He can impact the game at any moment. If you're at quarterback, and you're in doubt, you want to just go give a guy an opportunity to go finish, he's your guy. He's done that consistently."

Odunze will pair with Williams to give the Bears a dynamic rookie duo. Poles knew exactly what Williams could do on the field but wanted to get to know him as a person before committing to select him with the No. 1 pick in the draft. The Bears met with the USC star at the NFL Combine, his Pro Day in Los Angeles and during a top-30 visit to Halas Hall.

"When you watch the tape, it was easy to see the talent and [why we] wanted him on our team," Poles said. "But it was all about going through the process. Once we got through the 30 visit and spent time with him, got him with some of the guys on our team, felt good about the person, the culture fit, [we] knew at that point that he was going to help us and we were ready to go."

While one process ended Thursday night, another is just beginning.

"It feels great; it's a guy that has all the tools," Poles said. "[But] it's going to take hard work. It's going to take getting in sync with his teammates. There's a long road up ahead to develop the places where he needs to develop to win games and bring a championship here. But the beautiful thing is we have the right people here, we have the right teammates. I feel really good about it."

Poles is confident that the Bears will be able to help Williams reach his potential.

"The infrastructure has to be there, and I think we've done that part to have the talent around our quarterback now," Poles said. "The other thing is our entire organization is going to have to be on the same page on how we handle this, how we develop Caleb. But I think we have a really good approach with all the players, and I think that's different than maybe it was in the past.

"We take it really serious in terms of the development from a nutritional standpoint to performance to mental skills to how our coaches teach. I think we've made some really good strides there, but it's going to take everybody, and everyone's got to be on the same page. We've got to adjust to the strengths and weaknesses that the player has."

Poles is excited about the Bears' opportunity to mold Williams, who possesses next-level traits and intangibles.

"He's got special instincts, awareness, especially in the pocket to manipulate the pocket, get in and out of the pocket, spatial, a feel for space is special," Poles said. "That's his special sauce. Then once we kind of speed things up and start to identify different coverages … there's an adjustment to an NFL offense that he's got to go through as well. We're really excited to work with the tools he has."

The Bears are also really excited about Williams' ability to perform in clutch situations that he demonstrated in college.

"You look for poise, guys that the game kind of slows down for them in those critical moments," Poles said. "That they're capable of making those special throws when you need them the most, especially down the stretch. That clutch part is really, really, really good, and you need that to win games. For how many close games we have in this league, you've got to have guys who can finish, especially in two-minute drills and things like that."

After winning the Heisman Trophy while leading USC to an 11-3 record in 2022, Williams faced some adversity in 2023 when the Trojans went 7-5.

"We had conversations about that, and I think that's the best thing that could've happened to him, because you're going to have that in the NFL," Poles said. "You're going to have the down weeks [and] months and you're going to have to find a way to get through them. You're going to have to tap into different resources to get through them and get back to playing at a high standard. So I think going through that adversity helped him to really find that edge, but also recover when things don't go well."

Poles isn't worried about Williams wilting under the pressure that will inevitably come with being the Bears quarterback.

"He's highly competitive and he wants to be great, and he has passion for the game," Poles said. "If you have those, you're going to be in whatever environment that you're in. Obviously through ups and downs you're going to have to have thick skin and you're going to make some mistakes here and there. It's just how you recover, and do you learn from it? That's the big thing, and he's a guy that does learn from parts of his journey and parts of those adverse times. So I think he'll be fine."

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