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Inside look at Bears' vetting process of Caleb Williams

“What we saw is that glue component that he has, which is to bring people together for whatever their goal is.” Bears GM Ryan Poles on QB Caleb Williams

The immense talent that enabled Caleb Williams to produce 120 touchdowns in three college seasons and win the 2022 Heisman Trophy jumped off his tape.

But before the Bears committed to selecting the USC quarterback with the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, general manager Ryan Poles spearheaded a comprehensive cross-country effort to get to know Williams as a person.

In addition to speaking with those closest to him, the Bears did their due diligence by spending quality time with the 22-year-old at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis, his Pro Day in Los Angeles and a top-30 visit to Halas Hall.

The first formal meeting between the parties occurred at the combine Feb. 28 in a suite at Lucas Oil Stadium. The Bears' contingent in the room included Poles, coach Matt Eberflus, President/CEO Kevin Warren, assistant GM Ian Cunningham, offensive coordinator Shane Waldron and passing game coordinator Thomas Brown.

Ian Cunningham, Matt Eberflus and Ryan Poles
Ian Cunningham, Matt Eberflus and Ryan Poles

"It's just an awkward setting," Poles told "You have a room full of people and this draft prospect just walks into this suite in a stadium. But we realized quickly he was very comfortable in his own skin; talking about himself, talking about his experience at USC, talking about the film we put up on the screen.

"You like to see someone who has a slow pulse in a pressure situation. Now, does that tell you everything about their game? No, but being comfortable with what you know and who you are, that's important, especially at that position, and he definitely had that."

The combine interview was more formal than subsequent meetings the Bears had with Williams.

"The combine was them testing me, them trying to figure out the type of guy I am," Williams said. "That was their first time meeting me really and being around me and asking me certain questions like that. In the other [meetings], they weren't necessarily trying to pepper me with questions. We were trying to figure each other out, connect and start to build a relationship and bond."

The second main touchpoint between the quarterback and his future team came March 20-21 in Los Angeles. The night before his Pro Day workout, Williams dined in a private room at a friend's restaurant, The Bird Streets Club in West Hollywood, with a large Bears ensemble that included Poles, Eberflus, Cunningham, Waldron, Brown and quarterbacks coach Kerry Joseph. Also on hand were four of Williams' USC teammates that Poles had invited.

"I just wanted to see him interact with his teammates," Poles said. "I wanted to see how comfortable they were just having conversations and also spending time with them to get a feel for Caleb and what those guys like to do in their free time.

"What we saw is that glue component that he has, which is to bring people together for whatever their goal is. For them it was to get into the playoffs, be successful, but that also goes a long way when you go through hard times as well and adversity and keeping guys together. He definitely had that. There was something special in the way that his teammates looked at him."

With the first pick in the 2024 NFL Draft, the Bears select USC quarterback Caleb Williams. Take a look at photos of Williams in action. (Photos via AP)

Poles was impressed that Williams didn't look at his cell phone throughout dinner.

"I learned that from my dad," Williams said. "My girlfriend also doesn't like when I pick up my phone when I'm at dinner. It's respect to who you're around."

Williams made an excellent impression on Eberflus that evening.

"When you go to dinner with somebody," said the Bears coach, "you really can figure out a couple different things, and I really just believe that we were trying to figure out his personality, how he interacts with his teammates and coaches, and it was great. He's very easy to talk to, very conversational, can talk about a lot of different topics with ease. That, to me, was what we got mostly out of that visit."

Caleb Williams hugging Matt Eberflus
Caleb Williams hugging Matt Eberflus

The final formal meeting between Williams and the Bears occurred April 2-3 when he visited Halas Hall. The night before, Williams dined at Sophia Steak restaurant in Lake Forest with future teammates DJ Moore, Cole Kmet, Teven Jenkins and T.J. Edwards—again at the behest of Poles.

"With the quarterback position, especially rookies that have to lead right away, you've got to have some buy-in from the guys around you," Poles said, "and those guys were the ones that I thought would be really good in terms of just getting a good feel for, 'Is this a guy that we could follow? Is this a guy that we believe in in terms of getting this organization to where it needs to be?'

"It was a good group, and right after I called them and got a feel for what they thought, and it was really positive."

"We wanted to see how he intermingled and gelled with our players," Eberflus said. "That was the most important thing."

Asked about the feedback he received from the Bears players on Williams, Eberflus said: "Great personality. Easy to talk to. One of the guys. He's going to fit right in. He's easy to hang out with. He'll be great in the locker room."

The Bears weren't the only ones on an information-gathering mission. Williams also had questions about them, most notably about the franchise's commitment to winning.

"Mainly if I could vibe and connect with them," he said. "And then after that, 'Do you want to win?' I would obviously want to be part of a place that wants to win. You can say it, but there's a certain feeling that you have around people that you can tell if they want to do something or they don't want to do something. It seemed as if we have the same mindset, same goals and same aspirations."

Williams certainly felt that from Poles.

"The biggest thing that stood out to me is that he always has a plan," Williams said. "It's something that my dad has instilled in me – having a plan and routine and committing to that. It seems as if that's also how [Poles] lives his life, and to build a team like this, you have to set goals and have a plan to do all of this."

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