With NFL team facilities closed due to the coronavirus, Bears general manager Ryan Pace has been preparing for the first virtual draft in league history in the basement of his home.
"I basically have two XOS computers with downloaded video on them," Pace told ChicagoBears.com. "My third computer is my Microsoft Surface tablet that I'm doing all my reports on and I can access our scouting database and all our Skype interviews. And then I also have an iPad."
Because of COVID-19, draft preparations for Pace and his NFL counterparts are unlike anything they've ever experienced. The league prohibited teams from meeting with draft prospects March 13 and closed all team facilities March 25. On April 6, the NFL revealed that the draft would remain April 23-25 but be held in a fully virtual format, with team personnel advised to be in separate locations, using phones and the Internet to communicate.
Reiterating what he told the media April 3 during a conference call, Pace praised the Bears' IT and video departments Tuesday.
"Once we understood the situation and we understood the necessary restrictions in place, it just came down to, 'All right, let's adapt as quickly as possible as a team and as an organization,'" Pace said.
"I keep going back to our IT department and our video guys and just the job they've done because they've made it seamless for us. So with the preparation, our setups at home and our communication with each other, everybody's been great and it's really forced us into new areas of technology that we might not have [utilized], so that part's been really good."
During a normal offseason, NFL teams are permitted to bring 30 prospects to their facilities for pre-draft visits. The Bears conducted eight of those visits this year before the coronavirus forced the rest to be cancelled. Undeterred, the team has utilized video technology to continue to meet with prospects.
"By the time this process finishes we'll have done 100-plus Skype interviews with college prospects, each one lasting an hour," Pace said. "With the inability to have the 30 visits at Halas, we've done a lot of things that I think going forward in future years that we'll take advantage of."
Bears staff members on a typical call with a prospect include Pace, coach Matt Nagy, director of player personnel Josh Lucas, assistant director of player personnel Champ Kelly, director of college scouting Mark Sadowski, director of football administration Joey Laine, a position coach and an area scout. And it's not just a back-and-forth interview; video can be played, so prospects can be asked to discuss specific plays and schemes.
"There's a lot of value to that," Pace said. "That's a credit to our IT guys and our video guys getting everyone comfortable with it. So that part's been really good."
Some of the prospects are more prepared for the video session than others.
"Some of them have been really proactive and they'll have a dry erase board with dry erase markers ready to go to get up and draw whatever you need," Pace said. "Most of them are taking notes, and some of them will show you their notes at the end of the interview. It's neat to see some of the preparation and forethought that's taking place with some of these prospects."
Pace is typically at his desk in the basement by 7 a.m. after working out and showering. On most days he'll continue grinding until midnight. His wife, Stephanie, and their 10-year-old daughter, Cardyn, generally leave him alone when he's working, but the unusual circumstances have led to more family time.
"Cardyn will come down and we'll be in the middle of a Skype interview or a meeting with staff," Pace said. "She's heard some things she probably wouldn't [normally] hear, so that part's been interesting."
Pace recently watched an entire college game on tape with his daughter.
"There are some silver linings to this as you mix work and family time together," Pace said. "She came down the other day and she's never done this. She watched an entire college game with me, just asking questions and talking football. I started talking to her about some of the different college traditions. I normally would be at Halas until late at night. So that's kind of neat."
Members of the Bears' IT team will visit Pace's house Thursday, exactly one week before draft kicks off, to shift his setup from the basement to the dining room, in part because the wi-fi's better on the main floor. One of the IT professionals will then return to Pace's home for the draft, just in case.
"During the draft there will be someone from IT here, just if something happens," Pace said. "But I don't expect that. We've got a lot of fail-safes and fallbacks and preventative measures in place."
While some of his counterparts have expressed concern about being hacked during the draft, Pace isn't worried.
"We talked to IT about it," he said. "I think right now there are certain lines of communication that might be a little more secure than others. I'm confident in the ones that we selected that we'll be covered. We should be good."
Pace and his NFL counterparts will take a test run Monday when they conduct a dress rehearsal.
Although a virtual draft presents unique challenges—especially in terms of communication—Pace is confident that the process will be a smooth one, primarily because he's working with so many familiar faces.
"I've thought about that and that's when we lean on the experience and the continuity we have together as a staff," said Pace, who will conduct his sixth draft as Bears' general manager. "We've been through multiple drafts together now. Everybody kind of has their roles and responsibilities, so I'm really confident in our staff and just the experiences and the moments we've been through together."