General manager Ryan Pace spoke with Jeff Joniak Sunday on the Bears pregame radio show on WBBM Newsradio 780 AM and 105.9 FM. The following is a transcript of Pace's comments:
On Monday night's performance against the Vikings:
"I was proud of the way the defense played, especially with the guys that we had out. A lot of guys stepped up. Obviously, it's difficult on offense. We had the ball five times inside the 21-yard line and came away with three points. That's tough. I felt like we moved the ball on offense; just that inability to finish drives, the three turnovers, that results in you losing the game. That's tough to digest because I do think our guys played hard, I do think our guys played physical. But when you have those mistakes, you're going to get those kind of results."
On rookie cornerback Thomas Graham Jr., who played well against the Vikings, approaching Pace to discuss areas to improve:
"That's a real normal part of the process we do. But I'm so proud of the way he played. Thomas has put in so much work all season and it's great to see it pay off. He's a guy that's just steadily improved and I think some of that naturally comes with him not playing in the 2020 season when he was out. But I think our scouts did a good job of identifying him and we were fortunate to get him in the sixth round. It comes back to his work ethic, his approach, his desire to take advantage of the opportunity when it presented itself, and I credit him. He was fighting and clawing when he was on the practice squad, and the moment came up and it wasn't too big for him, so I'm proud of him."
On Akiem Hicks bringing energy to the defense against the Vikings:
"He brings the juice. That's what's hard about the game in general is we lost the game for some of the reasons we discussed, but the entire team played with juice and energy. Akiem was dominant up front. Our entire defense really played with the physicality and intensity that you want. That's why that loss is so frustrating."
On running back Damien Williams contributing on special teams:
"That was a good add by us, and I credit our pro department. He's just a really good football player, and when you're a good football player, whether it's on offense or special teams, you show up in situations, and he's got some dog mentality to him. You see it with how he plays on teams. You see it when he gets opportunities on offense. I'm really glad he's on our roster."
On veteran quarterback Nick Foles making his first start of the season:
"We're fortunate to have that kind of depth at the quarterback position this year. Nick's played well in this type of situation throughout his career when you look back. Justin [Fields] will test out his ankle today before the game; we'll see how it feels. We'll be prepared either way; if he's the two or if he's inactive. But we're lucky to have Nick ready to go and we're definitely going to lean on his experience today."
On recently-signed quarterback Ryan Willis:
"He's a guy that we kind of tracked. Similar to Khalil Herbert, he transferred from Kansas to Virginia Tech, played well at Virginia Tech. We kind of followed that. He went into the Spring League and was MVP of the Spring League, so that kind of spiked him on our radar with our pro scouts. We brought him in for a workout with a number of quarterbacks a couple of months ago and he won that workout. So we kind of always had our eye on him, whether it was signing him to the practice squad or as a reserve/future after the season. But with the situation at quarterback, when [Andy] Dalton went on the COVID reserve list, it just gave us the opportunity to bring him in. He's done well and he's eager to learn and we're happy to have him."
On the difficulty of scoring touchdowns this season:
"That part's been frustrating; I'm not going to lie. It's been frustrating for all of us. We all know to win games, you've got to be better in the red zone and you can't turn the ball over, and those are areas we've struggled in and areas we've got to get better in."
On positive developments on offense moving forward:
"For sure. Naturally as I go to the roster, it starts with the quarterback position and the trajectory that Justin is on. We have young pieces on the O-line, along with the foundational pieces at the receiver position and tight end and running back, and we've just got to lean on those going forward."
On the inability to generate takeaways:
"Turnover differential is the No. 1 stat in football; we all know that. We haven't been good in that category this season. There are a lot of factors that go into that. I think not having some key players on defense has affected the takeaways; that's real. But it's clear we need to be better in that area; that's for sure."
On Roquan Smith's Pro Bowl snub:
"Roquan's the leader of our defense. He is definitely one of the elite linebackers in our league. He continues to get better and better and better, which is awesome to see. It was disappointing he wasn't named to the Pro Bowl. There are only two slots allocated to the inside linebacker position. But I'll tell you this: Roquan knows how we feel about him, he's very deserving, he's someone that epitomizes what we want in a Chicago Bear, and we're lucky to have him, I know that."
On whether Robert Quinn can produce like he has this year beyond this season:
"Yeah, because the more you get to know him—the person, the player, who he is—it's the way he prepares. It's the way he trains, it's the way he practices. He's a pro. He knows how to take care of his body. He's been doing it for a long, long time. This has been one of the best seasons of his career, and he's doing that without Khalil Mack being out there the majority of the season, where opponents are focusing on Robert. So, I'm really proud of the season he's having. But it goes back to how he prepares and his work ethic, and that's why I think it can continue."
On whether he sees similarities between Fields and Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson:
"You're always doing that as you're going through the draft process, and 'Who does this guy remind you of?' and there's no doubt. Russell Wilson's a Hall of Fame quarterback and Justin's just in his rookie season. But I think it's great for Justin to have guys he looks at. I know he's talked about that; just his examples of how to excel in the league, how to excel in the league long-term, and Russell's an awesome guy to kind of follow his lead on that. Physically, I think there's a lot of comparisons. But when I look at it, Justin's just at the start of carving out his own path and we're excited to see that path go forward."
On whether Fields and Wilson have similar traits:
"You know where I think there are some similarities is the instincts that they play with. There's a knack and that savviness even when you're improvising and the play might break down. It's not necessarily running with the football, but it's while you're on the move, eyes downfield and an instinctive feel for who's coming open. There are so many big plays that happen in our league off those type of moments, and a lot of those are in the red zone for example. Russell Wilson has made a lot of big plays off that and I think Justin will make a lot of big plays off that."
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