When Bears general manager Ryan Poles was hired, he looked at the roster with a new perspective. Poles decided to focus on infusing the roster with young talent, eventually saying goodbye to a handful of veterans on defense. He traded Khalil Mack to the Chargers, released Eddie Goldman and allowed Akeim Hicks and Danny Trevathan to leave via free agency.
While defensive end Robert Quinn could've fallen into that category, Poles wanted him to be a part of the new regime. Poles saw Quinn's leadership and locker room presence as more valuable than draft assets or salary cap space.
"There's this, I think, misconception: 'Tear this down and rebuild it all.' It's not that," Poles said. "There's also a feel for the room. How can you make the room better? How can you stay productive and win ballgames? And I think he helps us with that."
Retaining the talent that Quinn brings to the defense was just as important. The three-time Pro Bowler, who is in his 12th NFL season, eclipsed the Bears' single-season sack record last year with 18.5.
Poles knew Quinn's intense style of play would fit perfectly with the identity coach Matt Eberflus was looking to build.
"I'm a huge fan of Robert Quinn," Poles said "He's been productive. The one thing, and it's not saying that Khalil [Mack] wasn't, but for Robert, he brings one of those examples of what Matt wants to see out of his defense in being relentless, high motor. That's that guy; another leader in the room that can show the young guys the way. And he's been doing a really great job at that."
Confidence building in Kmet
Entering his third NFL season, tight end Cole Kmet has earned praise from coaches and players regarding his growth this offseason. Poles and assistant general manager Ian Cunningham were the latest to voice excitement about Kmet's future.
Kmet's connection with quarterback Justin Fields has elevated, as displayed in the two preseason games the tight end played. Against the Seahawks, Fields opened the game with a 12-yard pass to Kmet, then found him for a 19-yard gain later in the drive. In last Saturday's preseason finale, Kmet caught a 24-yard touchdown pass from Fields.
Cunningham enjoyed watching Kmet improve throughout training camp and is excited about the tight end's confidence heading into his third season.
"Just seeing him coming out and watching tape last year, he seems to be enjoying himself and having fun," Cunningham said. "He's got a large catching radius. He's stacking days together and that's the cool thing about him, seeing his maturation and confidence out there."
Poles has been open about his aggressive approach to building the best roster possible for the Bears. Once teams cut down their rosters on Tuesday, Poles took action, claiming six players off waivers on Wednesday. Guard/tackle Alex Leatherwood was one of them.
Leatherwood, a first-round draft pick in 2021, comes to Chicago from Las Vegas after starting in all 17 games as a rookie with the Raiders.
Poles' first assessment of Leatherwood back in 2021 was a talented, physically-gifted player who is a "prototype in his size and movement." The general manager is excited about the opportunity to help Leatherwood develop.
"In terms of success with him here, I think we all believe in player development here, and we've put pieces in place to allow players to be their best selves," Poles said. "So we're going to approach that in many different ways, and we're going to give him an opportunity to develop and grow. Forget the draft pick thing. That's over. So let's start from the ground floor. Let's build you up and take your time and whatever that is, we want to put him in the best position to succeed. [Offensive line coach] Chris Morgan and his staff and everyone around, from the weight room, we're going to give it everything we've got."
While Leatherwood started the first four games at right tackle for the Raiders, he spent the rest of the season at right guard. Poles believes Leatherwood still has the ability to play both positions, which he views as a huge benefit.
"I mean you've seen how we've shuffled people around on the O-line, so wherever he settles in, that's what we'll do," Poles said. "I trust the coaches to go ahead and have a process for that, and I look forward to it. As soon as we get out of here, I'm going to go run and see what he looks like."
Harry on Injured Reserve
Receiver N'Keal Harry was placed on injured reserve Thursday morning, making him eligible to play as early as Week 5. Harry injured his ankle Aug. 6 in practice and has been out since.
Still, the Bears are excited about Harry and what he could provide the offense when healthy.
"We're just happy with the player that N'Keal is, what he's shown in college coming out," Cunningham said. "Once he gets healthy, the main thing is just getting him healthy and back on the field. What he showed when he was in practice during training camp: Physical specimen, strong at the catch point. It's just unfortunate that the injury happened. But we look forward to having him back on the field."
Eberflus hasn't given a timetable on the receiver's return and Poles said "it's hard to tell right now" when Harry will come back.
Reiff staying prepared
While Poles has brought a lot of young players to the Bears, the offensive line was a spot he wanted to add more experienced talent. At the beginning of training camp, he signed veteran tackle Riley Reiffto a one-year deal.
As former offensive linemen, Poles and Cunningham both understand the importance of having depth and experience at the position. Cunningham believes "you can never have too many offensive linemen."
Reiff brought 10 seasons of NFL experience to the Bears, spending time with the Lions, Vikings and Bengals. While Reiff has mostly played with the second-team offense in the preseason, Poles believes the veteran has a lot of value on the field and in the locker room.
"The big thing there is he comes in and what he offers that room is a ton of experience and leadership. You can feel that," Poles said. "He's engaged in helping those guys constantly. But he's also preparing himself to be ready if his number were to be called to be the guy. He's open-minded with that. We're open-minded with that. We're excited to have him. I think he's a huge asset to the room."