Ryan Pace has been a busy man during the first few days of camp, as he enters his third year as the Chicago Bears’ GM with a lot on his mind.
After all, training camp opens with the team and coaching staff seeking a balance, while fighting a two-front battle.
On the one hand, the franchise has a big-picture vision of better days at Soldier Field. Development of its young players at impact positions – such as quarterback Mitch Trubisky, pass rusher Leonard Floyd, tight end Adam Shaheen, safety Eddie Jackson, etc. – is a priority for a team that has lacked the kind of game-breaking playmakers in recent years.
On the other hand, head coach John Fox probably has a more narrow view of the situation, because of the roster Pace put together for him. Fox has veteran free agents at several key spots – quarterback Mike Glennon, cornerbacks Prince Amukamara and Marcus Cooper, safety Quintin Demps, and several experienced receivers on one-year “prove it” deals. Those are the kinds of players who can over-achieve en route to turning around a team that has lost 23 of 32 games over the last two seasons.
Fortunately (for us), Pace has recently touched on a variety of topics concerning what we mentioned above, as well as other things of note. If you’re interested, you can check out his recent joint press conference with Fox here.
Let’s dig through the highlights:
Even though each of the Bears’ quarterbacks are currently entrenched in their roles, no position battle will be more scrutinized this summer than the one at the most important position in football. To be clear, Glennon is the starter, Trubisky is the quarterback of the future, and Mark Sanchez is the No. 2. Pace ensured a complete clean slate at the position by parting ways with Jay Cutler, while also allowing Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley to walk away in free agency. All in all, Pace believes the Bears are in a good situation at quarterback, telling Zach Zaidman: “I think we’ve set ourselves up for success at that position.”
If you can’t already tell, the underlying theme of training camp will be competition, as an influx of talent has put the Bears in the position to let the cream rise to the top by allowing to let youngsters and veterans alike to battle for playing time. You’re going to need to earn your keep if you’re wearing a Bears uniform in 2017.
One of the positions Pace believes is the deepest is slot receiver (Jeff Joniak). Remember, teams are using three-receiver sets now more than ever. And while the Bears are pretty settled at slot corner with Cre’von LeBlanc and Bryce Callahan, the same can’t be said about the receiver. Kendall Wright, Markus Wheaton, and Victor Cruz are the primary players who could emerge from training amp and preseason competition. And while each is versatile enough to play outside the numbers, all three are free agents coming off forgettable seasons for one reason or another.
Kevin White, who has missed 28 games since being drafted seventh overall in 2015, will likely be one of the starting receivers out wide. Pace still sees White as a playmaker, and he’ll need to be that if the Bears are going to move the ball down the field and run an offense that will truly be competitive. As for White’s health, Pace says the third-year receiver enters camp at 100 percent and with no restrictions. “He’s ready to go … he’s pretty much unleashed,” Pace said (JJ Stankevitz).
At some point, there will be more to the Bears than player development. Eventually winning regular season games, participating in the postseason (and hopefully winning conference championships and Super Bowls) will take precedent. Pace admits he feels pressure (Chris Boden), but it’s to be expected. “There’s a pressure on all of us,” Pace said while meeting the media. “There’s a ton of pressure on me and we all know what we signed up for. I think the focus now is on winning games …. There’s pressure on all of us. It’s about winning games.”
Dan Durkin of The Athletic writes that it’s time for Pace (and Fox) to deliver something more after 23 losses in two seasons. Durkin highlights what I believe to be a most noteworthy quote about the roster he has constructed: “Guys, this is just the very beginning, but you just feel a lot of good teammates. A lot of unselfish, team-first type of players, which I think is really important. I think we’ve all seen good teams ascend, and I think it starts with the quality of the character in the locker room. And I think we have good character in our locker room.”
That doesn’t necessarily sound like the words from a GM who is ready to deliver wins just yet, but could do so in the near future.
Winning games without Pernell McPhee could turn out to be a difficult task for Vic Fangio’s defense. Pace hopped on with Dan Bernstein and Jason Goff of WSCR 670-AM to discuss things, and one of the most notable findings was that both of McPhee’s knees have given him trouble. “Pernell’s had a good summer, a good offseason,” Pace told the Bernstein and Goff Show. “His weight is at a good spot right now, and he came in and his knee was a little aggravated in the physicals that we had (Thursday). And honestly, it’s the other knee. So we’re kind of working through that right now, trying to get that to calm down right now.”
To be clear, McPhee had left knee surgery in 2016, which caused him to miss time in camp and eventually placed on the PUP list to start the 2016 season. So if it’s his other knee, it’s fair to be concerned about how this effects a player projected to be an impact pass rusher.