The most fair criticisms of the Ryan Pace era have everything to do with how he’s gone about (1) fixing the quarterback position and (2) addressing holes on the offensive line. And in the 2021 NFL Draft, Pace went about those needs differently than he had in previous years. Whether the results will be more favorable this time around is something we’ll learn in the coming years. But listening to Pace talk about the likes of Justin Fields, Teven Jenkins, Larry Borom, and others caught my ear.
The Chicago Bears’ general manager caught up with the Bears All-Access team of Jeff Joniak, Tom Thayer, and Jim Miller to discuss what went down at the NFL Draft. You can check out the interview in its entirety below. But in the meantime, I’ve pulled some interesting highlights from Pace’s thoughts regarding the offensive line shakeup and his new quarterback. I have also added some commentary for context, perspective, depth, and analysis. Enjoy!
It Really Was a Good Year to Draft an Offensive Lineman (And the Bears Knew It!)
It hit me in December like a free-rusher approaching me from my blind side: The 2021 NFL Draft was shaping up to be a good one for teams needing offensive linemen. However, there have been times in recent years where I’ve seen the obvious, you’ve seen it, too, but the Bears haven’t. Moreover, I feel as if there has been a steady stream of expression from Bears fans – like myself – who saw obvious needs along the offensive line popping up, only to see the team not address them in a proper or thorough manner. And the end result was a general vibe of disappointment surrounding the line.
But based on Pace’s words, I think this front office saw the light. Or, at minimum, could no longer ignore the obvious.
“There was a lot of depth at offensive line this year, and we knew it. We knew there were some elite players. Some tackles that were going to go high that we really liked. Then we knew there was going to be this next batch of guys. … For us to get Teven (Jenkins) at that spot (in the second round) we’re excited about that. And then Larry Borom, to get him in the fifth round, that’s a player we would’ve been excited about on the second day. So for us to get him on the third day of the draft, in the fifth round, is something we feel good about.”
Leading up to Draft Weekend, it was easy to envision a scenario in which Chicago chose multiple offensive linemen to bolster the room. And the Bears did exactly that, which is neat to see as they landed a pair of tackles — both of whom could conceivably start as rookies.
The Value in Versatility
Alright, cool. The Bears identified needs along the offensive line and addressed them with multiple picks. That’s a good start. Building from there, I realized one thing about the two lineman picks — both players have a wealth of experience at multiple positions on the line. It’s a trend I thought was notable in successful offensive line picks such as Cody Whitehair (2016) and James Daniels (2018). Evidently, I believe we’ve stumbled into identifying a key trait Pace likes in his linemen.
Bold emphasis mine:
“There’s natural leaders in that room. A lot of young, emerging talent in that room. There’s a lot of versatility in the room, too, where they can all play different positions and they kind of cross-train which is going to protect us. We’re excited about the growth and development at that position.”
The proper valuing of versatility, depth, and the ability to protect against players missing time due to having movable pieces is something we’ll keep in mind as the battle for starting offensive line gigs kicks off in July.
Justin Fields’ Mindset
It takes a special player to lace ’em up and play quarterback at a high level in the NFL. And to do so for the Bears, it’s going to take a little bit more than athleticism and talent to make this thing go. So to hear Pace rave about an “X” factor when discussing Fields’ presence definitely raised my eyebrows.
“Watching him walk in our building, you just feel it right away. He’s off to such an impressive start. Obviously, the physical talent, but there’s a work ethic and there’s a focus that’s really cool to see. There is a calmness to him and a confidence to him that’s really cool to see. … But he has the mental toughness, the focus, the work ethic, and the determination to have success in any market, especially this one.”
There is a certain mental toughness professional athletes need to succeed in Chicago. This city isn’t for everyone. Then again, quarterbacking Ohio State isn’t for everyone, either. And because Fields survived that pressure-cooker, I have confidence he can do the same in Chicago.
Odds and Ends
⇒ We know Fields and Dazz Newsome believe they should’ve been picked higher. But as Pace explains, the draft snubs weren’t limited to those prospects: “I felt that from Khalil Herbert, I felt that from (Khyiris) Tonga, I felt that from Borom. That’s a good thing. You want them to have a chip on their shoulder like that.”
⇒ Pace takes us back to the room where it — the drafting of Justin Fields — happened: “That’s the culmination of a lot of hard work, a lot of preparation, playing out a lot of scenarios. We had kind of talked throughout the day with numerous teams, but a lot with the Giants. We’ve got a good really rapport with Dave Gettleman, so to see it come down to that moment, and you’re on hold it seems like forever it was probably about a minute-and-a-half, and then you realize it’s going to happen, we’re on the clock and we’re going to be able to get this quarterback was a great moment for the entire building.”
⇒ One last Fields-related nugget, as Pace drives home something he had been hinting toward for some time: “(Fields is) entering a quarterback room with two vets in there who are going to help him. You can already feel that cohesion with those guys – with Andy and Nick – I think it’s a really good environment for him.” (If that sounds familiar, it’s because you read it/heard it here.)