Bears brass talks QB evaluation, Justin Fields decision: 10 takeaways

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INDIANAPOLIS — Chicago Bears coach Matt Eberflus might not have been asked to study quarterbacks like offensive coordinators, but he knows a good one when he sees one.

As a head coach entering Year 3 with his team squarely in position to draft a quarterback, Eberflus’ scouting and evaluation of the position will be significant.

“I’ve been looking at quarterbacks all my life,” he said Tuesday. “And I know what a good quarterback looks like and what’s hard on a defense in a guy who has the ability to create, a guy who has the ability to throw with timing and accuracy, and the guy who can move the ball down the field when it’s the critical moments. So, on third down, two-minute, all those critical moments. So, I’ve obviously looked at that.”

Quarterback, quarterback, quarterback — the former offensive lineman turned general manager and the linebacker turned head coach wouldn’t unveil the “master plan,” as Ryan Poles put it, for the position, but it’s what they were asked about most during their media availability at the NFL Scouting Combine.

Here are 10 takeaways from what we heard from Poles and Eberflus.

1. What would it take to get No. 1?

Even if the Bears decide to trade Justin Fields and draft a quarterback, it doesn’t necessarily have to be at the top of the NFL Draft. Poles wouldn’t describe exactly what haul he’d consider, but the impact of last year’s trade of the No. 1 pick to the Carolina Panthers would guide any conversations.

“It’s got to help our organization significantly to move around because we saw what it did last year, and I’m looking for that type of return to continue to improve our football team,” he said.

As the Bears discuss “the 100 different scenarios,” Poles said, certainly a few would include moving back if they identify and covet a quarterback they can take at No. 2 or later.

It’s all hypotheticals and a guessing game for now, but if any teams want to chat about it — and Poles said his phone has been buzzing — they can look to last year’s trade with the Panthers as a benchmark.

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2. Timeline on QB decision

Poles quipped that he would love to know the direction of the team at quarterback “tomorrow.” But it wasn’t that much of a joke. He wants to move quickly.

“I would love to know as soon as possible,” he said. “I would love to know, but I know that’s not how the process works. Sure, before free agency would be good. Like I said … if we were to do something with Justin, I want to do right by him. And I know, again, living in that gray space, we would want to do something sooner rather than later.

“But just like I talk about with contracts, it takes two teams to figure that out. But at the same time, we’re also trying to figure out the draft process as well. There’s a lot of different things with different timelines going, and that’s what makes it a little difficult.”

Last year, the trade with the Panthers was agreed upon the Friday after the combine, which was three days before the start of free agency.

There’s another layer to the timing of it all. With so much focus on getting to know these quarterback prospects, most of those visits and workouts won’t take place until later in March or April.

“There’s a lot of different timelines going,” Poles said. “So being creative with finding the different times to spend with the prospects and if we can get a private workout that does help come to that conclusion and kind of fill in all the boxes that need to be filled in.”

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The Bears promise to keep quarterback Justin Fields, with coach Matt Eberflus, in the loop as they determine their future at the position. (Michael Reaves / Getty Images)

3. Communication with Fields

Last year at this time, Poles said he would be in communication with Fields “just to make sure that he knows what we’re doing and nothing is a surprise to him.”

Poles reiterated to Fields after the season that “transparency and communication is key.” The same goes for a team that has rallied around its quarterback.

“I understand how uncomfortable that is for him, but he understands … it’s part of this business,” Poles said. “It is a unique situation. But I’ll continue that communication with them.”

Though Poles was answering questions about theoretical trade situations with Fields, GMs also don’t talk about it or even acknowledge it unless it’s seriously on the table.

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In the theme of candor, Poles used his opening statement to say the Bears have brought a “strong” offer to Johnson, their Pro Bowl cornerback, who turns 25 in April.

“When I say come strong, that means cash flows are strong, guarantees are strong, the term is strong for him. Being with his age, there’s a really good opportunity to go back to the market again and continue to earn money and play well, and hopefully that’s with the Bears for a long period of time, so I’m excited about that,” he said.

Poles said he wanted to avoid the franchise tag, and in the court of public opinion, he, in some ways, put the onus on Johnson and his team to avoid the tag.

The Bears feel good about their offer. The GM discussed it publicly, making it seem like it’s a solid, short-term deal with a lot of guaranteed money. And now, if the Bears can’t come to terms on a contract, it might look like it’s on Johnson for not agreeing.

Welcome to hardball. But it’s also possible that during the week, or right after the combine, both sides will get what they want and Johnson is a Bear for the foreseeable future on a contract that reflects his abilities and position.

“I’m so proud of Jaylon, the way he improved in the way he took the challenge to be a ball guy, and he certainly did that,” Eberflus said. “He’s a great leader not only in our defensive back room but in our whole defensive room, too. He’s really starting to become a really good leader on our football team.”

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5. How Eberflus evaluates QBs

As we continue to parse the words from the Bears’ leaders to figure out which route they might go at quarterback, Eberflus put forward his feelings on the best at the position.

“I look at situations,” he said. “I look at the guys that can operate third down, two-minute and the end-of-the-game situations. To me, that’s a separator.”

Statistically, that has not been Fields’ strength.

But Eberflus also talked about mental toughness in the pocket and the “discernment to be able to move out of the pocket and create when it’s necessary.” He talked about leadership and resilience, the ability to handle criticism. Fields checks those boxes.

“The accuracy, the timing, the platform, all the things you talk about with that. And then being a winner,” Eberflus continued. “That’s what it comes down to. All these teams that do things at the end of the season, they have winners at the quarterback spot.”

That’s what the Bears are trying to find.

6. Inside the combine interviews

Prospects can expect a choice of putt-putt or darts like last year. Eberflus prefers putting but considers himself “pretty good at both.” The Bears believe it helps relax the players.

After the games, they can talk ball.

“Then we’ll just teach (the quarterback prospects) something about the offense, an offensive play, and then we’ll show their tape and have them talk about their tape,” Eberflus said. “Kind of checking their FBI (football intelligence) out there and then recall at the end to give us back what they learned in the beginning. And it’s the same process for all the players.”

In terms of using the 15 minutes to learn about how a quarterback is wired, Eberflus said it’s hard to glean from the interview, but it is helpful to see the players watch tape with coaches. Then come the pro days, campus visits and maybe a trip to Halas Hall to put the puzzle together.

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7. Shane Waldron’s adaptability

The theme from Thursday’s introduction of Waldron, the Bears’ new play caller, continued in Indianapolis when we heard from his bosses.

Being flexible was a talking point in interviews, as the Bears wanted to know their offensive coordinator could work with any quarterback.

“That’s why you have a guy like Shane — who is adjustable, adaptable, creative — to be able to handle that,” Eberflus said. “And also be able to handle potential injury that might happen during the course of the year and being able to adjust our offense accordingly.”

Eberflus talked with former Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll about Waldron and felt comfortable about the “ability to adapt and adjust” and Waldron’s work with quarterbacks.

“You have his head coach that was with him say those words about him and talk to me at length about it, and me watch the tape and what he actually did with all those quarterbacks. To me, that’s proof,” Eberflus said.

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USC quarterback Caleb Williams is considered an artist at the position. Does that appeal to the Bears? (Christian Petersen / Getty Images)

8. Artist vs. Surgeon

Poles did refer to Caleb Williams’ skill set when answering a question about comparing Williams to Patrick Mahomes.

“Obviously, the one that stands out to everyone is just different arm angles,” he said. “That’s a unique trait. Not a lot of guys can do that.”

Then we learned what Bears co-director of player personnel Jeff King uses to separate quarterbacks: “There’s artists and then there’s surgeons.”

“So within that group, you can kind of see who’s the artist that’s really creative, doesn’t draw within the lines, where there’s more of surgeons, who are like your typical, like the (Tom) Bradys and (Peyton Mannings),” Poles said. “You kind of branch them out in those buckets and go from there. That’s where they’re similar.”

9. Ideal traits for a safety

With veteran Eddie Jackson a free agent, the Bears have an opening for a starting safety next to Jaquan Brisker.

“You’re looking for a guy that pairs well with him,” Eberflus said. “Jaquan is a guy that’s a strong safety. He comes down and defends tight ends. He’s a big hammer. The guy that we would be looking for has to have athletic ability, he’s got to have range, he’s got to have great communication skills, he’s got to have ball skills. We want all of our guys to have the ability to take the ball away. He’s got to have that, too.

“Then, eventually grow into a leader. If it’s a free agent, he is gonna have to feel the temperature of the room and then dive into the leadership role. If he’s a rookie, then he’s gonna have to develop with the other guys.”

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10. Adding to the receivers

Eberflus acknowledged the Bears “don’t have a lot of depth” at wide receiver. Darnell Mooney is a free agent. No other wideout had more than Tyler Scott’s 17 receptions.

“To me, when you’re trying to defend that, when you have a weapon at tight end and you have a weapon at the X receiver like DJ, when you add a piece or two to the other side, it really balances you out,” Eberflus said. “It’s hard to defend, for sure.”

(Top photo of Ryan Poles: Kevin Fishbain / The Athletic)





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Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams is a writer and editor. Angeles. She writes about politics, art, and culture for LinkDaddy News.

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