In pro football, a General Manager must always think ahead, but at the same time, he has to give his current players a chance to show what they can do. Such is the case with Ryan Poles and the Chicago Bears.
The 2022 season is just half over, so the current players have eight more games to prove themselves to the Bears' decision-makers. With players, three things can happen, they can improve, they can regress, or they stay the same. It sounds simple, and it is. Decision-makers always want young players to show steady improvement. There will be a time when they hit their ceiling, and if that "ceiling" is good enough to help the team win, then that's OK. If a young player regresses or just stays the same, it may be time to find a replacement. Decision-makers are always looking for one thing, and that is to improve.
In most cases, coaches and personnel people are patient with young players. We can't expect too much from them early in their career. The NFL game is far different than college football in that the game is faster and much more complex. Some young players can make that adjustment very quickly, while others need time.
As fans, we only see how these players perform on the field on Sundays, while coaches and the personnel staff also benefit from seeing these players perform in practice. What is important to the hierarchy is not only their talent level but how each player goes about their work. They look to see if the game is important to the player, if he has a strong work ethic, and if he will do everything possible to become the best he can be given his natural physical traits. Again, those are things we never see from the outside, but club officials see on a daily basis.
Between articles, posts, and Twitter, we can see people's reactions to how certain players perform on gameday, and often their reaction is overkill. Coaches don't want to see mistakes, but at the same time, they want to see if the players still have the capability to grow.
Back in the early 1990s, when I was with the New York Giants, I was in the Atlanta Airport waiting for a flight back to Buffalo (my hometown) following the Senior Bowl practices. On that afternoon I had the opportunity to have a long conversation with the Bills' Head Coach at the time, who happened to be Hall of Famer Marv Levy. The conversation was about young players, and Marv made a point with me about rookies that has stuck ever since. He said, "you have to let rookies be rookies, they are going to make mistakes, and you have to accept that. What we want is for them to turn the corner in year two. If they can't do that, then we have to move on."
The more I thought about it, the more I realized how true these few sentences were. When a rookie comes into the building, everything is new to him. He's scared and unsure of himself. Sure, he tried hard, but when he makes a mistake, he can overreact to the mistake, which can in turn cause more mistakes. That's where good coaching comes in and patience. A good coach will help the young player learn from his mistake so he doesn't make that mistake again.
Don't forget, with the complexities of the pro game, these young players are seeing many things for the first time. It's not close to being the same as it was in college. Fans tend to want the young player to be ready to go right from the start, but it's never that easy. Yes, some rookies can and do perform at a high level, and the answer to why that happens is that the player has some special to him. That could be just his natural talent, maturity, or a combination of the two. Others have to go through a period of adjustment and learning. When they walk in the building at the beginning of year two, they are entirely different players. They are confident in who they are, how good they can be, and know exactly what is expected of them. I have seen this happen literally thousands of times during my career, and it is always a joy to see.
From what I have seen in the first half of the season, the Chicago Bears had an outstanding Draft, and that is without the benefit of having a first-round selection. If a club gets two starters and two players who can be reliable and contribute as rookies, then that Draft was easily a success. In year two, more of those players will step up and make contributions.
With the Chicago Bears, three players have become solid starters. Both second-round picks, safety Jaquan Brisker and corner Kyler Gordon, are already solid players and with experience will become winning NFL players at their position. Yes, Gordon has had some lapses, but they are asking him to learn and play two separate positions (outside corner and slot corner), and that is difficult for any player, let alone a rookie.
I have already written about left tackle Braxton Jones and what I feel about his play. For him to come to the NFL from a low-level FCS school to become a starter as a rookie fifth-round pick is remarkable. There is no question that he will become a winning, and perhaps elite left tackle in the League. He shows improvement every single week.
Defensive end Dominique Robinson is playing in the defensive line rotation and has shown flashes of brilliance but is still inconsistent. When we figure in the fact that this is only his third season as a defensive player, his development is outstanding. He is still raw but has as much upside as any player on the roster.
Running back Treston Ebner has flashed when given the opportunity to play and has performed well on special teams. He is currently third in the running back rotation because the players ahead of him are good NFL players.
Third-round pick wide receiver Velus Jones has been inconsistent at best. He has muffed some punts and dropped a catchable long pass but don't think for a minute the Bears are giving up on him. Jones has incredible speed and athleticism and he just needs confidence. The talent level is too high. Remember, let rookies be rookies.
Rookie free agent Jack Sanborn was promoted to the starting Mike job following the Roquan Smith trade. Sanborn had some lapses in his play, but he is smart, instinctive, and tough. We'll know much more about his future in the coming weeks.
The Bears have three other rookie offensive linemen on the roster. One, guard Ja'Tyre Carter, is on the 53 while the other two (Zach Thomas and Doug Kramer) are on the practice squad or Injured reserve (Kramer). Of those three, I feel that both Carter and Thomas have bright futures.
Carter has rare natural traits; he is huge, athletic, and explosive. In high school, he was a high-level point guard who was offered basketball scholarships from a few mid-major D-I schools. That shows you what kind of movement skills he has for such a large man. As a football player, Carter is raw as he played at a lower level of comp in college. For him, this year is about learning, and next year he will challenge for a starting slot.
The same holds true with Zach Thomas. Thomas started at multiple positions while in college. He has the size and strength to play either guard or tackle at the NFL level. Like Carter, this year is a learning year, and next year he will compete for a job.
All told, this Draft was outstanding, and if the Bears can put together as good a group in the 2023 Draft, then the team is going in the right direction as far as challenging for a yearly Playoff spot.