Ryan Poles' Approach Along the Line of Scrimmage Draws Fire

Analysis: Efforts of the Bears GM to fortify offensive and defensive lines have been critiicized by a source known for negativism but in many respects these concerns seem valid.
Bears tackle Darnell Wright tries to get position to block Aidan Hutchinson. Wright showed progress late in his rookie year.
Bears tackle Darnell Wright tries to get position to block Aidan Hutchinson. Wright showed progress late in his rookie year. / David Reginek-USA TODAY Sports
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Ryan Poles brought in Caleb Williams as one of five new starters on offense and created excitement.

Leave it to a reknowned "spoilsport" to temper the celebrations over a new QB, two new wide receivers, a new running back and a new center.

Admittedly, ESPN's Bill Barnwell is the kind of guy whose take on winning Megamillions would be the terrible tax bill it creates for you. Barnwell, however, does make a valid point about 2024 offseason Bears improvements when he labels them the team most likely to have the same items on its shopping list in 2025.

When they went into the draft and free agency a few of their biggest concerns were pass rushers and offensive linemen. After the draft and almost all of free agency, they're still in need of help at both spots. And if you go back to last year, they needed help at those positions heading into the 2023 offseason.

Barnwell criticizes the impact of their offensive line rebuild by referring to center candidate Ryan Bates as someone "...who lost his job with the Bills after struggling as a starter at guard in 2022."

In fairness to Poles, Bates isn't their only center candidate and it's a battle for the job between the former Buffalo blocker and Coleman Shelton.

"Both players have experience, but neither has been a plus lineman as a pro," Barnwell insists.





He directed more criticism at left tackle Braxton Jones for a 14.2% rate of pressures allowed.

Indeed, Pro Football Focus puts both of the Bears offensive tackles in a similar light. In rating the NFL's top 32 tackles, PFF had both Bears starters on the list. Considering there are 64 starting NFL tackles, being top 32 with both spots can be significant.

However, PFF's Zoltán Buday gradesJones only 31st and Darnell Wright 32nd, which only says both Bears tackles are merely average.

It does stir some optimism for two young Bears tackles when Jones is still one of the highest graded pass blockers over the past two years and that Wright allowed only three sacks in his final 12 games after giving up one in each of his first give games.

Still, it's not the smashing line assessment a team that traded away an elusive quarterback needs. Knowing their line is prepared to pass block for Williams should be their baseline and it appears they can't really say it by these ratings.

Barnwell's criticism of Bears defensive line efforts is something many Bears fans have worried about, and that's the lack of pass rush help for Montez Sweat.

"They didn't sign a significant pass-rusher to join their rotation this offseason," Barnwell wrote.

Here, though, he is grasping for straws. He writes their defensive improvement was caused by all the takeaways they had and criticized their pass rush as still being feeble. Then he trotted out an old line about turnovers not being something they can count on from year to year.

However, the Bears did cause those turnovers with more pressure generated by Sweat himself, and also by DeMarcus Walker, Gervon Dexter and Justin Jones. Now Jones is gone but the others are still available.

Also, saying turnovers are not reliable from year to year sounds plausible and it's possible the Bears won't finish tied for first again in interceptions like they did last year. But when you consider Matt Eberflus' defense with the Colts went top 10 in takeaways in all four of his seasons, it's easy to conclude the man knows something about generating those with consistency.

Either way, Barnwell's criticism is valid because the Bears could use defensive line help.

Then again, about every team in the league can say the same thing. Even the 49ers could have used one more fresh pass rusher when Patrick Mahomes was driving the Chiefs downfield to the Super Bowl win.

You never have enough good pass rushers and cornebracks on defense. It's going to be a matter of hoping for good health on the defensive line or the entire thing could collapse on that side of the ball.

Still, the offensive line remarks by Barnwell do carry a ring of truth and until there are positive trends after games begin, there is reason to be concerned about their blocking for Williams.

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Gene Chamberlain


BearDigest.com publisher Gene Chamberlain has covered the Chicago Bears full time as a beat writer since 1994 and prior to this on a part-time basis for 10 years. He covered the Bears as a beat writer for Suburban Chicago Newspapers, the Daily Southtown, Copley News Service and has been a contributor for the Daily Herald, the Associated Press, Bear Report, CBS Sports.com and The Sporting News. He also has worked a prep sports writer for Tribune Newspapers and Sun-Times newspapers.