Expectations are like double-edged swords in the world of professional sports. While they add pressure to perform, they also affirm that a team or a player is doing something right. As we approach the 2023 NFL season, the Chicago Bears find themselves in such a position, with rising expectations to deliver a standout performance. But instead of buckling under the pressure, the Bears are embracing it, viewing it as an opportunity to shine.
After the Bears had a miserable 2022 season, losing their last 10 games and finishing 3-14, general manager Ryan Poles set out to make sure that did not happen again. Armed with about $100 million in salary cap space and 10 draft picks, including the top overall pick, he wanted to make sure that the 2023 Chicago Bears had more victories.
Poles went all-in on quarterback Justin Fields. He gave him all the tools so he could succeed. Every offensive unit was strengthened. He added a top wide receiver, D.J. Moore, and drafted speedy receiver Tyler Scott. Additionally, he added another high, athletic tight end in Robert Tonyan. That means Fields has two dependable tight ends to target.
Poles even added to the running backs unit. He felt that David Montgomery wasn’t the RB1 to depend on so he let him walk via free agency. In his place, he signed D’Onta Foreman, a bruising running back who had 914 yards last season.
Foreman and Khalil Herbert complement each other so they can wear down the defense and then make big runs late in games. He also drafted Roschon Johnson. Johnson is quick, athletic, and elusive. Also, he is a good blocker and can help in the passing game.
Now the Bears have a rushing attack that doesn’t have to depend on Fields’ running. He will still make big plays with his legs but they will be an added bonus now, not something the offense desperately needs.
Poles also strengthened the offensive line to protect Fields. He signed guard Nate Davis and selected Darnell Wright in the first round. Cody Whitehair moved back to center and Teven Jenkins moved to left guard. This is now a much different unit and should do a better job protecting Fields. With that protection, Fields can display his throwing ability.
Poles also strengthened the defense. The Bears were awful at getting to the quarterback last season, ranking last in sacks and quarterback knockdowns. Additionally, opposing offenses were able to run the ball right up the middle of the defense.
Poles wanted to change that. He felt that if the middle was strengthened, it would help the run defense. Furthermore, if the middle is wreaking havoc, the edge rushers would then have more one-on-ones and they could win more battles.
Poles spent three draft picks on defensive tackles. Gervon Dexter and Zacch Pickens will see plenty of action. while Travis Bell might be considered more of a project.
Poles also signed Andrew Billings to be the starting nose tackle. With Justin Jones returning, the Bears hope to send waves at the offensive line and have them wear down.
There is a question at the edge. DeMarcus Walker and Rasheem Green join forces with Trevis Gipson and Dominique Robinson. The question is whether those players are enough. The prevailing thought is that at any moment Poles will pull the trigger on a deal to bring someone else in.
However, Poles could be betting that with the improved interior of the defensive line, there will be a noticeable uptick in the edge rushers’ performances. They could play well enough in 2023. Then, in 2024, Poles could go after a top free agent or find an elite pass rusher in the draft.
Poles also did an incredible job with the linebackers. In this defensive scheme, the linebackers are critical for success. Many people criticized Poles for trading Roquan Smith, one of the top linebackers in the NFL, over a contract dispute. Smith was looking to earn the highest salary of any linebacker in the league, $20 million per year.
Poles did not feel he could pay Smith that money and still do a good job of rebuilding the roster, so he traded him. While many around the league criticized and mocked him, Poles had a plan.
Smith ended up getting his $20 million. He signed with the Baltimore Ravens for five years, $100 million. On the other hand, Poles went out and signed T.J. Edwards, Tremaine Edmunds, and Dylan Cole. Edwards and Edmunds are two of the top-ten linebackers in the league. Cole provides good backup play and is a special teams standout. He also drafted Noah Sewell. The total cost for the four players was $96.9 million. Poles has a plan and he is sticking with it.
Poles did not forget about the secondary. After drafting Kyler Gordon in the second round last year, he went in that direction again. He drafted Tyrique Stevenson to be an outside cornerback. Stevenson is a big, athletic, and speedy cornerback who can harass receivers. He has the strength to knock receivers out of their routes.
Poles also drafted Terell Smith. Smith will provide good depth and down the road could be a quality starter.
Now, with more talent, expectations for the Chicago Bears are higher and they are embracing it
There is a lot of hope around Halas Hall these days. We haven’t seen this amount of hope in a long time. While the amount of hope around the league is not matched, many do see an improved Chicago Bears team. Last season they were competitive in a lot of games despite a severe lack of talent. With an infusion of talent, a more competitive team should win more games.
Higher expectations are a testament to the progress the Bears have made, but the team is well aware that potential alone won’t win games. To translate potential into performance, the Bears have doubled down on their commitment to hard work and preparation. Training Camp 2023 will be marked by high-intensity practices designed to fine-tune the players’ skills and build their physical and mental resilience.
Moreover, the Bears are fostering a culture of accountability and collective responsibility. Every player, from rookies to veterans, understands their role and the importance of their contribution to the team’s success. The mantra ‘next man up’ is being taken seriously, emphasizing the importance of depth and the readiness of each player to step up when called upon.
The team’s leaders, both on and off the field, are embracing the role of guiding the younger players and setting the bar high. Their leadership will be crucial in ensuring that the team stays focused and motivated, regardless of the pressure.
Most importantly, the Chicago Bears are using the high expectations as fuel. Poles is embracing the higher expectations.
"We’ve improved our roster, we’ve improved continuity and we’re excited about that. We’re excited about raising the level and raising expectations. I think great teams have high expectations and they go chase that. And that’s what we’re going to do and we’re going to do that in training camp."
The new regime is doing its best to change the atmosphere around the team. All the losing has taken a toll on the team and its fans. Last season, head coach Matt Eberflus introduced his HITS principle. He got the players to buy into that philosophy. This season, Poles filled the roster not only with more talent but also players who fit the philosophy the team wants. There are some added leaders who will hold their teammates accountable.
Now we hear about the players’ excitement and what they want to accomplish in 2023. We hear Fields talking about being the first Chicago Bears quarterback to throw for over 4,000 yards. Also, we hear safety Eddie Jackson talk about having a season that no other safety in the history of the NFL has ever had. We also have Jones, who got the Bears/Green Bay Packers rivalry heated up by blasting their fans.
In conclusion, the 2023 Chicago Bears are not just dealing with higher expectations; they’re embracing them. This approach, coupled with their talent and determination, positions them well for a successful season. As the kick-off approaches, one thing is certain: the Bears are ready to rise to the challenge.