By Chris Emma—
LAKE FOREST, Ill. (CBS) – Ever since his arrival at Halas Hall, there has been no mistaking the confidence and conviction with which Bears general manager Ryan Pace works.
Pace has operated with bold precision by rebuilding this roster from one of the NFL’s oldest to youngest. He has drafted everywhere from Tuscaloosa, Alabama to Tallahassee, Florida to Kutztown, Pennsylvania to Ashland, Ohio. He gave Mike Glennon starting quarterback money despite 18 starts to his name. He built a defense that primarily features players cast off in free agency.
Pace has stood firm with every step to this rebuild that now enters its third season. He truly believes that all of these moves – as crazy as some may seem – will lead the Bears to sustained success. And though this 2017 campaign seems to be another step toward that goal, Pace believes better is ahead.
How would Pace mark progress this season? He set the expectation Wednesday, four days prior to the season opener against the Falcons at Soldier Field.
“Winning games,” Pace said. “It starts with winning games. We’re happy with the players that we’ve added, and I know – I’m going to say this a lot, but it matters – team chemistry matters, culture matters, that locker room matters. I like the guys on this team, I like the character on this team, and I like the guys that we’ve added on this team.
“I like the young talent that’s playing well, and that’s exciting to see. I like the coaches are invested in that young talent and not afraid to play that young talent and develop that young talent. It’s going to be fun to watch.”
It has been a few years since the Bears were truly fun to watch – or even remotely interesting, frankly. They finished the 2016 season at 3-13, the franchise’s worst mark in a 16-game slate. In search of marked progress, it was a major disappointment, but the Bears can pin part of those failures on injuries.
The Bears now have a veteran in Glennon trusted to give the team a chance to win games, all while the No. 2 overall pick Mitchell Trubisky prepares to lead for the future. They boast a stalwart at running back in Jordan Howard and investments blocking up front. There’s a talented front seven, which includes first-, second- and third-round draft picks playing key roles, plus three key free agents added to better the roster. The final piece to the puzzle was building a secondary capable of taking away the football, and the Bears hope that’s now in place.
There are countless factors in play that will ultimately define whether the Bears reached their long-term goal of sustaining success. This roster features 42 players on the 53-man roster under the age of 30. Collective growth should be expected – demanded, really – as individuals develop in the respective phases of their career.
Pace will be evaluating each player by their development this season, but he didn’t hesitate to admit that this 2017 Bears team will be judged by whether it wins games. That’s the bar by which the chief evaluator will measure progress.
That burden falls in the lap of coach John Fox, who’s starting the third season of a four-year deal. By comparison, Pace is working his third of a five-year contract. The 62-year-old Fox was hired by the Bears because of his track record with turnarounds in Carolina and Denver, taking each to the Super Bowl after falling on hard times.
Through two seasons leading the Bears, Fox has a 9-23 record, and organizational growth hasn’t revealed itself nearly enough. Now, he’s leading a roster with better talent and depth from the last two years.
“Well done beats well said,” Fox said Wednesday. “That’s why we get to line up and play.”
The pressure is squarely on Fox this season to bring the Bears those improvements. What has come from these first two seasons has been deemed unacceptable by every level of the organization. The Bears have trusted Pace to build a better roster, and he believes that has happened. That growth must finally come to fruition.
Results are expected this season, because Pace hopes to mark progress with wins.