Bears

CSN goes 1-on-1 with Bears GM Ryan Pace: 'I'm as frustrated as anybody. I get it.'

CSN goes 1-on-1 with Bears GM Ryan Pace: 'I'm as frustrated as anybody. I get it.'

Shortly after Ryan Pace’s joint season-ending press conference with head coach John Fox on Wednesday, the third-year general manager took the time to sit down with CSN’s Chris Boden for a follow-up question-and-answer session as he enters what he describes as the most significant offseason in his goal to rebuild the Bears following a disappointing 3-13 season.

How would you characterize your first two seasons for fans that only see a 9-23 record?

Coming into this, I knew what we were getting into. I knew there was gonna be a lot of heavy lifting that needed to take place, and the competitor in me kind of enjoys the process. These times are painful, it’s hard. Three wins are unacceptable. But the silver lining behind it is — as you look deeper — you see a lot of younger core players playing well. It’s important that we continue adding to that group. This offseason is significant. We have a lot of opportunity in front of us, so we’d better take advantage of it.

What do you feel the degree of urgency is this offseason?

I think the urgency’s amplified because of where we’re picking in the draft. Picking third is significant. Hopefully we’re not there ever again, but while we’re there, we’d better take advantage of it.

Drafting third overall, do you need a Day 1 starter out of that pick?

I think when you’re picking top five, you’re looking for an impact guy. Different positions will have different expectations, depending who you’re picking. The quarterback position’s one we talk a lot about, but sometimes playing a quarterback right away isn’t the best thing. So we just have to take a look at who it is, and what position it is.

When you arrived here you discussed the desire to draft a quarterback every year. Looking at that situation this past season, is there any regret you didn’t take the opportunity to do that in your first two drafts, while realizing there were so many areas of the roster that required attention?

I really think it has to align. I don’t want to take a quarterback that we’re not all on board with just because we’ve got to take the position. It really has to align for you. And I think as we got deeper into the roster there were a lot of critical needs that we have to address in other areas, so that’s kind of what we were doing. There will be a point in time where quarterback’s going to be addressed.

How do you feel about the quarterbacks on your roster right now?

They’re all different. They’ve all had good moments. We’ve played so many different ones it was difficult to find a rhythm and continuity this year. We were all able to find out about each guy, but that’s an area where we want to create competition. And when you only win three games, we’re trying to create competition everywhere. I fully understand the magnitude of that position and how critical is to get that position right. I’ve been places before where that position can carry the team, and we’ve got to get that decision right and again a lot of things are on the table right now.

How do you feel about your first two first-round draft picks?

The stigma on Kevin (White) is gonna be his durability, and he’s motivated to prove people wrong. He has a chip on his shoulder, and he’s working real hard right now. I think we started to see, right before the injury this season, 'OK, here he comes,' with some of that explosiveness, and I think he’ll get that back. This isn’t a long-term thing. It’s fully recoverable. I’m just excited to see his growth. He knows what he needs to do, and he’s driven by that. Leonard Floyd, I think he’s the explosive player we expected. He’s going to get a little bigger and stronger as time goes on. I think he can be an impact player for us for a really long time.

How much has the growth of some of your key young players been limited by their injuries, and was that the most disappointing aspect this season, with missed opportunities for valuable playing time?

The injuries in some ways forced some guys to grow — the (Nick) Kwiatkoskis, the Cam Merediths. Really an injury led Jordan Howard to get out there sooner and flourish, so in some ways, there’s a silver lining to the injuries. But we talk about Year 2 growth, the fact that Kevin White and Eddie Goldman and Hroniss Grasu were hurt, that hurts that second-year growth. The good thing about those guys is that, with their professionalism and work ethic, I think they’ll overcome that.

Do have any more clarity about Alshon Jeffery’s value to this team after this season?

It’s not just the games, it’s being with him every day. When you first get in here, you’re trying to learn every single thing about your roster — not just the player on the field, but the heart and makeup of that person. So I think just being around Alshon for two years now, I have a real good feel for who he is, how driven he is and how much of a team guy he is. Alshon wants to win more than anybody, and I see him after a game and he’s passionately hurt by these losses. That means a lot to me because I feel the same way. You’re sick to your stomach. Unfortunately, he missed four games this year, and it was hard for him to get into a rhythm with all the changes that we had. But he’s a talented player, and that’s gonna be a real important decision this offseason.

Where do you feel your team’s strengths are two years in, and how close are you to establishing whatever identity you want this team to have?

I like the makeup and the character and the culture of the team. That’s kind of the first thing. You’ve got to get rid of any bad guys, and your roster can kind of flourish from there. I like the young talent that we talked about, whether it’s Cody Whitehair, or Floyd, or Meredith, or Howard, kind of have a base foundation of young talent. Now it’s on us to build on that foundation and keep adding to those young guys.

I’m sure you feel a certain amount of pressure after this season. What has it been like upstairs in the building, with all the (other management) people around you?

It’s actually been real good, and it stems from good communication. I’m as frustrated as anybody. I get it. This is hard. But these tough times can bring us closer together and kind of lock us in and make us a little more driven. There’s teams recently you can look at — Dallas, Oakland — who have quickly flipped it, but they’ve done it the right way, building through the draft and developing players. Sometimes, it’s a little painful, sometimes there’s growing pains, sometimes your patience gets tested. But you can’t deter that from doing things the right way and staying on course of building a team the right way.

Is that the message you’d like to share with Bears fans?

It bothers me when I walk through the stands and the tailgates. I see fans wearing jerseys of old players who are no longer here, and I get it. It’s on me to add talented players where they’re proud to wear the jersey of a new player we have because that player’s out there making plays and winning games for the Bears. I appreciate them. I know how passionate they are. I’m equally as passionate, and I promise you, we’re gonna get this rollin’.

Recalling Chet Coppock – snapshots of a character, who also had character

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NBC Sports Chicago

Recalling Chet Coppock – snapshots of a character, who also had character

The news that came out Thursday, that Chet Coppock had died from injuries suffered in an automobile accident earlier this month in Florida, was sad on so many levels. That you didn’t have a chance to say “good-bye,” that you didn’t have a chance to say “thank you,” that you won’t have more of “those” kinds of Chet moments.

But one of my favorite movie moments is at the end of “The Last Samurai” when Tom Cruise, the wounded ex-U.S. soldier who’d fought with the Samurai, is asked by the young Japanese emperor about the death of Ken Watanabe’s Samurai character Katsumoto, “Tell me how he died.” To which Cruise says, “I will tell you, how he lived.”

Somehow that’s the feeling thinking about Chet – little fun snapshots of how he lived.

Snapshots like listening to Coppock on Sports, and appreciating that Chet deserves a spot in the pantheon of those who created a genre.

Like how we in the media laughed imitating Chet’s questions, which routinely went on long enough for you to run out for a sandwich and be back before he was finished. But the chuckle was how Chet wouldn’t directly ask a guest, “So why did you make THAT idiotic play?” No, Chester had this tack of, “So, what would you say to those who would say, ‘You’re an idiot?’” Of course, it would take a minimum of two minutes for him to wend his way through the question, but the results were always worth waiting for.

Like “Your dime, your dance floor.” 

Like grabbing lunches with Chet while I was working on the ’85 Bears book, but in particular while I was writing “100 Greatest Chicago Sports Arguments.” The specific in the latter told me a lot about Chet, far beyond just the information he was sharing.

The “argument” was over who was the greatest Chicago play-by-play broadcaster. Now, Chet of course suggested tongue-in-cheek that he belonged in the discussion; after all, as he pointed out, a high school kid at New Trier games, sitting by himself in the stands, doing play-by-play into a “microphone” that was one of those cardboard rollers from bathroom tissue, oughta be worth something.

Chet’s nomination for the actual No. 1 was Jack Brickhouse, the WGN legend who Chet noted had done play-by for every conceivable sport.

But the reason for Chet’s vote for Brickhouse wasn’t about any of that. It was, Chet said, because Brickhouse beginning back in the mid-‘50s, when the Cubs were integrating with Gene Baker and Ernie Banks, had very intentionally made it clear with his broadcasting and behavior that Baker and Banks were “Cubs,” not “black Cubs.” Brickhouse’s principles had left an impression on a then-young Chet.

I hadn’t known any of that. But Chet did, and that he had taken a lasting impression from what he’d heard growing up said something about Chet as well as Jack. That impressed me, and frankly has always been my favorite Chet story.

So losing an institution like Chet is sad; Chet did say that, no, he wasn’t an institution, but rather that he belonged IN one. But at least he came our way.

Behind Enemy Lines: Looking at where the Bears fall in their opponents’ schedules

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USA TODAY

Behind Enemy Lines: Looking at where the Bears fall in their opponents’ schedules

Week 1: Packers at Bears (TNF / NFL Season Opener)

It’s NFL Opening Night. Really not much else to say here. The Packers do host the Vikings in Week 2, so there’s that.

**10 days off**

Week 2: Bears at Broncos

No shortage of juice for the Broncos here. On top of Vic Fangio getting the opportunity to take down his former team, it’s the Broncos home opener. There’s also some ridiculous stat out there about the Broncos being something like 75-2 in Week 2 at home or something (*Not the actual stat, it’s buried in TweetDeck somewhere), so this one will be tough.

Week 3: Bears at Washington (MNF)

 

Washington’s schedule

Week 1 at Eagles

Week 2 vs Cowboys

Week 3 vs Bears MNF

Week 4 vs Giants

Week 5 vs Patriots

So Washington hosts the Bears in the midst of facing all three of their divisional opponents in the first four weeks of the season. I don’t know what it means, I just know I found it interesting. Worst case scenario for the Bears is that Washington is (more than likely) 0-2 and needs to throw the kitchen sink at the Bears to “save” their season on Monday Night Football. But then there’s this: Washington is 2-14 on Monday Night Football since November of 2008.

Week 4 Vikings vs Bears

 

Vikings Schedule

Week 3 vs Raiders

Week 4 at Bears

Week 5 at Giants

Week 6 vs Eagles

Divisional games aren’t typically let down or look ahead spots and that certainly holds true for both teams here. I’d watch out for that Giants game in New York sandwiched between the Bears and Eagles if I were a Vikings fan though.

Week 5 vs Raiders in London

 

Raiders Schedule

Week 2 vs Chiefs

Week 3 at Vikings

Week 4 at Colts

Week 5 vs Bears in London

Week 6 BYE

All bets are off for these London games. The Khalil Mack trade revenge game certainly should be a Bears win, and after facing a murderers row of the Chiefs, Vikings and Colts, the Raiders could be limping across the pond.

Week 6  BYE

Week 7  Saints vs Bears

 

Saints Schedule

Week 6 at Jaguars

Week 7 at Bears

Week 8 vs Cardinals

As JJ Stankevitz, Cam Ellis and I talked about on the Under Center podcast I actually think it’s a good thing the Bears are facing a likely Super Bowl contender coming out of the bye week. Last season, they faced the Dolphins and Giants coming out of the Bye, and the extended post-Thanksgiving break respectively and they lost against bad teams. No excuse for not getting up for this game. And as you can see, there’s nothing to distract the Saints from the defending NFC North champs.

Week 8   Chargers vs Bears

 

Chargers Schedule

Week 6 vs Steelers

Week 7 at Titans

Week 8 at Bears

Week 9 vs Packers

So the Chargers were 7-1 on the road last season, but I think their road success and their 12-4 record come back to earth in 2019. Last season was their first season winning 10+ games since 2009. And we saw the real Chargers (not) show up against the Patriots when it mattered most in the AFC Divisional Round. Give me a healthy dose of Philip Rivers throwing a temper tantrum after Khalil Mack and Akiem Hicks combine for the Bears fourth sack of the day.

Week 9 at Eagles

 

Eagles Schedule

Week 7 at Cowboys (SNF)

Week 8  at Bills

Week 9 vs Bears

Week 10 BYE

Week 11 vs Patriots

The already tall task of avenging last season’s double doink playoff heartbreak gets even tougher with the way the schedule falls for Jordan Howard’s new team. Having the Patriots looming could have been advantageous for the Bears, but this being the Eagles’ last game before the bye nixes any chance Doug Pederson’s team will be looking past the Bears and ahead to a Super Bowl LII rematch. Big game at a big point of the season for both teams.

Week 10 vs Lions

 

Lions Schedule

Week 9 at Raiders

Week 10 at Bears

Week 11 vs Cowboys

Week 12 at Washington

Week 13 vs Bears  (Thanksgiving)

Nothing jumps out from the Lions perspective here. Should be a ‘get right game’ for the Bears coming off IMO their toughest stretch of the season. There is some letdown potential with the lowly Lions dropped into this otherwise murderer’s row 5 game stretch.

Week 11 at Rams (SNF)

 

Rams schedule

Week 10 at Steelers

Week 11 vs Bears  (SNF)

Week 12 vs Ravens (MNF)

Super Bowl hangover anyone?? The Bears laid the defensive blueprint for how to beat the Rams – and the thing I can’t still get over: it’s great that a mic’d up Sean McVay realized the Patriots were using the Bears scheme early in the Super Bowl. But how did he not have a counter for it at that point? A team beat you this exact way? The Bears finish what they started a season ago by sending the Rams into a tailspin while Mitch cements himself as a household name.

Week 12 vs Giants

 

Giants Schedule

Week 11  BYE

Week 12  at Bears

Week 13 vs Packers

We’re doing this again are we? Huge letdown spot for the Bears against what should be a really bad team coming off their bye week and the Bears have a short Thanksgiving week looming. I don’t like it. Not even a little bit.

Week 13 at Lions (Thanksgiving)

 

Lions Schedule

Week 12 at Washington

Week 13 vs Bears  (Thanksgiving)

Week 14 at Vikings

We saw the Bears handle a brutal 85-hour turnaround from Sunday Night Football to Thanksgiving last season – so they’ve been here. Last year’s Thanksgiving game did actually come down to Kyle Fuller making a game-saving INT in the end zone at the end of the game. Definitely edge Bears but anything can happen on Turkey day.

**update! I found the Broncos stat!  51-8-2 in weeks 1-2 at home.  Carry on.****

Week 14 vs Cowboys (TNF)

 

Cowboys schedule

Week 12 at Patriots

Week 13 vs Bills

Week 14 at Bears (TNF)

Week 15 vs Rams

Getting funky with back to back Thursdays. The Bears did do this in 2014, losing against the Lions and Cowboys in that order as the Trestman era was coming to its Real Football Coaches of Chicago (in)glorious ending. For my money, I have this as the most pivotal game of the season. With 10 days off afterward, a win could propel the Bears into their crucial home stretch (and the playoffs) in the driver’s seat.

**10 days off**

Week 15  at Packers

 

Packers Schedule

Week 13 at Giants

Week 14 vs Washington

Week 15 vs Bears

Week 16 at Vikings

Week 17 at Lions

Well here’s some fun with schedules. The Packers finish with three straight against the NFC North. And they get to warm up for it with back to back games against the NFC East’s least. Does the Matt Nagy era come full circle from Lambeau heartbreak in the 2018 opener to cementing his second straight divisional crown in enemy territory?

Week 16 vs Chiefs (SNF)

 

Chiefs Schedule

Week 14 at Patriots

Week 15 vs Broncos

Week 16 at Bears (SNF)

Week 17 vs Chargers

Definitely a roll of the dice by the schedule makers to have the Andy Reid – Matt Nagy, mentor vs pupil, reigning MVP vs reigning top defense this late in the season. This game very well could mean nothing to either or both teams. But for everyone’s sake, let’s hope we all get the primetime early Christmas present of watching Patrick Mahomes vs the Bears defense with everything on the line.

Week 17 at Vikings

 

Vikings Schedule

Week 14 vs Lions

Week 15 at Chargers (SNF)

Week 16 vs Packers (MNF)

Week 17 vs Bears

Another fun schedule wrinkle where another NFC North opponents close with a division heavy final stretch. Normally I would have a problem with the Vikings getting to end the season with all three of their NFC North home games in the final month. But we saw what the Vikings did at home with their season on the line against the Bears in the final week last season, so I have my doubts as to whether they’ll even still be alive at this point.

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