PHOENIX — Bears general manager Ryan Pace met with Chicago reporters Tuesday at the NFL Annual Meeting. Here is everything you need to know from the conversation:
1. Mark Sanchez is just a backup and his primary job will be to help develop Mike Glennon.
Addressing the Sanchez signing for the first time, the first thing Pace did was reiterate that Glennon is the Bears’ starting quarterback. Pace sees Sanchez as “a really good, solid No. 2 quarterback.”
“I like him in this role for a lot of reasons and one of them is the experience that he has,” Pace said. “He’s been through the highs and lows of our league. He’s played in some big markets, he’s dealt with challenges, he’s dealt with success. I think he’s the kind of player that exudes confidence. I like that about him.
Pace said Sanchez and Glennon have already “clicked,” organizing workouts on their own.
“You think about Mike, he’s still a young player,” Pace said. “Mike’s a young player coming into a starting role in a big market. And Sanchez has done that. So I think having some of those experiences is going to help behind the scenes.”
After playing college football in Los Angeles at USC, Sanchez was drafted No. 5 overall by the New York Jets. And even last year he played in Dallas, backing up Dak Prescott. Pace specifically mentioned that experience in those big cities as a reason why he thinks Sanchez can help Glennon develop in Chicago under what will surely be a high level of scrutiny.
2. As for Glennon, Pace admitted that he had some informal trade discussions with the Buccaneers about Glennon last season.
“They just never materialized,” he said.
But Pace’s admiration for the former North Carolina State quarterback goes back to college, when Pace was scouting for the Saints.
“As you guys get to know him, you will sense this, he’s very intelligent. He studies a ton of tape. He’s a really hard worker and you can feel those things and he’s really good at processing the field and seeing information quickly.” Pace said. “We talk about the traits we value in a quarterback, whether it’s arm strength or release quickness or accuracy, but you guys all know the ability to process and go through your progressions quickly and identify coverages. Some guys just think quicker than others and I think that he can process information quickly and make the right decisions with the football and sometimes that might mean the check down or throwing it away when necessary. That’s OK.”
3. There has been a lot of talk about Colin Kaepernick’s political opinions, but Pace said he opted for Sanchez for other reasons.
“We looked at every single quarterback that was available. To us, it just came down to the skill sets we value … Honestly, it was more of a skill set evaluation and I kind of like the group that we formed with these three quarterbacks,” the GM said.
4. Once Deiondre’ Hall gets his legal issues worked out, he could be playing a new position.
The second-year defensive back worked as a cornerback as a rookie, but was battling a severely sprained ankle for most of the season. And with Pace signing veterans Marcus Cooper and Prince Amukamara to compete with Kyle Fuller and Tracy Porter on the outside, Pace envisions moving Hall to safety, where he played some at Northern Iowa.
“One of Deiondre’s best traits is his ball skills, his ball clock — the ability to time the pass breakup,” Pace said. “He’s very natural at playing safety and that’s one of the reasons we drafted him, because he has the versatility to do both. That’s something we’re going to talk about this offseason and he could start taking some reps there in the offseason program.”
But first Hall has to face the consequences for his arrest on three misdemeanors in Iowa over the weekend. The Bears are still investigating the incident and Pace said “the circumstances are a little disappointing to be honest with you.”
Bears head coach John Fox said Hall was humble and remorseful and took responsibility for the incident that occurred at a bar very early Sunday morning.
5. Pace also didn’t rule out a position change for Kyle Fuller, but did say he’s “strictly a corner right now.”
After missing the entire 2016 season with a knee injury, Fuller is working out in Phoenix this offseason and Pace made it clear: “When he comes back, we’re going to want to see progress.”
Both Fuller and the Bears grew frustrated last season when he wasn’t able to return from arthroscopic knee surgery in August.
“We’re going to want to see him move like I know he can move. Last season was frustrating for him and for us but I’m optimistic and hopeful that he’s going to have done the right things this offseason to show progress,” Pace said.
Asked if Fuller could potentially be used as the slot corner, Pace said: “I think he’s better outside, and then a potential move to safety too.”
6. As for the newcomers at cornerback, Pace discussed both Amukamara and Cooper.
Amukamara: “He’s just kind of that veteran, savvy, consistent pro, you know, and sometimes there is a lot of hidden production from him because he’s got his guy covered and they just don’t throw at him. So you might not see a lot of interceptions, but I think he’s got his guy covered and they’re going in the different direction a lot of times.”
Cooper: “Cooper is a raw player that I think is still ascending. He didn’t play corner until late in college and when you watch him each year he’s gotten better and better the more he’s gotten opportunities. He has really natural ball skills. It’s very easy for him to make a play on the ball. He has a great ability when he is playing off to read the quarterback but still have vision on the receiver. Some guys can’t do that. He can do that and he can time his breaks up well. He makes a lot of plays on the ball. They’re both really intelligent football players too that can anticipate route concepts and think of things pre-snap that can help because obviously as you guys know, we’re pretty young on defense. That kind of experience is invaluable.”
Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio and defensive backs coach Ed Donatell were both in San Francisco when the 49ers drafted Cooper in the seventh round and Pace said that familiarity contributed to the signing.
7. Pace really likes the depth in the draft and is open to trading back in the first round to acquire extra picks.
“We’ll have an elite group of names that we’re confident will be there (at No. 3),” Pace said. “But beyond that, OK, there’s some pretty good depth in this draft, too, so are there scenarios — and it’s easier said than done — where we can trade back. Those things’ll be discussed.”
So far Pace has not received any offers for the pick yet, but those conversations usually don’t start until April.
8. Now that Alshon Jeffery has moved on, you could argue the Bears should draft a wide receiver early this year, but Pace clearly believes Cameron Meredith can take another big step in his third NFL season.
“I’m excited about Cam. I just see him getting better and better, no different than we talked about Marcus Cooper,” Pace said. “Cam’s a guy with a lot of upside, the path that he took, and just to see him mature over the past couple of years. I hate to make comparisons but I felt I saw this happen with (Marques) Colston a little bit, and Cam just has a great attitude right now, is getting better. I just love his skill set, love his professionalism, and I think we’re going to see him ascend.”
9. And on defense, perhaps no player needs to make a bigger jump than last year’s first round pick, Leonard Floyd, who showed some very promising glimpses as a rookie.
“Obviously he’s naturally going to continue to get stronger and more durable,” Pace said. “I think that will come with added strength. I think he’s going to continue to refine his pass-rush technique. Right now that first year is just kinda raw speed and raw talent. I think as he gets better with his pass rush moves, using his hands and developing counters, I think the sky’s the limit, because he’s got everything you need physically and he’s got the work ethic to learn all that. So I think dialing in some of his pass-rush traits are going to help a lot.”
The Bears have not been shy about tempering expectations for Floyd. If he takes the jump they expect in Year 2, it would be a tremendous boost for a defense that has improved the last two seasons, but still struggles to make game-swinging type plays.
10. Finally, Pace addressed some of the changes the Bears have made in-house to address all the injuries that plagued 2016. He refused to go into too many specifics, but it was a big priority this offseason.
“We’ve met multiple times with a lot of people,” Pace said. “Those are good discussions when everybody kinda lets down their guard down and we just kinda put everything on the table. I value when people do that. We have made some tweaks and some adjustments, without going into specifics, but it could be some scheduling things, some training camp things, things we’re doing in the weight room, things we’re doing in the training room, just dialing things to adapt. And not just putting our heads in the sand and saying, ‘bad luck.’ We made some adjustments and tweaks that we’re all supportive of and we all had input on. We’re excited about the outcome of that.”
One difference is that the Bears will not practice against another NFL team this preseason. Scheduling may have played a role in that decision too, but head coach John Fox mentioned it when discussing some of the changes the team will make in 2017.
Pace also mentioned some tracking actual data on work loads during the season and continuing to evolve as the team learns more.
“We wear these catapult tracking devices now. A couple years into that we’re able to implement that knowledge a little bit more to our coaches,” Pace said. “Year 1 you give a coach a five-page report on catapult data. You can streamline it down to a one-pager of what we’re looking at.”
The key is the coaching staff taking that data and actually making sound decisions with it.
“Knowing when to back on or off certain players, finding their optimal training load. Some guys are different. Some guys can go all day. Some guys we gotta be a little more mindful of. Even in training camp, it’s understanding when we have a high-intensity day, we’re going to back off this day. And that’s a long-term plan,” Pace said. “Because the goal is to peak Week 1, you know? Not peak in the middle of training camp. So you’re building the team to be at their absolute highest state week 1, and that’s our goal.”
Pace continues to express confidence in his training staff and no changes have been made with key staff members like head strength and conditioning coach Jason George, head athletic trainer Nate Breske or sports science coordinator Jen Gibson.