Chicago Bears general manager Ryan Pace spoke to the media on a video conference call Tuesday to preview this week’s NFL draft.
Pace opened his news conference by acknowledging there were some questions he wouldn’t answer to protect the Bears’ interests — and that included his thoughts on which quarterback the Bears might target.
Here are five things we did learn as the Bears prepare to select a player in the first round for the first time since 2018.
1. Ryan Pace said it has been challenging to put together the draft board from top to bottom because of the constraints on scouting due to COVID-19.
Among the top challenges Pace addressed was evaluating players who opted out of the 2020 college season and trying to assess where they are now while watching film that is more than a year old.
“You’re looking at that and you’re watching them a year removed and now you’re putting weight on the pro days,” Pace said. “And how do they look at the pro day? Has their body changed? Have they improved? All the different fluctuations that can take place.”
Pace said not having a combine, not being able to take prospects out to dinner to get to know them better and dealing with a different process for medical evaluations also has been difficult.
“That’s where we lean on the continuity of our staff and the experience and getting creative on how we access and obtain some of that data,” Pace said. “We lean on a lot of our resources. I’m not going to lie. It has been challenging. But part of that is the excitement of the job, and we’ve taken that on and I feel like we’re in a really good spot.”
2. Ryan Pace called it ‘valuable’ to have an evaluation group that includes former quarterbacks Matt Nagy, Bill Lazor and John DeFilippo.
Pace said Nagy is heavily involved in the scouting process of offensive and defensive players, noting his input helped lead to the second-round selection of cornerback Jaylon Johnson in 2020.
Of course, those opinions are very strong when it comes to the evaluations of what Pace called a “deep” quarterback class.
As the Bears weigh whether they can trade up to select one of the top five quarterbacks in the first round or should settle on a Day 2 pick, Pace said they have benefited from having Nagy as well as offensive coordinator Lazor and pass game coordinator and quarterbacks coach DeFilippo in the conversations.
They have decades of experience coaching NFL quarterbacks among them. Plus Nagy was a former quarterback at Delaware and in the Arena Football League, Lazor played quarterback at Cornell and DeFilippo played the position at James Madison.
None of the three was in Chicago when Pace selected Mitch Trubisky with the No. 2 pick in 2017.
“There’s certain positions it is valuable if you’ve played that position, and quarterback is one of those,” Pace said. “It comes into play as we’re talking about that position and the different perspective and the different angle they have on it as we have our draft meetings.”
3. The Bears will have 10 people in their draft room at Halas Hall.
Pace spent the 2020 draft in his dining room after the NFL turned it into an all-virtual event because of COVID-19.
Teams are allowed to gather again this year, with restrictions.
Not all of the 10 people in the Bears draft room have been fully vaccinated, Pace said, so they will practice social distancing and wear masks. Other scouts and coaches who aren’t allowed in the room will be available at Halas Hall to offer input if needed.
“It’s awesome to be back in Halas Hall,” Pace said. “We will be in our draft room taking advantage of all the technology that we have in there. … We’ll be spaced out, we’ll be wearing our masks, we’ll be doing all the right things.”
4. Ryan Pace believes there will be strong player participation when the Bears take the field for organized team activities next month.
The Bears are in the virtual portion of their voluntary offseason program, but they are allowed to begin on-field work May 17.
An unknown group of Bears players released a statement through the NFLPA that the majority of players would skip the voluntary program because of lingering concerns about COVID-19.
Pace said participation in the virtual portion has been good and a “good amount of guys” also are lifting at the facility. He hopes to have close to normal participation — 90% to 100% — when players begin to gather for on-field work next month. He noted personnel changes such as Sean Desai taking over at defensive coordinator make it more important to have good attendance.
“I can already tell from the guys who are coming in now and the energy and the momentum that I feel from that group, I expect it to carry right into May 17 when they can be here at Halas,” Pace said. “With us having the facility that we have, we’re lucky to have the resources that we have. And I think our players are excited to take advantage of that.”
Bears wide receivers Allen Robinson and Darnell Mooney, who spoke later Tuesday after receiving the Brian Piccolo Award, didn’t indicate whether they would attend OTAs.
5. Ryan Pace said the Bears are thinking about franchise great Steve McMichael, who has been diagnosed with ALS.
Pace said he got to know McMichael in recent years and spoke highly of what he means to the organization. McMichael went public with his diagnosis last week, and friends and fans have donated more than $150,000 to help defray his medical costs.
“He’s absolutely one of the first guys we call every year to speak to our rookies,” Pace said. “He epitomizes what it means to be a Bear. His passion, his drive, it always shines through every time he talks to our team. We’re all thinking about him.”