Where Ryan Poles Has Left the Bears Needing Help with Depth

Last season when the Bears went to Washington and broke their 14-game losing streak, they played a group of subs and even a player they brought up off the practice squad in the secondary.Tyson Bagent is not exactly an experienced backup for Caleb Williams, even though he did make four starts as a rookie.

They had to use a running back they’d brought in off the street.

In the NFL, you never know when injuries will hit but they can all come at once at one or two positions. Before they were counting on third slot cornerback Greg Stroman Jr. and running back Darrynton Evans you’d have been sure they had plenty of depth at those two positions.

In Matt Eberflus’ first year at coach, they had three quarterbacks and suddenly, without even playing a game, were down for a few brief seconds to their third QB until backup Trevor Siemian gutted out an oblique injury suffered in warmups to keep Nathan Peterman from playing. Then they had to play Peterman in the finale anyway.

The Bears last year had their share of injuries but even when they had players on injured reserve they were able to bring them back. Braxton Jones, Khalil Herbert, Teven Jenkins and Kyler Gordon all had stints on injured reserve. They didn’t lose a starter to a season-ending injury until Yannick Ngakoue’s broken ankle in Week 13.

The Bears have been fortunate to avoid the big one, a season-ending ACL tear, since Dakota Dozier went out with a knee injury in 2022 off-season practices.

Fortifying depth is critical.

GMS need to layer a team with talent to make sure they can survive the NFL’s annual war of attrition.

One area they seem to have layered fairly well is offensive line. There are plenty of tackles who have started games and a third-round rookie in Kiran Amegadjie. They have good position versatility and numbers at center and guard but you can never have enough, as they found out the last two years.

Here’s a ranked list of where GM Ryan Poles still has work to do because, while he has generally done a nice job, it’s looking pretty thin in a few areas.

Remember, experience and quality of experience enter into this because a player without experience backed up by one with very little doesn’t exactly say, “hey, we’re loaded” at the position.

5. Running Back

Their numbers are the same as last year, the same season they wound up using fullback Khari Blasingame to make key carries as tailback in one game to help kill the clock because of injuries.

Remember, they no longer have a quarterback who is going to take up five or six planned runs a game to benefit the rushing attack.

Caleb Williams can run but he’s not getting paid for that. After the top three—D’Andre Swift, Khalil Herbert and Roschon Johnson—Travis Homer is still there and really did nothing as a ball carrier last year. He didn’t even make a rushing attempt despite the team suffering injury issues at the position for a brief period.

Ian Wheeler is a 205-pound back out of Howard University who was signed as an undrafted free agent. They’ll have a few others getting tryouts at the rookie camp next week and could add someone then, but seriously, those backs signed as undrafted free agents are going to have a hard enough time making it in a league where even draft picks at the position are treated like disposable trash these days.

4. Defensive End

There are plenty who wonder whether they even have two starters, let alone reserve strength. But numbers suggest DeMarcus Walker was coming on strong at right defensive end by season’s close and if he can stay on a practice field this offseason and in training camp instead of succumbing to injuries, they might be surprised at how much more productive he is this season. He made 12 of his 22 pressures in the final seven games, 18 of his 30 tackles in the final 10 games and two of his 3 1/2 sacks in the last four games. In a rotation, he would fit fine.

The Bears still lack a real experienced threat at the position as a pass rusher. If only Dominique Robinson would step up in Year 3 and show he benefited from his two seasons. Two sacks, three tackles for loss and 42 tackles for 28 games say little for these chances.

The Bears do have rookie Austin Booker and are extremely high on their fourth-round pick. Day 3 rookies on the edge can occasionally produce in spot roles. But they can’t be counted on for much. Robinson has shown this.

What must be remembered here is they not only have free agent Yannick Ngakoue unsigned, but also Rasheem Green. He was on the field for 385 defensive plays last year.

It must also be pointed out they have Khalid Kareem still. He did almost nothing for them last year. Jacob Martin is another player at end they have. He signed in free agency and has averaged three sacks a year for his career. They have Daniel Hardy on the roster, too. He was a practice squad player last year.

3. Tight End

No problem with their starters. The only issue there is whether they have enough footballs to keep Cole Kmet and Gerald Everett happy considering the strength of their top three wide receivers and a running back who can catch passes.

However, teams frequently use 13-personnel packages, which is three tight ends. Bears offensive coordinator Shane Waldron did at Seattle even when he had DK Metcalf, Tyler Lockett and Jaxon Smith-Njigba at wide receiver. The Bears’ third tight end is a real toss up, and this means the fourth tight end is the loser of the toss up.

The third tight end would have to be Stephen Carlson, who was on their practice squad all last year after being cut while trying to get a job as third tight end. He got on the field for one special teams play last year and it was his first NFL action since 2020 in Cleveland. The former Princeton player is 6-foot-4, 240, which is relatively light for this position even at the move-tight end.

Behind him they have signed Brenden Bates, an undrafted free agent from Kentuky. In his entire college career, Bates caught 26 passes, two for touchdowns. He was primarily a blocking tight end, which isn’t necessarily bad. But a little versatility doesn’t hurt at the third spot for this position.

2. Defensive Tackle

If Gervon Dexter is to be considered the starter, the Bears backup corps at this vital position behind him and starting nose Andrew Billings is second-year player Zacch Pickens, journeyman Byron Cowart and Illinois undrafted rookie Keith Randolph Jr.

Cowart did not play in 2021 or in 2023. He had 14 starts for New England in 2020, the only starts of his career. He has 41 career tackles and a sack for a career that began in 2019 as a fifth-rounder from Maryland. He was on Miami’s practice squad last year.


Pickens has three pressures and half a sack for his career, to go with a tackle for loss.

They’re backing up Dexter, who was graded 118th of 130 NFL defensive tackles against the run last season by Pro Football Focus.

1. Quarterback

They have a starter who has never played a down in the NFL, backed up by one who has started in four games and played in five. Tyson Bagent does have more experience than several NFL backups but not many. Then there is Brett Rypien, who is this team’s Peterman. He has been in games. He has four NFL starts in four seasons, but his career passer rating is 59.9 and he has four touchdown throws to nine interceptions. He gained system knowledge with the Rams last year and also with Seattle for a few weeks in November. He was also on the Jets last year.

They also have Austin Reed, a 6-1 1/2, 220-pound passer they signed as an undrafted free agent out of Western Kentucky. He is roughly the equivalent of what Bagent was last year.

So while the Colts can turn to Joe Flacco, the Giants to Drew Lock, the Patriots to Jacoby Brissett, the Bills to Mitchell Trubisky and the Steelers to Justin Fields, the Bears have three backups with eight total NFL starts and, for that matter, eight starts per the entire four-person quarterback room.

Quarterback is a position of high attrition in the league, as the last few seasons have shown for the Bears. They’ve had to start three quarterbacks in two of the last three seasons.

The Bears haven’t had a full season of starts from their starting quarterback since Jay Cutler’s first Chicago season in 2009. So, yes, the backup QBs matter.

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