Bears Insider

Bears' biggest reason for 2023 optimism might be removing 2022 culture rot

The 2022 Bears crumpled quickly. That's a product of personnel and circumstance. 2023 should be different

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LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- David Mongtomery offered a little peak behind the curtain of the 2022 Bears when he said the losing took the fun out of football.

A 10-game, season-ending losing streak and a 3-14 record are common by-products of a teardown roster that general manager Ryan Poles stripped to the studs before and during the season.

But losing, especially constant losing, can be corrosive. It can gnaw at the inner workings of a team and rot what structure there is. That's even more likely to happen on a team with few franchise pillars and a foundation that hasn't been set.

Montgomery offered a glimpse at life for the 2022 Bears. Teven Jenkins didn't want to touch the subject. Cody Whitehair and Khalil Herbert offered vague acknowledgments that the 2023 locker room is in a better place.

The insinuation is that times were rock-hard for the chemistry of the 2022 Bears.

Defensive tackle Justin Jones removed all doubt Tuesday when asked about the locker room culture last season and his airing of grievances with the coaching staff at season's end.

"It’s a whole different locker room than it was last year, I’ll tell you that," Jones said. "Obviously, after the season’s over, we got a lot more guys who are more team-oriented vs. themselves. When you’ve got a bunch of guys that are on one-year deals, and they’re all worried about what they’re gonna be next year, it’s kind of hard to build a tight group.

"But when you’ve got guys that are going to be here for three years, four years, two years, guys who really want to come in here and win, that’s when you really start cooking with fire because now you’ve got talented players and you’ve got guys that want to be here and want to play for the Bears. It’s gonna be a good deal."

Safety Eddie Jackson was tasked with being the locker room's North Star in 2022. He bought into head coach Matt Eberflus' way of doing things, resuscitated his career, and had the unenviable task of offering weekly explanations about why the losses kept piling up.

Jackson never offered hints that something was missing in 2022. With Jones ripping the band-aid off, Jackson agreed that things weren't right in 2022. A group not meant to be together in the long run never developed the collective DNA needed to fight through adversity and win games. The midseason trades of Robert Quinn and Roquan Smith were more or less a green light for guys to focus on their individual games and futures and not pull together in one direction.

"It's different. It's high energy," Jackson said. "When you get a group of guys that really love and really care about football, they are going to go out there and lay it on the line for one another. You guys can probably feel it just going out there and seeing the energy. We get a turnover, we knock a ball down, we scoop a ball up, the energy is just so intense out there right now. You get a bunch of guys like that, you're going to create something special.

"I felt like a couple things were missing last year and I felt like [Poles and Eberflus], we did a lot of good job in the offseason filling in those pieces that we really need and just the type of guys we have in the locker room—real leaders, guys who really care about football. Like [DeMarcus Walker], D-Walk is high energy. He’s gonna call you out. Just have a guy like that, first year, don’t care about the face, just comes in, he loves football and he’s ready to call guys out, hold guys accountable, and I feel like no one has the poor-mes or pointing the finger. We’re all going out there and we’re all ready to work.”

The teardown roster constructed by Poles had a bevy of players on one-year contracts who no longer walk through the doors of Halas Hall, including Byron Pringle, Al-Quadin Muhammad, N'Keal Harry, Riley Reiff, and others.

But with the decks reset after last season, Poles brought in a host of players he views as long-term building blocks for his grand vision. Players who aren't in Chicago to find a way to grab another back-end roster spot next season but who are critical to a multi-year plan to build the Bears into perennial contenders.

Wide receiver DJ Moore, linebackers Tremaine Edmunds and T.J. Edwards, Walker, right tackle Darnell Wright, running back Roschon Johnson, defensive tackles Gervon Dexter and Zacch Pickens, and cornerback Tyrique Stevenson are all expected to be in Chicago for an extended period of time.

Those players join franchise pillars already in place in Jackson, cornerback Jaylon Johnson, tight end Cole Kmet, and quarterback Justin Fields.

Those four, along with Jones and wide receiver Darnell Mooney, were the Kevlar threads holding things barely together in 2022. Boats beating back against the current of selfishness and apathy that exacerbates losing and creates downward spirals that are impossible to escape.

The 2023 Bears believe that the culture cleansing has them in a better place heading into the fall. That's the product of an injection of elite talent like Moore and Edmunds but also the arrival of guys who know what their immediate NFL future holds.

They won't be perusing the NFL classified ads in January, hoping for another shot at a fringe roster spot. They are part of the foundation of this rebuild. Some -- like Moore, Edmunds, and Wright -- are pillars. Others are vital parts of the bedrock brought in to help stabilize the organizational floor.

Where once there was decay and rot, the Bears now have something they believe can grow and flourish around Fields, Jackson, and the others.

That very well could be the case. But there is no adversity in June—no trials, or tribulations. The 2022 Bears talked a lot about shocking the world. They got hit in the mouth by reality and quickly dissolved. The makeup of the roster makes that unsurprising.

But the Bears believe this group, the one that's built of expected long-term pieces, won't crack or splinter as that one did.

If Poles' rebuild is going to stay on track, it can't.

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