Matt Eberflus

Caleb Williams' arrival means massive pressure for Matt Eberflus on two fronts in 2024

Matt Eberflus will have to walk a tightrope in 2024

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ORLANDO -- Matt Eberflus' new look -- the beard, the haircut, the fashion -- can be viewed as symbolic of the injection of energy surrounding the Bears as they prepare for a franchise-altering selection with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2024 NFL Draft.

Eberflus survived a trying second season in Chicago. The Bears' second-half defensive turnaround under Eberflus' direction helped the head coach earn a third season at the helm. General manager Ryan Poles asked Eberflus to revamp his offensive staff and show tangible progress in Year 3.

Poles has continued to stack the Bears' roster with talent this offseason. The Bears traded for star wide receiver Keenan Allen and added running back D'Andre Swift and tight end Gerald Everett. They also bolstered their offensive line with Coleman Shelton and Ryan Bates.

All of those moves should make life for presumptive No. 1 pick Caleb Williams easier when the star quarterback lands in Chicago following April's draft.

Everything is pointing up for the Bears, including Eberflus' vibes.

“I would say that when you look at when we took the job, Ryan [Poles] and I took the job in ’22, we knew the process was going to be difficult," Eberflus said this week at the annual NFL league meetings in Orlando. "We didn’t go into it blind with hope, this is going to be easy. We knew exactly where the lay of the land was. ... So the first year was difficult. The start of last year was, but then you could see that we laid a good foundation and started to go on the rise. We knew it was going to be a process of that. Now we’re in Year 3 and we’re starting to add the talent because we got the cap right. Ryan and his group have done an outstanding job and we’re in a good spot.”

But despite the impeccable offseason vibes, Eberflus enters Year 3 facing a ton of pressure on two fronts.

The first front is obvious. The Bears have to keep the arrow trending up in terms of wins and losses. Yes, there are still holes on the roster. Yes, they will be breaking in a rookie quarterback. There is a new offense to learn.

Doesn't matter.

Poles, president Kevin Warren, and chairman George McCaskey want to continue to see constant progress and believe this roster should, at the very least, contend for a wild-card spot.

Those are realistic expectations if Williams and new offensive coordinator Shane Waldron are the clear upgrades over Justin Fields and Luke Getsy most expect them to be.

Winning will relieve some pressure. It will allow Eberflus to maintain the refreshed aura he has entered the offseason with as the Bears prepare to truly launch.

But it won't remove it.

The real pressure comes from trying to balance the need to win now with the patience required to develop a rookie quarterback.

Eberflus' biggest challenge in 2024 won't be securing a playoff spot in a watered-down NFC. It will be proving to Poles that he and the offensive staff he has assembled are the right group to develop Williams and help the USC star reach his stratospheric ceiling.

"It’s just really about going through the process of it and working through with the coaches and setting everything up for him," Eberflus said of how he plans to develop a plan to set a young QB up for success. "When we’re going to install things, offense and defense, they have to be tied together to make sure that we’re understanding how we’re moving the quarterback and the offense in the right direction. I think that’s always important to do. That’s not unique. That’s something I’ve always done, so that’s a big part of it.

"And then really the development side and the leadership side. That’s going to be a big thing that Shane and I are working with the quarterback because obviously he’s the leader of the offense, and that’s going to be a big developmental piece of it as well."

Letting a defensive coach on what appears to be a mildly warm seat develop a perceived "generational" prospect in Year 1 is a gamble. But Poles is confident that Eberflus has assembled the right offensive staff to put Williams in a position to succeed immediately.

"I don’t think everyone really gets a good view of it," Poles said at the league meetings. "Flus does an amazing job building relationships, and I think whoever that is, there’s going to be a relationship where you know your head coach has your back. I think that’s important. The other piece is very forward-thinking - we both are - in terms of creating structure to make sure that a young quarterback -- especially in our market -- that we do set him up for success.

"I know for sure that the roster is going to do that. It’s important to me to make sure that there’s enough around where he can get off to a fast start and build confidence, but at the same time, Shane, Flus, [QB coach Kerry Joseph], they have a good plan, too."

That has to be the case.

The Bears are winning the quarterback lottery by presumptively landing Williams. He has the potential to be a franchise-changer under center. Poles has turned over the Bears roster in two years and has them primed to ascend, with Williams playing the central role in his rebuilding masterpiece.

The last two quarterbacks the Bears drafted have seen their head coaches fired after their rookie season. That stunted their development and put them on the fast track to get shipped out of town.

Poles could have elected to move on from Eberflus and hired a head coach on the same timeline as Williams.

But he stuck with Eberflus, and now the third-year head coach faces pressure to win and put Williams on the developmental launching pad to success.

The second is more important than the first.

But both are vital to Eberflus' seat staying cool, and the Bears' trajectory remaining on the path Poles' roster-building has created.

It will be a highwire tight-rope act for Eberflus -- one with impossibly high stakes.

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