Bears Insider

How new Bears are playing critical role in turning page from 3-14 season

The Bears aren't dwelling on the failures of 2022, but they also won't forget them

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LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- The 2022 season went as expected for the Bears. General manager Ryan Poles' teardown job extended into the season with the trades of Robert Quinn and Roquan Smith. The result? A 3-14 bottoming out that saw the Bears finish with the NFL's worst record.

That reset-the-deck season led Poles and the Bears to an offseason of change. The No. 1 overall pick, coupled with $100 million in salary cap space, were expected to bring about the true start of the Poles era. The offseason saw the Bears general manager inject talent across the roster -- from star wide receiver DJ Moore to linebackers Tremaine Edmunds and T.J. Edwards.

The Bears' offseason additions also included veteran defensive lineman DeMarcus Walker, tight end Robert Tonyan, and 10 draft picks.

The key returning Bears -- led by quarterback Justin Fields, safety Eddie Jackson, and tight end Cole Kmet -- still carry the scars from a disastrous 2022 campaign. They want that memory to fuel them so that it doesn't happen again.

For the new Bears, their job is to help lead a culture shift alongside the foundational pieces. To flush the 2022 season without forgetting its lessons.

"We had the No. 1 pick last year, so what is there to be happy about?" Walker said during mandatory minicamp at Halas Hall. "What is there to celebrate about? Anything that we're doing, we're trying to lay down a new foundation to get to the promised land, and so, I mean, this is just from learning from Super Bowl champions at the Broncos, learning from guys who won when Houston went on their run and lost to the Chiefs in that big run and at the Titans they had the first seed two years ago. All of that maturity and wisdom definitely helped me get these guys to challenge them every single day.

"This is the 2023 Chicago Bears," Walker later said. "We’ve got a whole new identity, whole new defense, whole new offense, whole new group of guys that’s going out there willing to fight and lead. So honestly, f--k that s--t. You know what I’m saying? Last year’s done."

Walker has been lauded for his in-your-face leadership approach. He's a well-traveled veteran who isn't afraid to get after people and understands that what's best for the team is also best for him.

That team-first approach was lacking last season when the roster was filled with veteran fillers on one-year deals. Once the cascade of losses started, the chemistry unraveled.

"It’s a whole different locker room than it was last year, I’ll tell you that," defensive tackle Justin 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." 

Walker is one of those guys, as is Tonyan and a rookie class that is expected to be part of a sturdy foundation for this rebuild.

Tonyan, who spent the first part of his career racking up wins with the Packers, sees a collective fire from the young Bears -- both rookies and returning players -- which will be essential in buildling a winning culture that can hold up against the adversity that comes during a 17-game NFL season.

"The young guys who have been here are hungry," Tonyan said. "They want to win. That wasn’t …. They know that’s not the standard, that that’s not what you come to the NFL for. You don’t just come to coast and get three wins. That’s how people get fired. That’s how players lose jobs.

"Obviously the new guys coming in we’re here for a reason. Defensively, offensively, the older guys that were brought in. They’re here for a reason. And I think that with that change and with those guys being brought in, the young guys feel that. The guys who have been here feel that and want to get on that page and want to win. Winning in awesome. Going to the playoffs is different. Winning the division is a great feeling and I hopefully want to bring that feeling here. Offensively. And defense is going to take care of themselves. They have good leaders. They went out and got the right people. Offensively we did too. We’re trending in the right direction."

Poles revamped the roster during his first rebuilding offseason. He added the final piece to his secondary in cornerback Tyrique Stevenson, souped up the second level of his defense with Edmunds and Edwards, added playmakers in Moore, Tonyan, and rookie wide receiver Tyler Scott, and bolstered the offensive line with first-round pick Darnell Wright and right guard Nate Davis.

The Bears have a baseline level of NFL competency they did not have last season. If Fields improves as a passer, there's no reason they shouldn't be in the hunt for a wild card spot when the calendar turns to December.

The returning Bears, those who survived the 2022 wreckage and remain franchise building blocks, will always carry the lessons of that shipwreck season with them.

For new Bears like Walker and Tonyan, their goal is to help the Bears turn the page and create a new normal at Halas Hall. One that makes a 3-14 season nothing but a distant memory of a necessary teardown campaign.

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