LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Bears offensive coordinator Luke Getsy didn't select quarterback Tyson Bagent to be on his Senior Bowl team in January. That was a stroke of good fortune, which allowed Getsy to get to know the record-setting Division II signal-caller and put Bagent on the path to signing with the Bears as an undrafted free agent.
"He was super successful in college, like being able to throw the football, that's stuff you see on film," Getsy said Wednesday at Halas Hall when asked about his first impressions of Bagent. "But getting around the person and seeing the leadership skills, the work ethic that he has and what kind of demeanor he has in the meeting and on the practice field is probably the most valuable part you get in that situation."
Bagent owns the record for career touchdown passes across all NCAA divisions with 159. He won the 2021 Harlan Hill Trophy, the D-II equivalent of the Heisman. Put simply, he can sling it.
Despite playing at a lower level, the Bears' staff didn't evaluate Bagent much differently than any other quarterback prospect. Once you get to the NFL, you can either play or you can't. That being said, the Bears getting to coach Bagent at the Senior Bowl against top-level Division I and Power 5 talent helped show them the Shepherd star has the necessary ability. The difference in skill didn't faze him.
"You’re still looking for the same qualities in a quarterback," Bears quarterback coach Andrew Janocko said of the process of evaluating Bagent. "So we have a checklist we go through and pluses and minuses in each player. There have been some great players in Division II... So I know there are a lot of great players in there. So you’re looking at the same evaluation, but then that Senior Bowl experience was great for him, too, because we were able to get him in a different setting and have some comfort and see him against some more speed that maybe he didn’t see at that level."
The Bears signed Bagent as an undrafted free agent and brought him in for rookie minicamp. Bagent could have come into Halas Hall and completed a ton of passes with his usual footwork and mechanics during the two-day camp. But that wouldn't have persuaded the Bears to give him a real shot at a roster or practice squad spot.
Instead, Bagent arrived and dove into learning the footwork needed to run Getsy's offense. The results on Day 1 were as expected. Bagent missed several throws he could have completed with his Shepherd footwork. But he didn't revert on Day 2. He stuck with it, improved, and showed the Bears' staff he was willing to do the hard work needed to make the long climb up the NFL mountain.
“He’s a smart kid, tough kid," Janocko said at rookie minicamp in May. "He took to coaching right away. He’s never been around our footwork, so coming out here right away, he just dove off the diving board for us, which was fun. It’s easy to come out here say, ‘Ok, first day, I’m just going to go out and revert back to what I’ve had success with and get a couple completions in a camp like this. But if you’re looking to make a team, you’re looking to strive, and a complete buy in and that was fun to see because yesterday there were some throws he missed and a lot of that was just trusting that we’re going to make those throws and then I think those throws that he missed yesterday, I think he made every one today, so that was a lot of fun to see."
A long summer of grinding in the playbook and on the field saw Bagent enter training camp as the No. 4 quarterback behind Justin Fields, P.J. Walker, and Nathan Peterman. Through three weeks of camp, Bagent was the most consistent of the three backup quarterbacks. He wasn't perfect, far from it. But he missed fewer throws than Walker and steadily improved.
Bagent was an unremarkable 5-for-6 for 37 yards in the Bears' preseason-opening win against the Tennessee Titans. But the good days he continued to stack saw him get more reps during joint practices with the Indianapolis Colts, leading to his coming out party in Saturday's preseason loss to the Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium.
As everyone in Chicago knows by now, Bagent took over in the second quarter with the Bears at their own 8-yard line. Backed up in their own territory on the road, Bagent could have turned into a D-II pumpkin and wilted under the pressure of what might be his best chance to make a case for a roster spot.
Instead, he calmly engineered a 17-play, 92-yard scoring drive, which he capped off with a 2-yard touchdown run. Bagent went 7-for-8 for 61 yards on the drive. He finished the night 9-for-10 for 76 yards.
The undrafted, recording-setting rookie opened eyes in Indianapolis.
"He was calm. Super calm," wide receiver Darnell Mooney said Tuesday after practice at Halas Hall. "He was electric. I mean just looking at him with the quick game just getting the ball out wherever he wanted to go. That's where he was going. He wasn't indecisive. He was very understanding of what he wanted to do. It was beautiful to watch. I had the headset on. I know what play was going on. Definitely beautiful to watch for sure, especially from him."
To the rookies who entered the NFL with Bagent, his unflappable demeanor and surgical precision in Indianapolis wasn't a surprise. There's a reason no one blinks when the kid from Martinsburg, West Virginia, enters the huddle.
"He’s a cool dude. He’s smooth. He doesn’t panic," running back Roschon Johnson said after the game. "He comes from a small school, but you wouldn’t know the way that he plays. Just how he carries himself. He’s a guy that everyone kind of gets along with and everybody trusts when he’s in there because he’s very calm and collected.”
The night ended with Bears head coach Matt Eberflus saying there was an "open" competition for the backup quarterback position, something Getsy acknowledged Wednesday while noting that one drive won't win you a job.
“I mean everybody has a shot," Getsy said. "All three guys have done a really nice job through training camp. I think you guys have seen, like most of the guys in our training camp, there’s been good days and bad days for everybody and those three specifically. So we’re taking all that in. I know he had a great drive and that’s exciting for people, but that’s one drive. We’re going to make that part of the evaluation, but we’re going to take the whole training camp evaluation before we make a decision like that.”
Is it unlikely that an undrafted rookie from Division II Shepherd will be the Bears' primary backup quarterback in 18 days? There's no doubt. But Bagent has already shown that he's more than one drive. That's something the Bears have known for a while -- everyone else is just catching up.
"I think he’s shown some poise, I think he’s shown a little bit of moxie to him," Janocko said Wednesday. "When you talk to him, he carries himself like somebody that’s very confidence, confident in his abilities, and he’s got a little swagger to him. You like that."
The quarterback evaluation process goes far beyond arm talent, processing speed, athleticism, and college tape. To be a leader, someone everyone else wants to walk over broken glass for, you have to have something extra. Something unquantifiable.
"I think you have to have a demeanor where you have confidence and you have moxie," Janocko said. "You have to have a demeanor that you’re a winner. Yeah, absolutely something that we look for in the evaluation process, and we wouldn’t want a guy in here that doesn’t have that."
Bagent mania might be jumping the rails a bit. But there's no denying there's something about The Good Shepherd. Even when the Bears' offense is in the muck in practice, good things seem to happen when he's under center. The decisions are quick, the passes are accurate, and the mistakes are few compared to Walker and Peterman.
Still, the Bears will consider everything when picking the best backup for Fields. That will include experience, which Walker has in droves. But that won't be the determining factor.
"I don't think there's any way you can ignore someone's past and not value what's going on in the present as well, because experience is something that you can't — there's no substitute for that," Getsy said. "All of that's really important. But I think in the end, what's most important, is that you're playing at your best when your best is needed."
Bagent will have one final preseason game to show that his best is good enough to either jump Walker or secure a spot on the active roster. The magnitude of the moment isn't lost on Bagent. He understands this is a rare chance. But he won't dwell on it. He knows cut day is arriving no matter what, and all he can do is prepare and continue to stack good days.
When the clock hits zero, we'll see if Bagent's "it factor" trumps Walker's experience and the contract that came with it.