MOBILE, Ala. - Bears general manager Ryan Poles stood on the field at Hancock Whitney Stadium Wednesday, evaluating some of the nation's top NFL prospects.
Poles and members of his personnel department are at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., this week to watch practices and meet with players in preparation for the draft.
"It's real valuable for us," Poles told ChicagoBears.com. "You can't get around the country to see everyone throughout the fall, so being able to get up close and see how they move, see how they lead, communicate, those are all big pieces of the puzzle that we've got to answer.
"The other thing, too, is seeing specific matchups. You get the opportunity to see someone who might have gone to a small school go against a power five school [prospect], and that's important for our evaluation as well."
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Meeting with players off the field this week is giving the Bears a chance to see how they communicate and carry themselves.
"Throughout the fall, as we gather information, there are going to be some holes in the story of certain things that we're looking for," Poles said. "It's an opportunity for us to ask them about that and really kind of tie all the loose ends on what they stand for as a person as well as a football player."
Seeing the prospects actually play football at the Senior Bowl is valuable. In about a month, the NFL universe will reconvene in Indianapolis at the Combine, which consists primarily of drills and tests that measure speed, strength and agility.
"After this, we're going to get further and further away from the game of football," Poles said. "Seeing the football part, seeing these guys in their element and seeing them compete for a couple days here, that's the biggest difference."
Last year, receiver Velus Jones Jr., left tackle Braxton Jones, defensive end Dominique Robinson and guard Ja'Tyre Carter were all drafted by the Bears after impressive performances at the Senior Bowl.
"It had a big impact," Poles said. "Again, when you're trying to close a loop on some of the information that you gathered in the fall, that helps you feel more confident about making the selection. The other thing is just seeing them move around. I remember Velus moving around. You could see the speed up close and personal against some competition from all over the country. So that had a big part."
Poles feels fortunate that four Bears assistants are coaching in the Senior Bowl. Offensive coordinator Luke Getsy is serving as head coach of the American team; linebackers coach Dave Borgonzi and assistant tight ends coach Tim Zetts are assisting Getsy; and assistant special teams coordinator Carlos Polk is working as special teams coordinator for the National squad.
"That's a beautiful thing," Poles said. "It's very rare to have some of your coaches be in the same room [and able to] coach these guys up, challenge them mentally on the board of what their responsibilities [are] or maybe what the big picture thought process is with each play. That up close relationship that they get to build in this event should help us big time."
This year marks the first time that two full staffs from NFL teams aren't coaching the Senior Bowl. Under a new arrangement to promote professional development, the league implemented a "coach up" format that placed coordinators and assistant coaches into elevated or different roles from the ones they hold with their clubs.
Getsy, who has never served as a head coach at any level, no doubt will benefit from the experience. His responsibilities this week have included creating a daily schedule, leading team meetings and practices and conducting press conferences.
After attending the American team meeting Wednesday morning, Poles marveled that Getsy "was incredible in just how he got the energy going for the day."
"Whenever you're in a leadership position on this large of a scale, when you have that volume of players, I think it's really important," Poles said. "It's going to be really big for his development."