Inside GM Ryan Poles’ championship visions for the Chicago Bears – Boston Herald

Damn. Ryan Poles really wishes he still had that GoPro. If he did, he could show you more of what he’s talking about, this fantastic memory that suddenly has put a wide smile across his face.

It’s a perfectly pleasant March afternoon in Florida, and Poles is sitting at the peak of his profession, a first down or two from the whispering waves of the Atlantic Ocean, on a lounge sofa adjacent to a pristine beach at The Breakers resort in Palm Beach. The scenery symbolizes an arrival, an ascent to an unreal career opportunity with the Chicago Bears. Poles is soaking in every minute of his first trip to the NFL owners meetings as the new general manager of one of the league’s charter franchises.

But for a minute or two, his mind’s eye is elsewhere, back two-plus years and scanning through a February 2020 afternoon in Kansas City, Mo. Three nights before that, as the Chiefs assistant director of player personnel, Poles watched the franchise that raised him ride the comeback heroics of quarterback Patrick Mahomes to a 31-20 defeat of the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl LIV.

Pure exhilaration.

The Chiefs claimed the Lombardi Trophy, then were off to enjoy the spoils. As Poles recalls the elation, he puts himself back atop a double-decker bus in downtown Kansas City at the start of the parade route to the championship rally at Union Station.

“I’m telling you, man,” he says.

He stops to shake his head. His goosebumps are having an adrenaline rush.

Poles still can feel that bus, not far from the Missouri River, making its first turn and then heading across a bridge and down Grand Boulevard with a bird’s-eye view of mass euphoria.

“It almost takes your breath away,” he says. “All these people lined up. On the tops of garages. You’re looking down and it’s like, ‘Whoooo.’”

This right here, Poles emphasizes, is what he’ll forever be chasing to experience again.

“I can’t even explain it,” he says. “It’s this profound feeling that you get in understanding what all this truly means to a city and a fan base.”

Poles is sharing this because it’s the same memory he relayed to Bears Chairman George McCaskey and the rest of the team’s search committee during his interviews for the GM job in January.

“I close my eyes sometimes,” he says, “and I just imagine what that will look like in Chicago.”

Poles still has several smartphone videos from that day that whisk him back to the parade, the rally, the joy in Kansas City. But the GoPro camera he hooked to the top of the bus to help capture those memories? Well …

“You get excited,” he says with a smile. “You start drinking a little bit. I got off the bus and straight forgot it.”

Damn, indeed.

By the time Poles realized his GoPro was missing, the buses were well on their way back to St. Louis.

Perhaps somewhere, someone still has that camera and the incomparable footage on it. “Or,” Poles quips, “maybe it wound up on the side of the highway. Run over.”

The memories, though, remain ingrained in Poles’ brain. He can revisit those scenes whenever he wants, twisting them into a visualization of what he hopes is to come in Chicago.

“That’s it,” he reiterates. “That is the goal.”

It’s early in Poles’ Bears tenure. So maybe now is not the time to remind him that rabid Bears fans and hopeful GMs and dedicated coaches and driven players have been closing their eyes inside Halas Hall for the last 37 years, trying to imagine what a Super Bowl celebration will look like again in downtown Chicago.

No luck. Just decade after decade of mediocrity.

It’s Poles’ responsibility now to change that, to establish a winning culture, to build a championship roster, to use his vision, dedication and sharp communication skills to turn the Bears back into an annual contender.

The climb will be steep and treacherous, requiring intense concentration and minimal missteps. Under Poles’ watch, the Bears must quickly stabilize the most important position on their roster and mold quarterback Justin Fields into a star. With new coach Matt Eberflus’ guidance, they have to regain a nasty and dominating edge on defense. They also have to become much more competitive within the NFC North, in which they have finished in the bottom half during 13 of the division’s 20 seasons.

All of this will require a long string of successful drafts plus shrewd maneuvering in free agency.

Poles knows exactly what he signed up for and understands the degree of difficulty. He also has strong conviction that he has a road map to guide the Bears toward a parade route of their own.

II

This week, Poles will lift the curtain on his first Bears training camp with six weeks to decide on a 53-man roster and 16-player practice squad to start the season. Of the 90 players currently under contract, 56 were not with the Bears in any capacity last season. Only 13 have started at least 10 games in multiple seasons — for any team. Just two — Robert Quinn and Eddie Jackson — have a Pro Bowl invitation on their resume.

Quite simply, the Bears are in the earliest stages of a massive overhaul.

Poles has been careful not to advertise this as a rebuild. “The rebuild thing is, like, super sensitive,” he said in April. “We’re constructing a very good football team.”

Still, this is what it is. And to most of the NFL world, it seems obvious the Bears are a long way from becoming a contender again.

Not even Poles would dispute that. In fact, it was his blunt honesty during the interview process that impressed Bill Polian, the Hall of Fame executive who, as a consultant, set the direction for the Bears GM search.

“He’s very straightforward,” Polian says. “He will tell you what is on his mind. He has an offensive lineman’s mentality. No frills and fancy stuff. He is not disingenuous. He simply tells you what he thinks.”

Of the 13 GM candidates the Bears interviewed, Poles’ candor and vision set him apart.

“No. 1, he didn’t have a presentation,” Polian says. “He answered questions and he answered them in detail. And he answered them with logical precision and using real-life examples.

“His breadth of knowledge was impressive. His track record was impressive.”

Polian took note of how Poles climbed the ladder in Kansas City, starting as a scouting assistant in 2009 before being promoted four times under three GMs: Scott Pioli, John Dorsey and Brett Veach. The experience Poles accumulated during 13 seasons with the Chiefs was vast, working his way up to college scouting coordinator, director of college scouting, assistant director of player personnel and finally executive director of player personnel.

“By the end of that first interview,” Polian said, “I was convinced he was right for this job.”

Poles had detailed notes on how the Chiefs found their formula for sustained success, having qualified for the playoffs in seven straight seasons and playing for the conference championship the last four years.

But Poles also experienced life at the bottom. During his first four seasons with the Chiefs, they went 23-41 with three last-place finishes in the AFC West.

“Everybody thinks about the last few years and that push we made in Kansas City,” Poles says. “But even fans and family members and friends forget there was a long journey before things really exploded. There was gradual push and gradual improvement. We brought the right types of players in. It required a blend of the (right) skill sets, a blend of the culture. I reflect on that a lot with what we’re now doing here.”

Polian also loved the leaguewide feedback the Bears received on Poles from references and others around the league who knew him well. Pioli. Dorsey. Colts GM Chris Ballard, who was with Poles for four seasons in Kansas City. Ian Cunningham, whom Poles later hired as his assistant GM. They all describe Poles as selfless, composed and full of competitive ambition.

“I borrowed a lesson from Marv Levy,” Polian says. “What you want to hear from a reference is: ‘This guy is A-plus, the gold standard. You need to have him. Go get him!’ Anything else than that, you should be a little bit careful.

“It is good advice. And we had many glowing reviews like that (on Poles).”

Nevertheless, Poles realized when joining that initial Zoom interview with the Bears’ five-person panel that a certain tact was needed to criticize and scrutinize the organization he wanted to join.

“There are ways to be brutally honest without being a jerk,” he says. “A lot of times, when you present data and you present facts, it becomes very clear. Those tell the story for you.”

Whether it was assessing why certain Bears players had underperformed or offering suggestions on how the franchise’s leadership structure could be enhanced, Poles offered frank analysis without apology. He expressed his vision in detail.

McCaskey was interested in Poles’ assessment of the roster and overview of the organization.

“More importantly, (it was about) what he is going to do to fix it,” McCaskey says. “Ryan’s assessment was blunt and his plan to fix it made sense.”

On Jan. 25, the Bears hired Poles as their GM and have spent six months watching him settle in to his new role.

“I come back to his quality of being self-possessed,” McCaskey says. “There’s something about him. It’s really difficult for me to put my finger on. But he’s very confident. He exudes that. And I think all the other people on staff pick up on it.”

III

Poles’ vision of the team he wants to put on a parade route one day is unwavering. He hopes to build around passionate, team-first players who both understand the championship-level grind and invest themselves in it accordingly. He wants his line play on both sides of the ball to be tenacious. And he wants playmakers who are versatile and check the boxes for speed and explosiveness in Sharpie.

He also knows championship teams need magnetic leaders who bring natural energy daily to the pursuit of excellence and who can establish and retain a standard of how things must be done.

Through that lens, Poles’ ability to bring out the best in Eberflus and Fields will go a long way toward determining how quickly the Bears can turn things around — if at all.

In some league circles, there is still some head-scratching as to why Eberflus became Poles’ “must have” coach in an incredibly condensed search. While the Bears held preliminary interviews with 10 possible head coaches in January, Poles interviewed only three of those candidates — Eberflus, Jim Caldwell and Dan Quinn — and hired Eberflus less than 48 hours after he himself became a Halas Hall employee.

“I was convicted,” Poles says. “Matt met the criteria of what I was looking for. He’s exactly what this team needs.”

Poles and Eberflus share an agent in former Bear Trace Armstrong of Athletes First. Their mutual respect was established years ago, helping expedite their union.

But for a team needing an infusion of contagious energy while looking to accelerate Fields’ development, it registered as peculiar to some that Poles, 36, gravitated toward a defensive-minded, 51-year-old coach with no previous head coaching experience and only modest success in a coordinator role. In a quarterback-driven league, only eight of the last 29 head coaching hires have been defensive-oriented coaches.

Poles, though, emphasized his “When you know, you know” feeling about Eberflus and has stressed that he wasn’t fixated on finding a head coach with an offensive background. His thorough research told him that was not a prerequisite.

For the past six months, Poles has had little difficulty explaining his attraction to Eberflus’ coaching style, noting a combination of relentlessness and poise. He has felt Eberflus’ energy and respects the discipline the coach demands from everyone around him. He has appreciated how detailed Eberflus has been in his planning and has identified what he calls “an emotional intelligence” in how Eberflus pushes players.

“He’s demanding,” Poles says, “but he cares. And everything he does is for a reason.”

Poles believes Eberflus has a knack for obtaining maximum effort from players, for establishing ways to measure that in practice and games and for committing to the initial standards he is setting.

In much the same way the Bears’ selection of quarterback Mitch Trubisky with the No. 2 pick in 2017 required constant comparison with the other quarterbacks they passed over — namely Mahomes and Deshaun Watson — Poles will have to live with regular outside analysis of whether he should have chosen a different partner. Or at least gone deeper in his search.

Perhaps Brian Daboll could have made sense for developing Fields. Or Nathaniel Hackett. Or Byron Leftwich.

Maybe Brian Flores or Kevin O’Connell deserved more serious consideration.

On the morning the Bears announced Eberflus as the 17th coach in franchise history, Poles was pressed on whether he might have deepened his search if he had been given a chance to expand it.

“I was given that opportunity,” he said, pointing to Eberflus. “I found him.”

United now and collaborating on a voluminous championship-building plan, Poles and Eberflus also must establish their vision for how to elevate Fields. Poles should have plenty of intel in that department after watching Mahomes’ emergence over five years in Kansas City.

IV

Poles already blew his chance to take credit for the Chiefs’ selection of Mahomes or the quarterback’s ascension into stardom. Although Poles was the director of college scouting in 2017 — when the Chiefs traded up 17 spots to pick the future league and Super Bowl MVP at No. 10 — he makes it clear that a group effort and sturdy process led to one of the greatest jackpots in draft history.

“Yeah,” he says with a laugh, “I cannot take individual credit for that one. I won’t. And I never will.”

Poles did file away valuable lessons from how the Chiefs evaluated Mahomes, agreed on his NFL potential and ultimately planned his development.

All those things should help as the Bears continue grooming Fields.

The first lesson from the Mahomes experience, Poles says, was leaning heavily on an old scouting axiom.

“Tell me what he can do,” Poles says. “That was such a big thing with us and Patrick. … A lot of players have flaws. And sometimes as scouts and evaluators, we get stuck on the flaws and ignore what the player can do.

“What Patrick could do was make plays that a lot of people just can’t. Were there some flaws in terms of his technique and fundamentals? Yeah. But those things can be coached.”

Poles harks back to a pre-draft film session at Chiefs headquarters during which jaws seemed to hit the table every minute. He was sitting alongside coach Andy Reid, then-GM Dorsey and Veach, who at the time was co-director of player personnel. The group had put together video from Mahomes’ career at Texas Tech that eliminated all the easy throws such as checkdowns and passes behind the line of scrimmage.

Instead, the Chiefs evaluators wanted to zero in on passes with at least 15 to 20 air yards. The resulting montage was intoxicating.

“It was like, ‘Holy crap!’” Poles says. “This dude is super accurate. This arm talent is amazing. That’s when it clicked.

“Everyone was getting stuck talking about what he couldn’t do. Patrick threw interceptions and made iffy decisions (in college). True. But we saw what he could do when he was put in advantageous situations. You saw that he was different.”

The Chiefs also recognized a competitive fire and passion in Mahomes they loved. That, they agreed, would provide invaluable fuel to his growth process.

While careful not to compare a league MVP with 18,707 passing yards and 151 touchdown passes over the last four seasons to a second-year quarterback who lost his final seven starts as a rookie, Poles notes parallels in the way Mahomes and Fields can make jaws drop with their off-script playmaking ability.

Through discussions with Ryan Day, Fields’ coach at Ohio State, Poles also learned more about what makes Fields tick and his hunger for the big moments.

“He has these moments where his back is against the wall and he just elevates,” Poles says. “And that’s where he’s at his best. That’s what I’m looking forward to getting out of him.”

For now, Poles has entrusted Fields’ development to Eberflus, offensive coordinator Luke Getsy and quarterbacks coach Andrew Janocko. But he won’t be afraid to provide input from his time with Mahomes.

Poles already has pointed out how Reid was incredibly hard on Mahomes as a rookie and into his first year as a starter. The goal was to create nonstop urgency and hunger.

“It was demanding he did things the right way,” Poles says. “Everything. Coach (Reid) has this way of loving you up, bringing you back down, getting on you and supporting you. It’s this blend. He knew how to do that constructively.”

While Eberflus and his staff are tasked with Fields’ development, Poles understands his duties to upgrade the pass protection and offensive playmakers. He knows he must explore any avenue that can accelerate a breakthrough for Fields. And he is well aware his efforts to do so this spring didn’t satisfy a large swath of the Bears fan base. More work is ahead.

V

After just a few months on the job, Poles is in the early stages of trying to solve the 12-sided Rubik’s Cube that has perplexed so many Halas Hall decision makers before him. For three decades, occasional flashes of success from the Bears — see: 2001, 2005-06, 2010 and 2018 — have been sandwiched between maddening stretches of disappointment and failure.

Since winning Super Bowl XX in the 1985 season, the Bears have made it back to the sport’s grandest stage only once.

Since 1988, they have been unable to put together even a modest run of three consecutive winning seasons.

Their last playoff victory came more than 11 years ago, a drought topped by only the Detroit Lions, Las Vegas Raiders, Miami Dolphins and Washington Commanders.

Just three years ago, the Bears seemed to be thrusting open a window of opportunity to become a perennial championship contender — like Poles’ Chiefs. After winning 12 games and the NFC North title in coach Matt Nagy’s first season in 2018, the Bears headed into their 100th season in 2019 as one of the favorites to play in Super Bowl LIV.

With a dominating defense and a growing young quarterback in Trubisky plus the league’s reigning Coach of the Year, the franchise’s Bears 100 celebration in June 2019 seemed to be an infinity pool of optimism and imagination.

But the Bears followed with back-to-back 8-8 seasons and a 6-11 clunker last year that cost Nagy and general manager Ryan Pace their jobs.

“We thought we were on our way,” McCaskey says. “It didn’t turn out that way. But we think with the changes we’ve made, we’ll be back there.”

Poles has the onus of trying to diagnose why that window of promise slammed shut. Those who fail to understand the past, after all, are often doomed to repeat it.

To that end, Poles remains reticent about specifics of what his homework and analysis turned up. But he believes he found clarity on a lot of what went wrong the last three years.

“You can never feel comfortable,” he says. “You have to always try to improve. You have to always keep tweaking and adjusting.

“You don’t have to make the atmosphere stiff in the facility. But there always has to be a sense of urgency to get better.”

Perhaps that’s a big part of the disease at Halas Hall, an institutional complacency in which mediocrity rarely proves bothersome enough. Maybe there just hasn’t been proper recognition that while the path to being decent in the NFL is paved, the road to greatness in a high-intensity, cutthroat league can be perilous, requiring sharp focus, resilience and concentration.

“It’s far more difficult to sustain excellence at the top,” Poles says, “than it is to climb to that point.”

That’s why Poles continues to stress his desire to bring in players whose hunger to succeed is insatiable and who recognize on a daily basis the dangers of exhaling too deeply.

“When you have success, naturally as human beings we relax,” Poles says. “And I think sometimes with that relaxation in football, that’s when the rest of the league jumps up and gets you.

“You have to have that feeling that something is chasing you all the time and you have to keep running and keep improving. I feel like we just started that race. But we’re always going to feel like we’re being chased.”

So how can the Bears establish new standards and then cement them? It’s about accountability, Poles says, and a competitive edge.

“When you relax,” he adds, “you allow certain tendencies and certain behaviors (to creep) in. And if you don’t have the same discipline and structure that got you there, everything becomes weak and fragile.”

VI

In the many talks Pioli has had with Poles since January, he has made sure to keep the discussions tethered to reality. Occasionally that means dropping a harsh reminder or two.

For one thing, while Poles bears no responsibility for the shortcomings of the Bears GMs who came before him, their failures have created understandable impatience and edginess within the fan base that now will be judging Poles on a weekly basis.

“I have told Ryan that directly,” Pioli said. “That’s the blessing and the burden. The blessing is this job and this wonderful opportunity was open because of the (organization’s) lack of success. The burden is you will now have to live with the history of other people you had nothing to do with. That’s not always easy.”

In short, the past 20 years or so of Bears struggles may have nothing to do with Poles. But they also suddenly have everything to do with him as he works to dig the franchise out of the rubble.

“That’s all part of this,” Poles says. “You can’t be in a big market and want to enjoy the successes and those spoils without knowing the intense pressure behind it.

“When adversity hits, that’s something extra you’ll have to get through. It won’t be easy. But there’s a responsibility in this chair to quiet the noise, be devoted to your plan and always find ways to recover, adjust and adapt.”

Pioli brought Poles into the league in 2009 and has remained a mentor since. He knows there is no way to guarantee success from his protégé. Over the years, too many sharp, talented, driven GMs across the league have failed to back up their championship promises because, well, it’s a damn hard job to master.

But Pioli senses Poles has the makeup to steer the Bears back to where they want to go.

As the GM in Kansas City, using methods he picked up from Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick, Pioli often put intense demands on those working for him. Quite simply, he says, he made extra efforts to create chaos and complications for subordinates to resolve. Poles was not spared.

“That’s how I was raised,” Pioli says. “I worked with two guys who fabricated pressure. And you ultimately realized they were doing it as a means of preparing you. … For me, it became a way of teaching guys to understand and handle pressure.”

In that environment, Pioli says, Poles always thrived.

“Ryan is a passionate person about this game,” Pioli says. “And he is exceedingly competitive. So I have seen him in states where he is beginning to get really worked up. But then he has the wherewithal to just stop and say: ‘OK. Compartmentalize. Let’s work through this thoughtfully.’

“He has that balance to him. He knows how and when to hit those switches. That is vital for a role like this.”

To this day, Poles appreciates the foundation of mental toughness and discipline Pioli helped him build. Just as he values the time he spent working under Dorsey, learning how to cultivate “a culture of candor” by creating useful, everything-on-the-table meetings to spark debate and resolution.

Under Veach, Poles enjoyed the constant brainstorming and open-door banter that flooded the workplace with new ideas and proposals. That proved mentally stimulating on a regular basis.

Pioli sees Poles making this new jump up the ladder and is confident he will find his footing quickly.

“Ryan has an incredible combination of strength and humility,” Pioli says. “And naturally, he is a really, really good listener. I know that sounds basic, but that’s not true about everyone. You can see that with him. His decision making is based on his own knowledge and his own strengths plus his very clear ability to listen to others.”

VII

Polian listened to Poles’ pitch in January and came away convinced the experience in Kansas City — as the Chiefs ascended from worst to first — was the perfect on-ramp for the demanding job Poles now holds at Halas Hall.

Says Polian: “From that for Ryan you know a) what it takes to climb the mountain; b) you know that it can be achieved; c) you know how you’ve achieved it somewhere else; and d) you recognize all that you have to do in order to achieve that.

“And it can’t be done overnight. It doesn’t happen overnight. Bear fans need to recognize that.”

That’s why Poles continues to ask for patience, doing so directly many times throughout the offseason. He has asked ownership to be patient with the time it may take to restock the roster and mold the group with championship-level talent. He has asked Eberflus and his coaching staff to be patient with the inevitable bumps in the road ahead this season due to the team’s deficiencies. He is asking fans to be patient with this latest Bears reboot.

Poles has openly articulated his desire to build through the draft while being selective in free agency. He has stressed a need to have “a relentless approach to fix our weaknesses.”

“It’s self-awareness of the roster,” he says. “That’s a big piece.”

Somewhat by necessity, Poles’ first offseason was low on attention-grabbing headlines, particularly relative to all the developments across the league. His biggest transaction was a subtraction — the March trade of standout pass rusher Khalil Mack to the Los Angeles Chargers for a second-round pick plus a sixth-rounder in 2023. “Had to do what is best for the club,” Poles says.

One of the Bears’ few attempts at a big-splash free-agent signing this spring wound up a belly flop when they rescinded a three-year, $40.5 million deal with Larry Ogunjobi after the defensive tackle’s physical examination at Halas Hall revealed more extensive damage than expected in his injured right foot.

“That was hard. Really hard,” Poles says. “Because I was excited about him.”

Because of the previous regime’s 2021 trade up for Fields, the Bears went into this year’s draft without a first-round pick. As a result, Poles’ 2022 draft class is headlined by three Day 2 selections: defensive backs Kyler Gordon and Jaquan Brisker and receiver Velus Jones Jr., a trio of prospects who will face immediate expectations to contribute.

And while Poles became hyperactive on the draft-weekend trade market, ultimately assembling an 11-man class, seven of those prospects were taken in the final 100 picks, not exactly fertile ground historically to find franchise-changing standouts. No one knows how many of the rookies will land a second contract with the Bears. Just as it’s hard to project which of the veteran newcomers — center Lucas Patrick, receiver Byron Pringle, pass rusher Al-Quadin Muhammad, defensive tackle Justin Jones, linebacker Nicholas Morrow — will be around longer than a season or two.

Perhaps even more disconcerting, three of Poles’ veteran additions — Pringle, linebacker Matt Adams and receiver David Moore — were arrested during an 11-week span on charges of reckless driving, illegal firearms possession and possession of a controlled substance plus unlawful carrying of weapons, respectively.

During a roster gutting of this magnitude, a young GM can sometimes feel like he is walking through a minefield. Championship dreams can be abruptly interrupted by harsh realities.

Indeed, patience will be required.

“Listen,” Poles says, “I also want to be at the pinnacle that I just left (in Kansas City). But I also have to remember there is a right way of doing things to get to that point. That’s been challenging for sure.

“Everyone’s like, ‘You’re being so patient.’ That does not mean I’m sitting up in my room at night happy (with where we are). I want to win now. And we are going to make improvements. But this is going to take time.”

VIII

Whatever might be ahead, Poles is immersing himself in getting the Bears back in the parade business with an eagerness to test himself.

“I don’t think you ever know if you’re ready until you go,” he says.

The analogy he keeps coming back to is the feeling he had when he and his wife, Katie, brought their son, Mason, home from the hospital more than nine years ago.

“That door closes behind you and you look at each other with those wide eyes and it’s like: ‘OK. It’s go time. We’ve got to keep this baby alive,’” Poles says. “But you find yourself reflecting on things you’ve learned over time. You call people in your circle with pressing questions. It’s: ‘What do we do? Is this normal?’ Then, little by little, you get advice and reassurance and experience. And it’s like, ‘OK, cool.’”

Poles has had similar feelings the past six months. Best of all, he felt an energy surge as he assembled his staff and learned what to delegate to whom.

For close to four months, before their families relocated, Poles and his handpicked assistant GM, Ian Cunningham, were roommates in a rental house not far from Halas Hall.

Cunningham, who was part of Super Bowl championships with the 2012 Baltimore Ravens and 2017 Philadelphia Eagles, has long appreciated Poles’ natural leadership as the two got to know each other within league circles over the past decade.

That respect only grew this spring with carpool conversations and casual at-home debriefings during which they identified their stress points and priorities and devised plans.

“People want to look to a leader who is consistent and composed and is thoughtful with what he says,” Cunningham says. “Ryan is a person you root for, a person who you want to help.”

Poles, who played on the offensive line at Boston College and had a 2009 training camp stint with the Bears, says his playing days gave him a feel for how to keep his head down, stay in sync with others and devote himself to the grind.

When his parents and wife would call to check in this spring, his enthusiasm was constant.

“Just like: ‘I’m great. I’m having a blast,’” Poles says. “This is everything I thought it was going to be. I know there are going to be surprises and I’ll have to stay on my toes and adjust. But this has felt natural.”

With profound confidence, Poles has stepped off the platform and onto the NFL tightrope, knowing precisely how hard his quest to get across will be.

“Everyone has to walk it,” he says. “But this will be fun. I am excited about this journey.”

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