ESPN Chicago Bears reporter Courtney Cronin. Screengrab via ESPN.

Nobody covers the Chicago Bears quite like Courtney Cronin. The Illinois native is the Bears reporter for ESPN and can be heard on ESPN Radio. She will follow the most highly anticipated season the NFL franchise has had in years. With the additions of first-round picks quarterback Caleb Williams and wide receiver Rome Odunze, this could be an exciting team. 

Cronin is starting her eighth season of covering the NFL for ESPN. We recently caught up with her to discuss the Bears, her ESPN career, and her debut earlier this month on NFL Live.

Note: This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.

Awful Announcing: Given the rookie success of C.J. Stroud last year, what are reasonable expectations for Williams?

Courtney Cronin: “C.J.’s always going to be the barometer because the Bears passed on drafting a quarterback in 2023 when they traded the No.1 overall pick. CJ Stroud will always be the one that they could have had. The success that C.J. had, that’s certainly not the norm for rookie quarterbacks. But the situation Caleb’s going into this year is vastly different than most quarterbacks who are drafted No.1 overall. That changes the expectations for the Bears’ record in 2024 and Caleb.

“The Bears have never had a 4,000-yard passer or somebody throw for 30 touchdowns in a season. I’m not saying it has to be a rookie expectation, but if he hits it this year, no one’s going to be surprised. The over-under is 8.5 wins. I think that making the playoffs is the goal this year. It’s a realistic goal. Now, whether they get there or not is another story.”

How has Williams looked so far?

“We haven’t seen much. With rookie minicamp, you can’t really glean a whole lot from that. But what we’ve heard about Caleb is just how he came in a little bit ahead of where most rookies would be. Granted, they had a situation that lined up perfectly for that to happen, for him to get a head start on the offense, learning the fundamentals. It was pretty obvious that the Bears were drafting a quarterback. So for Caleb to have taken the six weeks or so before the time he was drafted to start learning the offense puts him ahead of the curve, which coaches have noticed. They’ve told us about that, and I do think that that’s to his advantage. (The Bears) have a new offensive coordinator (in Shane Waldron), and the scheme is going to look different than it did last year.”

How has he handled the media?

“The most impressive part for me is just realizing how on he is at all times when he’s speaking publicly. The level of recall and detail he’ll provide in answers is impressive for a young player. He’s been trained for this, you can tell. There’s a difference between the rookies coming in now and the rookies from a different era who didn’t have the ability to capitalize on their name, image, and likeness, and have the media training that comes with that.

“Caleb has been forthright about his expectations for himself. He’s okay publicly expressing that he might have some mistakes. He’s anticipating that it’s not going to look perfect. But he feels like he can come here and have success.”

Why have the Bears been so bad at developing quarterbacks?

“It’s multifaceted. First and foremost, the turnover they’ve had with coaching regimes. It’s nine offensive coordinators and five head coaches. The turnover there is detrimental to the growth of young quarterbacks. When I had a conversation with (general manager) Ryan Poles, there are layers to this. He has strategically tried to put this team in a position where you’re bringing in a rookie quarterback with a new offensive coordinator so those two are on the same playing field. Justin Fields never had a chance because he went from the coaching staff that drafted him to a coaching staff that inherited him. He has to learn another offense in a two-year stretch.”

What have you seen from Odunze?

“It’ll be interesting to see how they utilize him and how they utilize D. J. Moore and Keenan Allen. Who is the number one? When you have three number ones in an offense, it’s a good problem to have. We saw him one day at rookie minicamp. He had hamstring tightness. They didn’t want to risk it, so they made him sit out. Him and Caleb have been working out before they got to Halas Hall, which helps. He’s in a (wide receiver) room that’s crowded. It’s only going to benefit him because of the talent he has around him to learn how to do this at the NFL level. They drafted him for a reason. He led FBS in receiving yards last year. He’s an extremely talented player who can do different things.”

Matt Eberflus seemed to be on the hot seat last year. Is he safe?

“They’re not going to fire Eberflus after this year and continue to perpetuate the cycle they did with Justin Fields (and) Mitchell Trubisky. That goes against everything that they’ve built towards. They’ve put a lot of time and resources into this offseason. Barring something really bad happening to this team where they take a step back from 7-10, Eberflus will be here next year. I can’t see a scenario where he’s not.”

What do most fans not know about covering the NFL?

“Probably the amount of institutional knowledge you have to have and build. That takes time. I’ve covered four NFL teams, whether it was the 49ers and Raiders, where I started my NFL career, to five seasons in Minnesota, and now I’m going on to my third season in Chicago, where the day-to-day is important, and being there and building those relationships (is important). Having the institutional knowledge to know trends that have happened within your franchise that you cover and within the league as a whole, I think it makes your reporting more informed.”

What led you to switch beats from the Vikings to the Bears?

“Jeff Dickerson, who was my mentor, got me into ESPN Radio. We had been in the NFC North for a long time together as colleagues. When he tragically passed away from cancer in December 2021, my bosses talked it over in Bristol and decided that they wanted to move me to Chicago to pick up where Jeff left off, more or less. It was a chance for me to come home. These are massive shoes to fill, and I don’t view myself as somebody who’s filling anyone’s shoes, let alone someone who meant a ton to me. He’s always at the front of my mind. Any time I walk into Halas Hall, he’s one of the first people I think of because his presence on the beat is still so strong, which is awesome.”

What was it like hosting NFL Live?

“It was incredible. It was one of the coolest things I’ve done—to be in that seat to guide the conversation during the off-season. People think that May is a slow time in the NFL. But there’s always something to talk about that will keep an audience engaged. And as a host, it’s on you to drive that conversation, to keep it entertaining. I enjoyed getting to do that. I’m usually on the other side, where I’m either a reporter in the field or being asked in kind of an analyst role It was cool to get to be a point guard for a change. I was very grateful for the opportunity to do that.”

About Michael Grant

Born in Jamaica. Grew up in New York City. Lives in Louisville, Ky. Sports writer. Not related to Ulysses S. Grant.