Bears OTAs bring shaky OL depth into sharp relief originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
This year is all about Justin Fields for the Bears. GM Ryan Poles made it clear that he and the rest of the organization wouldn’t be able to fix all that ails the team in one offseason, but the front office made a concerted effort to give their QB the tools he needs to develop. To a degree, they’ve succeeded. Fields has a legit WR1 in DJ Moore, and more importantly has a revamped offensive line in front of him.
Last season, Fields was sacked 55 times, which was tied for the NFL lead along with Russell Wilson. So the team drafted Darnell Wright with their first-round pick to take over at right tackle and signed Nate Davis to assume the right guard spot. The Bears moved Teven Jenkins and Cody Whitehair to left guard and center to try to get their best five players all on the line at the same time. The only man left in the same spot from 2022 is Braxton Jones, who steadily improved as the year progressed.
There are reasonable questions about whether or not everything will come together with so many moving parts, but the hope is the two additions and two position changes elevate the play of the unit as a whole. There are reasonable reasons to believe things will work out, too. Wright is considered one of the most NFL-ready rookie linemen in this year’s class. Davis has a track record at right guard from his time in Tennessee. Whitehair also has a history of success at center with a Pro Bowl nod to his name at the position. Jenkins went through a position change last year and was arguably the most dominant player on the line when he was healthy. There’s no reason to believe he can’t adapt to switching sides, especially since he has experience playing on the left side both in the pros and in college.
If things do work out exactly as planned, that doesn’t mean things will be hunky dory all year. In fact, Tuesday’s OTA brought into sharp relief that the o-line is one of the thinnest position groups on the team.
Davis did not attend Tuesday’s optional OTA, and so the Bears were left with Ja’Tyre Carter and Lucas Patrick splitting starting reps at right guard. This is Carter’s second NFL season, and he only played 31 snaps on offense last season. That’s about as inexperienced as it comes for someone who was deemed a project player when he was drafted. Patrick played guard in 2022 when his injured hand precluded him from snapping the ball, and it was a disaster. Per PFF, Patrick was the second least efficient guard in pass protection among players with at least 100 snaps.
Jones and Wright were both present at OTAs, but Davis’ absence also called to mind the less-than-encouraging options behind either tackle. The Bears have Larry Borom, Alex Leatherwood and Kellen Diesch on the roster, but Borom and Leatherwood each struggled in limited playing time last year. Diesch didn’t play at all last year, his rookie season. The Bears didn’t re-sign either Riley Reiff or Michael Schofield, who each played reliable snaps at points throughout the year.
It’s a reminder that while the Bears’ starting unit looks much-improved, they’re just one injury away from an unproven or ineffective player stepping in. Offensive lines are usually just as strong as their weakest playerー and injuries on the OL are practically a givenー so it’s a scary proposition as things stand. But fans shouldn’t panic just yet. It’s still May, which gives plenty of time for a player like Carter or Borom to prove that either they’re ready to take the next step in their development, or that last year was a fluke. If not, there’s still plenty of time for Poles to add to the group. Poles signed both Schofield and Reiff in late July last year, in time for them to participate in most of training camp. The same could happen this year.
The Bears finish their first round of OTAs this Friday, then return for more on May 30.