Solving O-line issues key to Justin Fields’ growth:

Bears minicamp review: Solving O-line issues key to Fields’ growth originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago:

With Bears mandatory minicamp in the rearview mirror and the dates for training camp officially announced, it’s time to set the stage for the Bears’ 2022 season.

Most of the conversation will rightfully focus on two things: the development of quarterback Justin Fields and Matt Eberflus’ first-year impression.

The media got three looks at the Bears during OTAs and three more during mandatory minicamp. We won’t see the Bears again until training camp on July 28.

So, we’ll be reviewing what we know about each position group after the offseason program.

First up: the offensive line:

Projected starters:
LT: Braxton Jones / Larry Borom:
LG: Cody Whitehair:
C: Lucas Patrick:
RG: Sam Mustipher:
RT: Teven Jenkins / Larry Borom:

Overview:

For all the hemming and hawing about the Bears’ wide receiver corps, the offensive line is the biggest biggest issue by far.

New general manager Ryan Poles has a vision of how he wants the Bears’ offensive line to look. It’s safe to say the 2022 version won’t be it.

The Bears signed Patrick after a successful run with the Green Bay Packers. Patrick’s familiarity with offensive coordinator Luke Getsy’s scheme should make him a reliable pivot for Fields.

Whitehair is a decent veteran guard everyone is penciling in for an above-average season.

The Bears need Patrick and Whitehair to be healthy and stable options on the interior because the rest of the line is suboptimal.

The right guard was the obvious hole entering the offseason.

Mustipher and offseason addition Dakota Dozier were expected to compete for the starting nod. They split first-team during OTAs, but Dozier suffered a leg injury on Day 1 of minicamp. The Bears placed Dozier on injured reserve Tuesday.

Unless rookie Zachary Thomas makes a training camp push for the starting job, it’s looking like the right guard spot belongs to Mustipher. Last season, Mustipher surrendered 28 pressures and one sack in 128 pass-blocking snaps, per Pro Football Focus. The Bears need Mustipher to be better this season if he is indeed the starting right guard.

That brings us to the elephant in the offensive line room: the tackle position.

Jenkins committed to playing right tackle, the position he manned in college, and reshaped his body to thrive in Getsy’s wide-zone scheme. That paved the way for Borom to be the Bears’ expected starting left tackle. That’s how it played out early in OTAs.

But halfway through the offseason period, the Bears moved Borom to right tackle, inserted rookie Braxton Jones at left tackle, and moved Jenkins to second string.

Eberflus claims the Bears planned on looking at different combinations and that the staff would get together after minicamp to evaluate the different combinations. He also wouldn’t rule out moving Jenkins to right guard.

“That’s a good point,” Eberflus said on Day 1 of minicamp when asked if it would be better to have a set combination in camp as opposed to moving players around. “And to that point, you want to start honing it down. Guys getting the same looks all the time, ‘I’m playing right guard, I’m playing right tackle,’ and getting the same looks, the same mechanics, so The technical mechanics to play the position.

“We want to hone that down. The sooner, the better. We just do not have the answer right now.”

That last sentence tells you all you need to know about where the Bears stand on the offensive line.

Biggest question: So… who are the tackles?

X factor: Teven Jenkins:

The Bears like what they have seen from Jones, but it would be a lot to ask a fifth-round rookie to step in and protect Fields’ blindside. Could the Bears start Borom at left and Jones at right with a plan to flip them after Jones develops? Perhaps, but that’s not a combination they have shown yet.

Jones has been getting a crash course on the first-team offensive line. Mistakes will happen, but Jones is trying to ensure he never makes the same one twice.

The Southern Utah product understands the spot he finds himself in as a fifth-round draft pick now competing for a starting job.

“I mean, not really doubt creeped in, but just like uncertainty in certain areas,” Jones said after the final day of minicamp. “Now I feel like I get more uncertain in areas where before just kind of running maybe with the threes or something like that, it’s just like that, and now you’re kind of questioning yourself, so not going back and questioning yourself, just believing in yourself that you know it and that you belong there, period.

“I know I’m a fifth-round draft pick and everything like that, but I was drafted for a reason, and I’m here for a reason, so that’s the biggest thing, and it’s going to be a process for sure. It’s just taking day by day and getting one percent better every day. “

Jones may very well become a franchise tackle for the Bears. But trotting him out there in Week 1 on the left side might be detrimental to his and Fields’ development.
It would be best for all parties if Jenkins answers the bell in training camp, earns the right tackle spot, and bumps Borom back to left. That would give Jones a full year to build up his strength and fully adapt to the NFL game while allowing Eberflus and Poles to get an extended look at a guy with second-round talent in Jenkins.

Verdict:: To quote Eberflus: “Get your track shoes on,” Justin.

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