UA-59049186-1 Chicago Bears 2023 Season Preview: Offensive line - Good if it Goes

Chicago Bears 2023 Season Preview: Offensive line

The not-really-that-old guard. [Photo: Chicago Tribune]

In the offseason, a clear priority was placed on bolstering the offensive line. A former offensive lineman himself, General Manager Ryan Poles clearly knows games are won and lost up front. A year ago, the line was a patchwork unit with glaring holes. This year, while the starting unit may not exactly be The Hogs, there has been serious improvement made there and impressive depth added. That depth may be tested a bit early on, unfortunately. 

Tasked with protecting Justin Fields’ blind side is Braxton Jones. A fifth-round pick out of Southern Utah a year ago, Jones was pressed into action immediately and was the only Bear lineman to start all 17 games. While there were some typical rookie struggles, Jones was usually at least adequate and showed some real promise. While your author cautions against expecting the next Walter Jones or Joe Thomas, this space asserts that Braxton Jones could hold down the left tackle spot for the next decade. 

Teven Jenkins slides over to left guard. Initially drafted to be a right tackle, then moved inside to right guard and now left guard with the addition of Nate Davis in free agency, Jenkins has shown major promise, particularly as a run blocker. When he can stay on the field, that is. Going into his third year, durability has been an issue for the former Oklahoma State Cowboy. After being drafted in the second round in 2021, Jenkins missed the start of his rookie campaign after having back surgery. He would miss the end of the 2022 season with a neck injury and will miss the start of this season with a leg injury. 

Cody Whitehair figures to be the starting venter once his hand heals. In the interim, he’ll be at left guard while Jenkins recuperates. Whitehair is no stranger to the guard spot, having played both of them, in addition to center, during his time as a Chicago Bear. A second-round pick in 2016 out of Kansas State, Whitehair has been a steady presence since arriving in Chicago. Solid in both the run and pass games, Whitehair has been a valuable part of the Bears’ offense through three coaches.

Nate Davis is the new man in Chicago. A fifth-year man out of Charlotte, Davis signed with the Bears as a free agent after four years in Tennessee. Graded as a 70.6 by Pro Football Focus a year ago (I know, but their offensive line grades usually aren’t that bad), Davis was signed to bring stability to a line that lacked it in a major way last year. And then he immediately missed most of camp with what was called a personal issue. Rumors exist as to what the issue was, this space won’t speculate. Whatever the issue was, Coach Eberflus expects Davis to start week one, so that’s nice. 

Darnell Wright was the number one tackle on your author’s big board in this year’s draft. A very large human who should not be as athletic as he is given his largeness, Wright was the only guy who had an answer for Will Anderson last year. Pass pro – not a problem. Dude is also a mauler in the run game, and this is where that athleticism comes into play. How athletic is he? He was able to pass the wide receiver conditioning test because he misread the standards and believed that the be the standards for the offensive line. Darnell Wright – O-line size, wide receiver athleticism. In all seriousness, some growing pains are to be expected as he transitions to the NFL. We’ve seen some of these in practice and the preseason already. Your author still predicts a future All-Pro. 

Larry Borom figures to be the backup tackle. Your author is taking this to mean that Borom has progressed in a not insignificant way, as he didn’t appear to make much progress a year ago and got benched in favor of Riley Reiff. Given that Borom wasn’t a Poles draft pick in the first place, your author didn’t expect the former Missouri Tiger to make the roster. That he did gives your author hope. He looked fine in preseason action; not great, but fine. This space asserts that, if pressed into action, he can be at least steady. 

Lucas Patrick was signed from Green Bay a year ago and then missed most of last year. A hand injury forced Patrick to start the season at guard and let Sam Mustipher make his way back onto the field, despite the fact that the only business Mustipher has on a football field is maybe mowing the grass. Go ahead and block me on Twitter for that one, Sam – it would be the first time you’ve ever blocked anything. Anyway, Patrick’s hand was finally well enough for him to play center week 7. He immediately hurt his toe and missed the rest of the season. We were then subjected to more of Sam Mustipher’s matador training. The Bears lost every game after that. Patrick could be the starting center to start the season with Whitehair at guard while his hand and Teven Jenkins’ leg heal. 

Dan Feeney was acquired from Miami for a sixth-round pick during the preseason to add additional interior line depth. The Orland Park native has experience playing all three interior line positions and has done so in offenses like Luke Getsy’s wide zone scheme. A third-round pick out of Indiana in 2017 by the Chargers, Feeney spent the first four years of his career in Los Angeles before signing with the Jets prior to the 2021 season. After two years in New York, Feeney signed with the Dolphins and then was traded here during the preseason. He is unlikely to be anything more than steady, but he does have a sweet mullet and will be the subject of many Boy Meets World jokes. 

Ja’Tyre Carter was something of an afterthought after getting drafted in the seventh round out of Southern University a year ago, but here in year two, has looked capable in camp and in the preseason. He could use a little more work, particularly in pass protection, but has shown himself to be a solid run blocker already. He’ll continue to adjust to the NFL game. Becoming a solid starting guard is a possibility down the line. 

Doug Kramer was a sixth-round pick out of Illinois a year ago. The Hinsdale native was putting together a nice camp last year when a lower leg injury put him on injured reserve, where he’d spend all of 2022. He was again looking serviceable in camp and now the preseason, too, when an undisclosed injury again put him on IR, where he’ll spend at least the first four games of 2023. Here’s hoping he gets healthy after that. When healthy, he appears capable of providing quality depth at center.

Whatever Elmo’s calling it nowThreads: @312sportsguy

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