Bears

Hub Arkush: Is Bears offensive line moving forward or actually going in reverse?

Chicago Bears offensive linemen Teven Jenkins, left, and Willie Wright warm up with teammates during the team's voluntary minicamp on April 21, 2022.

It is hard to remember the last time the offensive line wasn’t a major concern for the Bears.

Knowing how crucial improving it is to winning in the NFL and even more to the development of a young quarterback, almost everyone expected general manager Ryan Poles to attack it with a vengeance with significant talent upgrades.

Instead, Poles shopped only the clearance rack for veteran replacements while mining only the late rounds of the draft.

There are two questions in the wake of those decisions. Could they actually be worse than last year or, almost as disturbing, no better? And, if that is the case, how is Justin Fields supposed to begin to fulfill his promise?

The only objective answers are yes, and, Fields will struggle again, if that’s the case.

It’s quite possible the Bears will be in even a deeper hole at the end of the coming season than they’re starting it in.

But Poles is too smart to believe the personnel changes he has made alone are enough to get better.

He’s been clear that he sees the biggest changes he’s made as bringing in a new offensive scheme, completely overhauling the attitudes and approaches of any big uglies who want to play for him by looking for lighter, quicker, more athletic linemen. This should enable them to play to Fields’ – and the new scheme’s – strengths.

While suspect, a case can be made that as a group this year’s line could be better.

New offensive line coach Chris Morgan spoke recently about what he sees as the biggest challenge.

“I think it’s always a challenge to get five guys to play together. And up front that’s the only thing that matters,” Morgan said. “Nothing matters if that guy’s playing great and that guy’s playing great and those guys aren’t. You’re only as good as your weakest link, so to speak, up front. And it really does take all five to excel on the offensive line.”

Poles’ biggest move was to acquire free agent Lucas Patrick and gift him the starting center job over Sam Mustipher. Patrick insists he thinks Poles is on the right track.

“So fired up that our GM is a former offensive lineman because I think he gets it to the core – what it takes to build an offensive line,” Patrick said. “It’s tough, competition, smart, just guys who love football and just want to compete. I think it’s great, bring 30 guys in. We can only have five, and it’s only going to push guys further.”

Poles is looking to build a group that finds blocks and makes plays in space with wider splits and an outside-zone run game.

Perhaps his best prospect, or at least highest drafted out of school, Teven Jenkins (39th overall in 2021), spoke Tuesday about that challenge. Jenkins has dropped from 345 to 325 pounds while trimming his body fat by nine points to 24%.

Every Bears lineman has to accept and win that challenge to become the kind of blocker Poles and Morgan want.

Then they have to get nastier and prove they can play.

With Jenkins, Larry Borom, Sam Mustipher at guard, a bunch of journeymen veterans and all the rookies, that is the great unknown.

Poles has stacked the bottom of the depth chart with those journeymen such as Dakota Dozier, Shon Coleman and Julie’n Davenport, who aren’t good enough to build around but all have starting experience if needed to plug gaps this season.

As much as Borom is intriguing at left tackle – and if he can be your anchor for the foreseeable future, you have to find out – don’t be surprised if the Week 1 starters are Davenport (LT), Whitehair (LG), Patrick (C), Borom (RG) and Jenkins (RT).

Is it enough for the line to be better?

“I mean, I’d say nobody knows,” Patrick said. “You don’t know if you’re the most experienced line if it’s gonna work out. There’s injuries, there’s different schemes, it’s a ton of things.

“If you’re just trying to get better each day and putting the best five out there, whoever that is, and competing every day, then that unit will be solid if they’re doing that.”

Hub Arkush

Hub Arkush

Hub Arkush is the Senior Bears Analyst for Shaw Local News Network and ShawLocal.com.