LAKE FOREST – For a little more than a week now, the Bears offensive line has held steady with the same starting five.
Braxton Jones has been at left tackle, Cody Whitehair at left guard, Sam Mustipher at center, Teven Jenkins at right guard and Larry Borom at right tackle. The coaching staff has given this grouping a lot of snaps over the past week, including all the starting reps in Thursday’s preseason win at Seattle.
Center Lucas Patrick has been out with a hand injury and will likely take Mustipher’s spot when he returns, but it’s unclear exactly when that will be. Jenkins only began playing right guard a week ago and is still relatively new at the position.
Experienced veterans Riley Reiff and Michael Schofield are currently working with the second-team offense, Reiff at left tackle, Schofield at right guard.
Head coach Matt Eberflus said Tuesday that his starters will play the entire first half during the final preseason game on Saturday in Cleveland. Some veterans with more experience will exit sooner, but quarterback Justin Fields and many of the young guys will play until halftime. Those will be invaluable reps for the offensive line. Eberflus hopes that the extended playing time will help the offense build some mojo.
“It’s establishing your identity, establishing your style of play, the effort we give, the execution we give, situational football, albeit third down, if we get a two-minute drive,” Eberflus said. “All of those things that come into play that are good football.”
Eberflus wouldn’t be giving this combination of five linemen such a long look at such a crucial time if he didn’t believe this could be the Week 1 starting lineup. That’s a good thing for Jenkins, who just a couple weeks ago appeared to be on the trading block.
“When you move inside, the game happens a little bit more fast than it does on the outside,” Mustipher said. “But yeah [Jenkins is] improving every day, getting used to it, understanding that the fight is going to start way faster than it does at tackle.”
Mustipher has started 24 regular season games at center over the past two seasons, including all 17 last year. Prior to Patrick’s hand injury, Mustipher was seeing a lot of time at right guard. In a perfect world, with a healthy Patrick, Mustipher might be the jack-of-all-trades backup who can play any of the interior spots.
That’s why the Bears tested him out at guard in the spring.
“Anytime you can get experience and reps at another spot, it really helps your overall understanding of the entire offense, schematically,” offensive line coach Chris Morgan said. “He’s even said it. I think he will be a better center for having gone out and played [at guard], but there also might be a point where we need him at guard.”
Borom taking over right tackle from Reiff might be even more surprising. This could just be a case of the Bears wanting to see just how much Borom can handle. But the same speculation circulated when the rookie Jones started playing left tackle, and now look where he is – the starting left tackle.
Transactions: The Bears have trimmed the roster down to 80 players, making five cuts. They waived fullback Jake Bargas, cornerback BoPete Keyes, defensive lineman LaCale London and receiver Dazz Newsome on Tuesday. They also terminated the contract of offensive tackle Julie’n Davenport.
All 32 NFL teams needed to trim rosters down to 80 players by 3 p.m. Tuesday. Teams must make the final cut to 53 players by Aug. 30.
Attendance: Running back Khalil Herbert and receiver Velus Jones Jr. both sat out practice Tuesday. Herbert left Saturday’s practice early, but then returned on Sunday. On Tuesday, he was present but not participating.
Other players who sat out included: receiver N’Keal Harry (ankle), safety Jaquan Brisker (hand), receiver Byron Pringle (quad), cornerback Tavon Young (lower leg), cornerback Thomas Graham Jr. (hamstring), running back Trestan Ebner (ankle), cornerback Jaylon Jones (undisclosed), center Lucas Patrick (hand), receiver Tajae Sharpe (undisclosed), defensive tackle Angelo Blackson (undisclosed) and linebacker Caleb Johnson (knee).