July 19, 2024


Analysis

Shaw Local’s 2021 Bears report card: Offensive tackles

Offensive tackle a revolving door for Bears in 2021

Chicago Bears offensive tackle Larry Borom, left, works with Teven Jenkins during practice June 16 at Halas Hall.

LAKE FOREST – Possibly the worst decision former Bears general manager Ryan Pace and former coach Matt Nagy made preparing for the 2021 season was, after going all-in on Justin Fields as their long-sought quarterback of the future, thinking they’d protect his blind side with a plug-and-play, rookie second-round draft pick in Teven Jenkins, who started 22 of 29 games at Oklahoma State on the right side.

They compounded that mistake by assuming they’d just move Germain Ifedi back outside to right tackle. Remember, he failed at tackle in Seattle, and a year earlier Pace lauded his signing to play guard, telling us that was his real position after his struggles at tackle with the Seahawks.

The backup plan for that was Elijah Wilkinson to start until Jenkins was ready to be the No. 3 swing tackle, but Wilkinson played neither side well.

Positives: Fortunately for the Bears, future Hall of Fame left tackle Jason Peters was just hanging out at his local fishing hole awaiting a possible phone call and his 40th birthday when desperation set in for the Bears.

With no offseason and almost no training camp to speak of, Peters stepped in, was the opening day starter at left tackle and played his way into shape by Week 4 or 5. While clearly no longer in his prime, he gave the Bears the best play at the position they’ve had since John Tait left after the 2008 season.

Rookie fifth-round draft pick Larry Borom proved to be a steal after showing up at rookie minicamp looking like a completely different man from his final game at Missouri. Shedding more than 30 pounds and showing surprising athleticism, he ended up taking the fifth-most snaps of any offensive lineman on the team.

Negatives: Jenkins went from pivotal player to losing most of his rookie season after back surgery and will return in 2022 still an exciting prospect, but now one with an injury history and no more clarity than the day he was drafted as to whether he can play on the left side or belongs on the right.

Ifedi once again was among the league leaders in false starts – as he was annually at right tackle in Seattle – and struggled on and off in pass protection before missing almost the entire second half of the season to a knee injury.

Wilkinson is not a starting NFL tackle on either side.

Defining moments: 1) On Aug. 14 with Jenkins having missed the entire training camp with back spasms and still listed as day-to-day, the Bears signed Peters.

2) Four days later, the team announced Jenkins would undergo back surgery and they hoped to have him back some time in the second half of the season.

3) Peters bruised a quadriceps in the second quarter of the opener against the Rams, and Borom was forced to step in at left tackle, where he held his own, showing the first signs Pace may have another fifth-round steal.

Contract status: Peters, Ifedi and Wilkinson are all free agents, leaving Jenkins, Borom and Lachavious Simmons as the only tackles on the roster. Alex Bars can play anywhere on the offensive line but has been primarily inside or a sixth offensive lineman with the Bears.

Grade: C+ (would be C- or D+ without Peters)

Plan: Every effort will be made to develop Jenkins and Borom as bookend tackles of the future, unless …

New GM Ryan Poles has said building starts on the offensive line, and he plans to build through the draft and be strategic in free agency.

Bringing Peters back would be a great story, but at 40 years old seems unlikely.

However, Terron Armstead, Trent Brown and Eric Fisher are middle-aged free agents. Cam Robinson and Orlando Brown are young free agents. All are quality to very good tackles, and all have played on the left side.

Signing one to lock down Fields’ blind side right now, moving Jenkins to the right side, where his ceiling appears to be the highest, and kicking Borom inside to guard, where his ceiling may be highest, could be the way to go.

If the Bears then re-sign James Daniels and move him back inside to center, where his ceiling is highest, they might have the makings of a pretty good offensive line.

Hub Arkush is a Shaw Media correspondent.

Hub Arkush

Hub Arkush

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