Hinsdale Central grad Doug Kramer had a “cool moment” as he walked into Halas Hall for the first time last week. The Bears’ sixth-round draft pick showed up for rookie minicamp ready to get to work for his hometown team.
The center was among several local players attending rookie minicamp over the weekend. Kramer was one of the Bears’ 11 draft picks and among the four offensive linemen the team selected.
They picked all four between rounds five and seven: Southern Utah tackle Braxton Jones in the fifth round, San Diego State guard/tackle Zachary Thomas in the sixth round, Southern guard Ja’Tyre Carter in the seventh round and Kramer, a center from Illinois, in the sixth round.
Bears general manager Ryan Poles said from the day the Bears hired him that the focus on the offensive line would be picking the five best linemen. Selecting four linemen in his first draft signaled that no starting jobs are safe on the offensive line.
“That’s at every position,” Bears offensive coordinator Luke Getsy said during rookie minicamp over the weekend. “That’s what we’re in here doing every single day, is giving guys an opportunity to compete. There’s no jobs that are locked up right now. When you get the pads on, that’s when real ball starts.”
The pads won’t come on until late July, but the players are laying the foundation now. Organized team activities will begin next week and the rookies and the veterans will be on the practice field together for the first time.
As it stands now, the Bears’ starting lineup likely looks something like this: Larry Borom at left tackle, Cody Whitehair at left guard, Lucas Patrick at center, Dakota Dozier at right guard and Teven Jenkins at right tackle.
At rookie minicamp, Jones was at left tackle, Carter at left guard, Kramer at center, Thomas at right guard and undrafted free agent Jean Delance played right tackle.
Reading the tea leaves a little bit, it’s possible Jones could challenge for a tackle spot. Borom and Jenkins both saw some action as rookies last season. Borom saw much more playing time than Jenkins, who missed most of the season with a back injury. While Borom and Jenkins remain the frontrunners for those jobs, Jones has the size and athleticism to challenge for a spot.
“The feet, the length, the size, but also room to grow,” Poles said of Jones. “There’s a ceiling there we believe we can develop and a lot of times it is the makeup, it’s also the body type and the physical traits. We believe he has a lot of those pieces to develop.”
Several days before the draft, the Bears sent assistant offensive line coach Austin King to Salt Lake City to conduct a private workout with Jones. Jones clearly became a priority and is somebody who the Bears see great potential in, despite coming from a smaller school like Southern Utah.
Learning the playbook this week has been “a hefty process,” Jones said. One of the toughest challenges going from college to the pros is learning the terminology. Jones spent a lot of time working on it with his personal trainer, former NFL lineman Mike Pollak.
“That was a big thing for me,” Jones said. “I didn’t know any of that. So learning with Mike Pollak and self-taught as well, too, [it] is learning those certain things that they may say differently but are the same exact thing. You have to be able to communicate. It’s learning a different language.”
Another spot to keep a close eye on is right guard. Dozier and Sam Mustipher split time at right guard during voluntary minicamp in April. Dozier started all 16 games at guard for Minnesota in 2020, but was relegated to a backup spot in 2021. Mustipher has only played center.
Right guard is clearly a weak spot on the line. It’s conceivable then that the rookie Thomas could be in the mix at right guard.
“I had to tighten up my footwork, and certain aspects of my game, but I think I’m adjusting well and I’ll continue to do so,” said Thomas, who played tackle during his final three college seasons at San Diego State.
At 6-foot-5, 308 pounds, Thomas is just the type of light, quick offensive lineman Poles likes. He has experience at guard in his past.
Like Borom and Jenkins at tackle, Dozier is probably the favorite to land that starting job at right guard. Thomas is a prospect who can play almost any position, but it’s probably a stretch to say that a sixth-round draft pick will start. Still, he could challenge Dozier.
Carter and Kramer, meanwhile, might have a tougher time finding the field. Carter played mostly tackle in college and might need time to adjust to guard. Plus, he’s likely stuck behind Whitehair at left guard. Kramer is probably the third center on the depth chart behind Patrick and Mustipher.