LAKE FOREST – The injuries are piling up on the Bears’ offensive line.
The latest are guard Teven Jenkins, who is reportedly dealing with a leg injury, and rookie right tackle Darnell Wright, who appeared to hurt his ankle in practice this week. With 18 days until the season opener, the injuries are a major concern.
Head coach Matt Eberflus said he will take into account the health of the O-line when deciding whether quarterback Justin Fields will play in the third and final preseason game Saturday against the Buffalo Bills at Soldier Field.
“That will be looked at,” Eberflus said. “There’s no question that will be looked at. You’ve always got to look at the combinations and the health of the offensive linemen when you’re talking about the quarterback.”
Fields needs the work after sitting out last week’s preseason game against the Indianapolis Colts. He has played all of seven preseason snaps. That’s not a recipe for success when the team is trying to reinvent its league-worst passing attack.
The injuries on the O-line could affect the preparedness of the offense as a whole. Jenkins’ leg injury is expected to be a concern moving into the regular season. Eberflus called him “week-to-week.” For a coach who designates nearly every injury as “day-to-day,” that seems notable.
It’s unclear how long Wright’s ankle injury will affect him. Center Cody Whitehair is also dealing with a hand injury, which could impair his ability to snap the football. Starting right guard Nate Davis and versatile backup Lucas Patrick have also been in and out of practice due to injuries.
Eberflus will not address any news on injuries. He said the team will not comment on injuries until it is forced to release its first practice report on Sept. 6. So the severity of some of these injuries remains unclear. It’s safe to say that the Bears are probably being overly cautious with some of these. The Bears had a long list of preseason injuries last year, too, but only a few players wound up on the Week 1 injury report.
Here’s what the offensive line looks like on paper, if everyone is healthy: Braxton Jones at left tackle, Jenkins at left guard, Whitehair at center, Davis at right guard and Wright at right tackle.
But games aren’t played on paper. The Bears have a number of different ways they could fill holes on the O-line.
“It’s always a challenge,” Bears offensive line coach Chris Morgan said. “You’re always going to have moving parts in this league. Very seldom do you have the same five guys all the time. It’s pro football and it’s next man up and all the guys that are having to fill in or have filled in, they’ve been training for this moment.”
The ideal scenario if Jenkins misses time would be to move Whitehair to left guard – where he played the past several seasons – and slot Patrick into the starting lineup at center.
“It’s always a challenge. You’re always going to have moving parts in this league.”— Chris Morgan, Bears offensive line coach
If Patrick, who has still been on and off the field due to injuries, is unable to play, Hinsdale native Doug Kramer could find himself starting at center. Kramer missed all of last season with a foot injury after the Bears selected him with a sixth-round draft pick in 2022.
Alternatively, the Bears could leave Whitehair at center and try Alex Leatherwood at the left guard position. Leatherwood, a former first-round pick of the Raiders, has primarily played left guard during training camp. The Bears claimed him off waivers a year ago and he spent the season on the active roster, although he played sparingly.
Ja’Tyre Carter could fill in at right guard if Davis were to continue missing time. Carter has played in the preseason games. He was a seventh-round draft pick out of Southern University a year ago.
The Bears obviously want to see Wright, the No. 10 overall draft pick, play right tackle.
“He’s just gotten better every day, settling down, learning the terminology, learning the expectations, style of play,” Morgan said of Wright. “It’s a little bit different game.”
If Wright’s ankle keeps him off the field, third-year pro Larry Borom is the most likely to slot into the right tackle position. Borom began last season as the starting right tackle before taking a back seat to veteran Riley Reiff.