As Lucas Patrick returns, Bears are still assessing their starting offensive line

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LAKE FOREST, Ill. (670 The Score) -- As he assessed the makeup of the Bears’ reshaped offensive line, general manager Ryan Poles took an unsolicited turn.

“How about Sam Mustipher?” Poles said. “Stepping in and doing a pretty good job at center as well. That’s another guy who’s gritty and tough.”

While the Bears' signing of veteran offensive lineman Lucas Patrick in March seemed to mark the end of Mustipher’s time as the team's starting center, a new opportunity has emerged. Mustipher stepped back in at center after Patrick suffered a right hand fracture early in training camp. Mustipher has since made an impression on Poles and the Bears' new coaching staff.

Patrick returned to practice Monday and is in line to play in the Bears’ season opener against the 49ers on Sunday at Soldier Field. But whether he’ll line up at center or right guard remains a mystery.

Given that Patrick’s snapping hand may not be 100% by Sunday, the Bears could prefer to use Mustipher at center and Patrick at right guard. That would also provide continuity for second-year quarterback Justin Fields, who could take snaps from the center he worked with during training camp and all of last season.

It’s also unclear whether the Bears are considering using Patrick at right guard for just Sunday or well beyond.

“We’ll have to see where he is and we’ll assess that as we go,” Bears coach Matt Eberflus said.

The odd man out in this equation could be second-year offensive lineman Teven Jenkins, a 2021 second-round pick who hoped to have found stability in the Bears’ plans. Jenkins landed in trade rumors in August before shifting from reserve offensive tackle to starting right guard.

Jenkins has played well at right guard but perhaps isn’t set there just yet.

"It has been kind of like a roller coaster, a mix of emotions for me,” Jenkins said in late August. “From going from (third-team) right tackle to second (team) right guard and now I'm starting right now, it's a lot about seizing an opportunity."

The Bears signed Patrick to a two-year deal and projected him to be their starting center. He worked at that position throughout the offseason program, but most of Patrick's NFL experience has come at guard.

For his part, Eberflus indicated the Bears will finalize a decision Wednesday, when they'll hold their first formal practice of Week 1. That's the day it becomes critical to have a starting offensive line set.

Even so, the Bears may not truly reveal their starting five in public fashion until they line up for warmups less than an hour before kickoff Sunday at Soldier Field.

Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for 670TheScore.com. Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670.

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