LAKE FOREST, Ill. (670 The Score) — Throughout the 2022 season, coach Matt Eberflus and the Bears often spoke of the need to identify and play their best five offensive linemen. It proved to be a challenging process as the group collectively struggled.
This year, the Bears' search for their five best blockers doesn't appear as if it will last as long. That group may already be set – just a week into OTAs. Eberflus and his staff may prefer continuity over competition on the line. And for a line that allowed quarterback Justin Fields to be sacked on 14.7% of his dropbacks last season, that continuity could be a blessing.
The biggest question on the Bears' offensive line was answered as the first-team offense lined up in practice Tuesday with rookie Darnell Wright, the No. 10 overall pick in the NFL Draft, at right tackle.
Rather than having Wright initially develop with the reserve unit, Eberflus and the Bears believe he can grow with the starting group.
“Darnell is really picking it up a lot faster because of the pace of it,” Eberflus said, referring to the non-contact offseason practices. “And he can learn it this way. Then when we get to training camp, it’ll be more full speed.”
The Bears are trusting Wright on their first-team offense just as they did with then-rookie Braxton Jones in 2022, as Jones was inserted at left tackle during offseason work and never looked back. Jones played 100% of the team’s snaps on offense at left tackle last season.
Prior to rookie minicamp and just one week after he was drafted, Wright shared his humble mindset and noted that he was just trying to make the roster.
“Now it's just another opportunity in front of you,” Wright said. “I'm going to try my best to capture that opportunity."
The Bears hope to have their bookend tackles for many years to come in Jones and Wright. Beyond that, the picture for their interior line is suddenly becoming clear too.
Teven Jenkins, who found a home at right guard in 2022, has moved over to left guard. Cody Whitehair has moved back to his initial position of center for his eighth NFL season. Veteran Nate Davis, who landed a three-year deal with the Bears in free agency, is expected to slot in at right guard.
Davis wasn't present for the Bears’ practice Tuesday, which was part of the voluntary portion of the offseason program. Eberflus declined to discuss the absence of Davis – or those of receiver Darnell Mooney, safety Eddie Jackson and cornerback Jaylon Johnson.
With Davis not present, the Bears turned to second-year guard Ja’Tyre Carter and veteran Lucas Patrick, who signed a two-year deal with Chicago ahead of the 2022 season.
Patrick was limited to just five games in 2022 while dealing with a broken hand before suffering a season-ending toe injury in late October. When Patrick did play, he never appeared to be 100% health. Now, Patrick’s place on the roster is in question. He's the odd man out of the starting group and has been moved from center to guard, where he must compete for a role on the depth chart.
“The experience that you have somebody inside that can move from guard to center, center to guard on both sides,” Eberflus said. “You know, to have a guy like that that has that, it’s easy for him to do that. As we know during the course of the season, there’s going to be guys in different combinations because there is going to be injury and we have to deal with that. To have a guy that has that experience it’s certainly valuable.”
The Bears’ most prominent competition on the offensive line will be for reserve spots, as Patrick, Alex Leatherwood, Doug Kramer, Larry Borom and Dieter Eiselen will be among those fighting for roster spots. Health could be the only disruption to the Bears’ plans for the starting offensive line.
It’s only May and the Bears might have already identified their best offensive line combination, hoping continuity can create success.
Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for 670TheScore.com. Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670.
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