Emma: Breaking down Bears' offensive line configuration, position battles


LAKE FOREST, Ill. (670 The Score) -- In declaring an ongoing competition on their offensive line throughout training camp, the Bears have also refrained from setting a finish line for finalizing their first unit. But soon, time won't be on their side when it comes to making evaluations.

With less than three weeks until game-week preparation begins for the regular-season opener against the 49ers, the Bears are reaching a point in which creating continuity for the line becomes a greater priority than evaluation.

“We’re going to look at all combinations,” Bears coach Matt Eberflus said of the offensive line.

Only two positions seem set on the Bears’ offensive line, while competition is continuing for the rest of the group. As the Bears' second preseason game looms Thursday, here’s a look at where their offensive line stands at each position.

Left tackle
Projected Week 1 starter: Braxton Jones
Reserves: Riley Reiff, Larry Borom

When the Bears’ new scouting regime watched Jones perform at the Senior Bowl, they were instantly impressed. General manager Ryan Poles noted how the Southern Utah product Jones was holding his own against pass rushers from premier programs.

Jones has continued to make a strong impression since the Bears selected him in the fifth round of the NFL Draft in late April, passing each test along the way. It was notable during OTAs in early June when the coaching staff plugged Jones in at left tackle with the first-team offense. Veteran Riley Reiff was signed as the team reported to training camp in late July and stepped in briefly at left tackle. Jones then earned his way back into that starting role one week into camp.

Poles and the Bears had second-day draft grades on Jones as a prospect, and they don’t view him as a fifth-round pick. This team sees him as a starter.

Quote to note: “Braxton’s going to be a good player. The way he studies, the way he understands stuff, he’s very athletic, he’s got great length, he uses his hands well. I really like where Braxton is at right now. He’s only going to continue to grow, and I’m really excited to see that growth.”
-- Bears guard Cody Whitehair on Jones

Left guard
Projected Week 1 starter: Cody Whitehair
Reserves: Zachary Thomas, Ja’Tyre Carter

When Whitehair made his first NFL start in 2016, he was a rookie playing alongside Charles Leno, Josh Sitton, Kyle Long and Bobby Massie. Now, he’s the veteran of the Bears' offensive line.

Whitehair, 30, is entering his eighth NFL season and has missed just two games in his career. He's set as the starter at left guard, though the Bears have a pair of rookies to evaluate behind him. Whitehair has three more years under contract in Chicago.

Quote to note: “I’m very blessed. But at the end of the day, I’m just trying to help our team win.”
-- Whitehair

Projected Week 1 starter: Lucas Patrick or Sam Mustipher

As the Bears’ offensive line huddled during practice Tuesday morning, the veteran Patrick listened in from the back of the pack. He wore a T-shirt and shorts with his right hand still in a brace after he suffered an injury during the first week of training camp.

The Bears are hopeful that 29-year-old Patrick will be healthy for their opener on Sept. 11, but that isn't a guarantee given that he must snap with his ailing right hand. The team has turned to the fourth-year center Mustipher in Patrick's absence.

If Patrick is healthy, he's set as the Bears’ starting center with Mustipher as the backup. Behind them on the depth chart, rookie Doug Kramer suffered a lower leg injury that could cost him significant time.

Quote to note: “Sam has played football. Sam is tough. Sam is smart. Sam is productive. Sam is a hell of a leader. All of those things show out every day, and he just grinds to get better.”
-- Bears offensive line coach Chris Morgan on Mustipher

Right guard
Projected Week 1 starter: Michael Schofield or Teven Jenkins

The Bears spent much of this offseason searching for a solution at right guard. Perhaps the answer was on their roster all along.

On Monday morning, the Bears shifted the second-year tackle Jenkins over to right guard. On Tuesday, he took snaps at right guard with the first-team offense while the veteran Schofield shifted to the second unit. Schofield seemed set as the starter at this position early on in training camp, but he has struggled at times and his performance in the preseason opener Saturday left much to be desired.

It wasn't long ago that Jenkins’ place on the Bears' roster was precarious. Now, he’s getting an important opportunity and could potentially earn a starting spot while working at a new position.

Quote to note: “Guards get stressed mentally more than tackles do in this system. That's the strength of his game. So, we want to try that and see what that looks like within what we're trying to get done.”
-- Bears offensive coordinator Luke Getsy on Jenkins

Right tackle
Projected Week 1 starter: Reiff or Larry Borom

The Bears were eager to add Reiff to the fold at the start of training camp, but rather than committing to him at his more familiar place at left tackle, the team slid him over to right tackle.

Reiff has gotten the lion’s share of snaps at right tackle, though the Bears have also made a point to preserve him with days of rest in training camp. Borom played in 10 games last season and started in eight, primarily working at right tackle.

Reiff still has the edge over Borom to start, but this could be a battle that pushes onward as competitions on the offensive line continue.

Quote to note: "All competition is good competition. There has been a lot of it, so every day you kind of got to bring that. You got to get out there and get better every day mentally. You can't slack. Soon as you slack, you get passed up. You got to bring it. It's good though. Competition is good for anything. Brings the best out of you."
-- Borom

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

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