The Chicago Bears are set to officially open training camp one week from today on Thursday, July 29, but the rookies will report to Halas Hall this Saturday, and the veterans will all be there on Tuesday, July 27, so let’s dive into some position by position previews to see where the team stands.
The Bears had some depth issues a year ago along the offensive line, so general manager Ryan Pace made a point to address the situation this offseason. While he did cut two starters, he also dabbled in free agency and attacked the position in the draft. The five that seems slated to start the 2021 season doesn’t have one player in the same spot as the group that started week one a year ago.
This year’s starting five — barring an injury or something crazy — will be rookie Teven Jenkins (LT), Cody Whitehair (LG), Sam Mustipher (C), James Daniels (RG), and Germain Ifedi (RT). On paper this quintet is probably better than the group that finished the 2020 season, and while it may take a few weeks for them to gel, I think this group can be very good.
Jenkins has the highest upside from a Bears offensive lineman in decades, Ifedi slimmed down and tightened up his technique as a tackle, Mustipher added some muscle and strength this offseason, Whitehair will be able to settle into a position he finished very comfortably at a year ago, and Daniels, a four year veteran who is just 6 months older than the rookie Jenkins, was playing some damn good football in 2020 before tearing his pec.
Jenkins will have some growing pains, all rookie offensive linemen do, but having the veteran next to him will be a plus for his development. The 24-year old Mustipher has the intangibles and technique down at center, so if his physicality has improved he may take a big step in play this season. These two playing to their potential is important for the Bears offense this year.
The first tackle off the bench will likely be free agent addition Elijah Wilkinson, with rookie Larry Borom in the mix as well. Wilkinson, who has also played some guard in the past, seems more suited for the right side, so watching who gets those backup left tackle reps this preseason will be huge indicator.
I’m not high on Wilkinson, but from a depth prospective he’s a big upgrade over last years OL6.
A good bet to make it
After a couple years of being on the roster bubble, I see Alex Bars having a real good chance at sticking on the week one 53-man roster. Head coach Matt Nagy has talked about his versatility, and him being able to play literally anywhere is a valuable asset to have as a reserve.
Bars is a real wildcard in the group, because before his injury at Notre Dame he could have been a day two draft pick. He’s now three years removed from tearing up his knee, and the eight games started a year ago could be a confidence boost for him heading into his third professional season.
On the bubble
The Bears opened up last season with nine offensive linemen, so if the eight guys I mentioned above all make it, that makes for a spirited competition for the last spot.
Second year pro Lachavious Simmons was working at the tackle spots this offseason, while fellow 2020 draftmate, Arlington Hambright, has been playing guard. These two could use a good showing in the three preseason games this August.
Dieter Eiselen, a UDFA guard from Yale last year, has been getting some center reps this summer. Eiselen has the size and strength for the NFL, but as a former rugby player that only played one year in high school before his four years in the Ivy League, his technique needs to be honed. He was a mauler in college and I’ll be keeping my eye on him this offseason.
Adam Redmond, another Ivy Leaguer who played at Harvard, has played in 18 games since 2017 while bouncing back and forth between the practice squad on three different teams. He’s 28-years old, and this could be his final camp to prove he’s more than a fringe roster guy.
Badara Traore, a 2020 UDFA, and rookie UDFAs Dareuan Parker and Tyrone Wheatley Jr., are all just hoping to show enough to make the practice squad.