The Chicago Bears had a lot of “what ifs” on their offensive line heading into the 2021 season, and during the offseason things have just gotten murkier and murkier up front. Chicago dumped one starter in the spring, they used free agency to bolster some depth while letting some free agents leave, they addressed the o-line during the draft, and then cut another starter after the draft.
They had a starting quintet in mind when they began their OTAs, and that remained the same on through minicamp, but then training camp kicked off and the injuries starting to mount.
Rookie left tackle Teven Jenkins hurt his back at some point working out, then he went under the knife, and while the Bears are hopeful he can return this year, how much are they really expecting from his this season?
Elijah Wilkinson, who was signed to be a reserve after getting 26 starts in four years with the Broncos at right tackle and guard, was next up at the left tackle. And while he wasn’t bad against the Dolphins, he was a speed bump in the Bills game.
Rookie Larry Borom got in the second half against Buffalo and he showed some promise, but I’d rather not see him lined up across from number ones.
Which takes us to 39-year old Jason Peters, who was signed the weekend of the Dolphins game, and while he was brought in to be the starter he was also fishing when Chicago gave him a call. I expect him to run out with the ones in L.A., but head coach Matt Nagy said they may need to rotate him while he works himself into shape.
Cody Whitehair ended the 2020 season playing left guard and he’s been there all offseason too. He’s the one Bear o-lineman I’m confident will look like he belongs in 2021.
Sam Mustipher has been manning the center spot since last year, but he’ll need to prove he added enough strength to deal with the rigors of a 17 game season. He’s had some ups and downs this preseason, so I’m not sold on him taking a step this year. Mustipher developing is the key to this line gelling.
Four year pro James Daniels, still only 23-years old, has a lot of upside, but he was dealing with a quad injury in camp. He’s back now, but he’s also on his third position in his young career, so he needs to get his reps in.
And speaking of a position change, if Mustipher falters at center I wonder if Daniels moves back. The only reason he was moved from the position in the first place was to appease the last starting quarterback, so with a new QB room I’d imagine Daniels is back as a viable option.
Alex Bars and the aforementioned Wilkinson would be next to slide into a guard spot if things are shuffled around.
Germain Ifedi just started practicing last week after coming off the PUP list, and the Bears need him to be all the way back from his hip flexor injury. Second year pro Lachavious Simmons filled in at right tackle, and he took every snap in the first two preseason games. And let’s just say he needs more work at that position.
Wilkinson is probably the first right tackle up if Ifedi is hurt again, but Bars received some tackle reps this offseason too.
So who makes the 53?
Last year the Bears opened the season up with 9 on the offensive line, but the first two years of Nagy’s tenure they only opened up with 8.
With Jenkins expected back at some point this year the Bears are likely to open up with him on the 53-man roster before putting him on injured reserve, so I’m predicting they’ll cut down and keep these 9; Jenkins, Peters, Ifedi, Wilkinson, Borom, Whitehair, Mustipher, Daniels, and Bars.
If they really believe in the upside from Simmons they could open up with him as a 10th o-lineman on the 53, but I think they’ll cut him, place Jenkins on IR, and then try to re-sign Simmons if he clears waivers.
The Bears could get creative and release a veteran with the intention to re-add him once Jenkins heads to IR, but that would require a lot of trust from both the player and team.
For their practice squad I got Arlington Hambright, Dieter Eiselen, and Adam Redmond coming back.