I could have easily had the entire projected starting offensive line of the Chicago Bears each individually listed on my 10 Most Important Bears series this year and no one would have second guessed it. The o-line is the position group that concerns most fans, and it’s what analysts are wondering about too after general manager Ryan Poles re-worked the room this offseason.
He allowed James Daniels (17 starts at right guard in 2021), Jason Peters (15 starts at left tackle), Germain Ifedi (7 starts), Alex Bars (3 starts) and Elijah Wilkinson (1 start) to all walk in free agency, and he restocked the room with four day three draft picks and free agents Lucas Patrick and Julién Davenport.
One of those rookies, Braxton Jones, has been running with the number one offense at left tackle, and Patrick was added to fortify the center position, which is where he’s been since being signed. Patrick was also brought in to change the mentality of the entire unit with his nasty demeanor and get-after-it, play to the whistle tenacity.
“The things he was screaming on the phone after we got a deal done kind of showed what he’s all about,” Poles said shortly after he inked Patrick to a two year contract. “He embodies that. He’s a prick, and he knows it, and that’s how he survives, and that’s what we need up front.”
Patrick’s addition moved Sam Mustipher to guard, which is a position he’s yet to play as a professional. Mustipher started all 17 games for the Bears a season ago at center, but he had some physical limitations. Poles wants athletes upfront for their zone blocking scheme, and that’s never been a part of Sam’s game. He no doubt worked on his body and quickness this offseason, but of the five currently running with the ones, Mustipher at right guard is the biggest question mark.
At left guard is veteran Cody Whitehair, and he’ll be counted on to bounce back after a down 2021, but also to provide some leadership to the tackle playing next to him, which is currently Jones and Whitehair likes what he’s seen so far.
“Braxton is a tough kid, very athletic,” said Whitehair via the team’s site. “He’s got really long arms as well. He’s learning. As hard as that is to be thrown in the fire like that, I feel like he has responded well and [I’m] excited to see what he can bring.”
And Jones appreciates the tough love his teammates have shown him this offseason.
“I think they’ve been harder on me, and I like it like that,” Jones said last month from Halas Hall. “Even going against a guy like Cody Whitehair, he’s hard on me. Every play, he’s like c’mon, you’ve got to get off the ball, you’ve got to do this, and so I think it’s great for me, and then getting on me a little bit more is something I need. The respect is there, but also I think the level of ‘let’s go’ is there as well.”
At right tackle it’s been Larry Borom starting and he’s looking to build off the 8 starts he made as a rookie last year. He played right tackle at Missouri, but he played both sides in 2021, and that adds to the value he brings to the team. Fellow second year o-lineman Teven Jenkins has been working with the second team at right tackle and once the pads go on at training camp this battle could ramp up.
There were some other minor moves made within the o-line group this offseason, and it’s possible there’s another move or two coming, but right now the Bears are starting Jones (LT), Whitehair (LG), Patrick (C), Mustipher (RG), and Borom (RT).
Poles wasn’t happy with the group he inherited, and while he turned over the guys in the o-line room, time will tell if he did enough.
Who ever ends up on this quintette for week one will be my number three most important Bear(s) for the 2022 season.