Last year, I charted the offensive line snaps and starting combinations for the Chicago Bears up front because it seemed to change regularly. A total of nine different starting combinations were used to get through the season, an impressive number for a unit that ideally provides a level of stability for the team. The more a group of offensive linemen work together, the better they are able to communicate and work together on blitz pickup, combo blocks, etc. It’s an important if overlooked part of successful teams.
The Bears have already used six different starting offensive line combinations through the first eight weeks of the season. I created a visual to help quickly see just how different the year has gone from the original plan.
The top line of circles was the plan coming into the year. From left to right: Braxton Jones, Teven Jenkins, Cody Whitehair, Nate Davis, and rookie Darnell Wright. That starting five unit at those positions are depicted by circles with a navy blue border. That original plan has not played together yet.
Starters playing a different position are depicted by circles with a light blue border while back up players are depicted by circles with an orange border. Darnell Wright is the only player to start all eight games at his spot at right tackle. He’s also played the most snaps this year, all but five snaps that Ja’Tyre Carter played for him in Week 7.
Cody Whitehair has made eight starts this year, but seven of them have come from his old left guard position. At first, this was because of Teven Jenkins missing the first four weeks of the season on IR. His one start at center came in Week 6, where he was, ah, given some time to rest on the sidelines towards the end of the game. He also slid over and played most of Week 5 at center after Patrick left for injury. The plan that game was for Jenkins, fresh off the IR, to split reps with Whitehair at left guard. Instead, Jenkins and Carter rotated after Patrick left.
We can’t forget the random center snaps from Doug Kramer in Week 7 and Dan the Man Feeney in Weeks 2 and 8. The Bears have had four different players snap the ball in 2023. It’s almost like center was a need heading into the season that wasn’t properly addressed...
Nate Davis is working his way back from a high ankle sprain and should be able to play again this season. Braxton Jones has an unknown timeline for returning from injury. A return of Davis would likely push Jenkins back to left guard. If the Bears decide to keep Patrick in at center and move Whitehair to the bench, that would create the 7th starting combination. A return of Braxton Jones could add new combinations to the mix. Maybe the Bears give Feeney a start at some point, get some value out of that 6th round pick they paid for him. Or maybe they let Doug Kramer start for some reason. There was talk at one point to get some work in for Ja’Tyre Carter at tackle. If Larry Borom struggles or gets dinged up, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Carter with a chance.
The thing is, the Bears offensive line isn’t that far away from being talented enough to set a high floor for this offensive. Wright looks like he could be a good player in this league, Nate Davis has a proven track record, and when Jenkins is healthy, he’s been fantastic. Many of us have high hopes for Braxton Jones to continue his growth at left tackle. They need to stay healthy, obviously, and play together in the same spots consistently to develop into a good or better unit, but there are some building blocks there.
A note to whoever is making decisions at Halas Hall in 2024 - please prioritize center. It’s been an obvious weakness for years and continues to get ignored and I’m tired of talking about it every off season.
Will the Bears surpass their total of 9 different starting offensive line combinations from 2022 this season? Let me know what you think and what your ideal combo looks like for the rest of 2023 and on opening day 2024.