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A Scout’s Take: How will the Bears Handle the Center Position in 2024?

Greg Gabriel with some thoughts on the Bears’ plan at center this offseason.

NFL: Chicago Bears at Los Angeles Chargers Jonathan Hui-USA TODAY Sports

In recent weeks, the Chicago Bears' offensive line has been healthy with all their starters able to play. Because of that, the efficiency of the line has been much better. As a group, they are a very good run blocking unit, but with pass protection, it's still a work in progress. Much of that has to do with the fact the group doesn't have a lot of playtime together, and as a whole, the group is still relatively experienced. The tackles and guards are all young and will only get better with playtime. The "old man" of those positions is right guard Nate Davis, who is only 27 and in his fifth year in the League.

Many fans will say the weak spot along the offensive line is center. Cody Whitehair began the season there but has been replaced by Lucas Patrick. If you recall, Patrick was signed as a free agent a year ago to be the starting center but only played a few snaps of one game at center in 2022 because of his own injuries and injuries at guard.

It's fair to say that Patrick has not been consistent, but it's also fair to say that he has had some strong games. One such game was last week in the Bears' win over Detroit. Yes, Patrick had a crucial holding call that negated about a 20-yard pass completion, but outside of that, his plays were solid.

With Patrick, durability has been an issue, as he has missed time in each of the last two years, His contract with the Bears is up at the end of the season, so the Bears have a decision to make as to either extend him or go in another direction. My feeling is this will be Patrick's last season as a Bear, with the reason being he hasn't lived up to his two-year $8 Million contract. As I always say, a player has to give back to the team in production what he is getting paid. That has not been the case with Patrick.

Currently, only two other players are capable of playing center on the roster. One is Dan Feeney, who was a mid-season free agent signing, and second-year man Doug Kramer, who is on the practice squad. The reality is that neither is the answer to be the Beras starting center in 2024.

So, what do the Bears do?

Several fans have used social media to say the Bears should Draft a center high and have him become the starter from Day 1. In theory, that sounds like a smart idea, but in reality, it's not. Even though it doesn't get much notoriety, the center position is perhaps the most important position on the Oline. The center is the leader and glue of the group, as all things run through him. The center not only has to be a solid player but also astute enough to make all the line calls. There are very few rookie centers who are capable of doing that. It's not an impossible task, but it is very difficult. Yes, there have been some who have done it, but it's not an everyday occurrence.

The Bears' offensive line is very young, so bringing in a veteran center would be the best option. I say that because if a rookie is the starter, it isn't known if he is capable of making the line calls. If that rookie could not make the calls, then it would fall on one of the guards. Having not been around either of the Bears' starting guards (Nate Davis or Teven Jenkins), I have no idea if either is capable of performing the task. The only person who would know that right now is offensive line coach Chris Morgan, as he works with the players on a daily basis. If he feels that either is capable of the task, there would not be a problem with starting a rookie at center. If not, the Bears would have to go to another option.

The first option that comes to mind is to move second-year player Ja'Tyre Carter inside to center. Carter was a tackle in college, moved to guard as a rookie and has played very well when called upon this year at the guard position. He may be the most athletic offensive lineman the Bears have, and he is easily big and strong enough to play very well at center. The big question is, can he handle making the line calls? Again, only Chris Morgan knows the answer.

Another option is to sign a vet in free agency. The names that could be available now may not actually be available come March, as many could sign extensions with their current club. Probably the best center in free agency would have been the Dolphins' Connor Williams, but he tore an ACL last week and will more than likely not be ready until about six weeks into the 2024 season.

If the Bears were to decide to Draft a center, they would have to do a large amount of pre-draft research on the player. Last April, a few weeks before the Draft, both Chris Morgan and General Manager Ryan Poles flew to Tennessee to have an extensive workout with Darnell Wright. It wasn't until after that workout was complete that the Bears were sold on Wright being their first-round pick.

With a center prospect, I would expect them to do the same, but I would assume much of the workout/visit would include classroom work to make sure the player is mentally capable of starting at center as a rookie. Many have the physical traits to play right away; the key is having the needed mental traits.

When will we know what the Bears will do? I would say it's a good bet we will know exactly what they plan to do within the first few hours of veteran free agency in March. The Bears could announce that they will move Carter to center, but if they don't do that or don't sign a free agent right after free agency begins, the Draft will be the way the Chicago Bears go.