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Will the 2023 offensive line be good enough?

Ryan Poles continues to tinker with the offensive line

Tennessee Titans v Green Bay Packers Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images

For those of us who love play in the trenches, hearing Ryan Poles’ press conference when he was hired was music to the ears. He stressed how he wanted to build the offensive and defensive lines and build back from there.

Ryan Pace largely ignored the offensive line. Utilizing only mid-level free agent acquisitions, never spending a first-round pick and only spending four day two picks on offensive linemen (yes, I remember you, Hroniss Grasu) over his entire tenure, it was frustrating never seeing the offensive line get enough focus.

But Poles said it would be a priority. His first offseason was a challenge with limited draft capital and not much money to spend. He brought in a low-level signing with Lucas Patrick and spent several day three picks on the offensive line, including Braxton Jones.

With money to spend, I think many Chicago Bears fans expected Poles to spend big on the offensive line this offseason. I thought landing two starting quality free agents was the minimum, and at this point, Poles has only spent $10 million a year on right guard Nate Davis.

I’ve heard from people “in the know” that Nate Davis will be right guard and Teven Jenkins may move to left guard or not fit in the team’s future plans, but other people “in the know” have said that Davis will be moving to left guard.

What does that mean? It means that the offensive line isn’t complete yet and the Bears don’t know exactly how things are going to look. What’s clear at this point is that the Bears still have two significant needs at offensive line- center and right tackle.

At this point, I don’t see a way to repair right tackle in free agency. Larry Borom will be the “starter” until April 27th when the Bears inevitably draft Paris Johnson or Broderick Jones. I think both those players hit a lot of boxes on the Ryan Poles checklist and I think that’ll be the move at nine. It’s unfortunate because I think the Bears could still do many things with the ninth pick in the draft, including Jalen Carter or trading back, but at this juncture, I don’t really see that as possible. They must draft a tackle.

Whether the rookie or Braxton Jones played the right side will be up to Poles and the coaching staff, but I’m pretty confident you can write that down in ink at this point. As for the interior, Nate Davis has played right guard for almost a decade. He’s a pro and could probably handle the move to the left side (interior is much easier to make that switch than at tackle), but that’s also placing him out of position.

Moving Teven Jenkins to left guard is going to have him play a new position for the fourth consecutive year. Jenkins played mostly right tackle his last year at Oklahoma State, learned left tackle his first year with the Bears and was then moved to right guard. Switching Jenkins over to left guard is opening the door for Jenkins to regress.

I think if you are Poles and the coaching staff, you are playing whoever you feel fits more into your long term plans at right guard. My money is on Davis with Jenkins being on the move once again. Despite Jenkins excellent development and performance in 2022, I still get the feeling that this regime isn’t totally embracing him. I have a hard time seeing Jenkins seeing a second contract in Chicago.

If Jenkins is indeed a question in terms of his future, I wouldn’t be shocked if Poles still signs one more linemen. If I had to put money on one, I would go with Isaac Seumalo from the Philadelphia Eagles. Seumalo played right guard last year but has plenty of experience at left guard. That would certainly signify issues for Jenkins moving forward.

That leaves us with center where the Bears have Lucas Patrick and Poles did hint at his press conference that Cody Whitehair could move back to center once again. If I had to guess, I think Whitehair could be released at a later date (post June 1). I think Poles doesn’t want to sign a center that is available, but if he can land a day two center (John Michael Schmitz and Luke Wypler are two that come to mind) I would expect the plan to be to have Lucas Patrick and the rookie battle it out in camp for the starting job.

I know some fans have looked at Whitehair and said he’s a solid option at center, but this isn’t 2018 Cody Whitehair. The Whitehair I saw at guard after he returned from injury was one of a fading veteran that shouldn’t be in plans for 2023 if at all possible.

In short, the offensive line as it currently is constituted isn’t going to cut it for 2023, but there is room for improvement in the draft. If the Bears add a day one and day two lineman to the squad, the line will be young, somewhat unproven, but with plenty of potential to keep Justin Fields upright for years to come.