When it came to the 2022 Chicago Bears offensive line, yes, they struggled with pass blocking, but at least they could hang their hat on being a very solid run blocking unit.
The 2022 defensive line didn’t really have something to point to. They struggled in just about every aspect of the game, and it was clear this unit needed a significant amount of work in the offseason.
The Bears have significant holes everywhere. They needed to bolster the wide receiver group, they need significant help on both offensive and defensive lines, they needed a running back to replace David Montgomery, a solid back up for Cole Kmet, another cornerback and two new linebackers. It was quite a list and Poles has crossed several of those needs off the list.
Unfortunately, the offensive and defensive lines have the most question marks still at this point. The offensive line at least has paths to being a decent unit this year, but at this point, the defensive line may be destined to significantly struggle again in 2023.
First, before you go running to the comments, yes, the unit has already improved from the 2022 version, I’m not saying it will be as bad. But let’s say you’re a kid and you have to be 60 inches tall to ride a roller coaster. You go in 2022 and you are 53 inches tall. You come back next summer in 2023 and you are 57 inches tall. You grew 4 inches in one year which is impressive, but you are still well short of the requirement, but, with more growth, you’ll be there in 2024. That’s where the Bears defensive line is at.
When I was discussing the defensive line with someone, they asked me what I think of Andrew Billings. I like the Billings signing. I think he’s a solid player and will be the 1-tech on the line. He is a solid starter in this league. But I feel like Billings is ideally the least talented starter on a quality defensive line. Right now, I believe him to be the best defensive lineman on the team.
The other key addition has been Demarcus Walker. I loved Walker coming out of Florida State. I felt the Denver Broncos got a steal in the second round but Walker never panned out in Denver. He had a career year last year and I will be fascinated to see if his career growth continues in Chicago. Walker has the versatility to play both inside and out, and while this doesn’t mean much, the Bears officially called him a defensive end.
As it stands now, the Bears defensive front is Billings and Justin Jones in the middle with Walker and Trevis Gipson coming off the edge. That’s still significantly lacking in the talent department.
I fully expect Ryan Poles to sign another edge player and that will help without question, but there isn’t much remaining from the outside, certainly no game changers.
Of course, we can advance to the draft and I fully expect Poles to attack the defensive line at some point with those picks between 53 and 64. With the Bears top four picks, you’d like to see them address right tackle, center, cornerback, edge and defensive tackle. Being that’s five different positions, unless Poles trades back, that’s not going to happen. Would Poles go with 2 offensive linemen and 2 defensive linemen with those four picks? If he can secure another starting quality corner before the draft, that certainly would be ideal.
Some of you may suggest the Bears attack the defensive line in round one with Jalen Carter or Lukas Van Ness, but that would leave Poles needing to address tackle in round two. I know Poles found a rookie starter in round five with Braxton Jones and as impressive as that is, you just don’t know if an offensive tackle, even one drafted as high as round two, can jump in and start from day one. That is a dangerous route to take to keep Justin Fields safe.
I wouldn’t expect a late second round defensive tackle or edge player to have a breakout rookie season, they usually come along a little more slowly, but a couple of second round quality players to rotate with those players would certainly help.
Even with another edge and a couple of second round picks, I still wouldn’t see this defensive line reaching a league average level. The Bears are most likely going to struggle putting pressure on the quarterback again.
Perhaps Poles can grab a surprise veteran release or shock us with a trade that could vastly change the outlook of the defensive line, but if we don’t see something dramatic like that done in the next few months, it’s a group that will most likely have issues during the season.
As of right now, defensive line is shaping up to be the weakest position group on the 2023 Chicago Bears.