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Offensive line is the Bears’ position that needs the most improvement in 2023

Greg Gabriel is looking for a big improvement on the Bears' o-line this season.

Chicago Bears Offseason Workout Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

It’s no secret to any Chicago Bears fan that the offensive line struggled last year, especially with pass protection. Rarely did quarterback Justin Fields have time to throw. For Fields to grow, the unit must improve, and the Bears front office has done a good job in doing that.

The Bears brass first decided who not to bring back from last year’s group. Gone are tackle Riley Reiff, center Sam Mustipher and guard Michael Schofield. Simply put, they weren’t good enough!

During veteran free agency in March, the Bears had hoped to sign a guard and tackle. The only tackle they had a lot of interest in was former 49er Mike McGlinchey, but when the guaranteed money got too high for the Bears’ liking, they bowed out and decided to look for a right tackle in the NFL Draft.

The guard the Bears signed is a good one. Nate Davis played the last four years in Tennessee, starting 54 of the 55 games he appeared in. He is a big and athletic guard who is very good as both a run and pass blocker, and he’ll line up at right guard in Chicago. Not only does he bring talent and experience to the position but also leadership, as he has played on some good Tennessee teams and has Playoff experience.

The other guard will be Teven Jenkins. Jenkins is entering his third year in the League but only his second season as a guard. Last year (against his will), he made the transition to guard, and the move proved to be just what he needed. In short, Teven is one of the most physical guards in football. He is a dominant run blocker and a very solid pass protector. He will be making the switch to left guard this season, but that should be an easy transition as he has played on the left side in the past. Right guard to left guard is much easier than right tackle to left tackle, as a guard is not on an Island like a tackle. I fully expect Jenkins to approach Pro Bowl status this year. Yes, he’s that good!

The center will more than likely be Cody Whitehair. Cody began his career as a center but shifted to guard because he had some issues snapping the ball to former QB Mitch Trubisky. That has been corrected.

Though Whitehair worked with the first unit in OTAs, he will get some competition from Lucas Patrick. Patrick was signed as a free agent last year to play center, where he had been the starter in Green Bay for most of the ’20 and ’21 seasons. He was a good player in Green Bay but had some injury issues during camp and wasn’t ready to go when the season began. An injured hand and other injuries along the offensive line forced him to play guard, and the results weren’t good. The Whithair/Patrick battle could be one of the more interesting in camp, but I fully expect Cody to be the starter come Opening Day.

One thing that usually goes unstated is how important the center position is. That man is the leader and glue of the OLine. He makes all the protection calls and keeps everyone in place. We got spoiled here with Olin Kruetz at center, but since he’s been gone, there has been no one like him. It’s always best to have a savvy veteran as the starting center.

Last year, the surprise rookie was left tackle Braxton Jones. As a fifth-round pick, he was not expected to play much, let alone start. He showed he could be the starter in OTAs and then played every snap last year.

Jones has the size, length and athleticism that all NFL teams covet at left tackle. What he lacked was the required lower body power. While it didn’t affect his run blocking, it showed up in pass protection as he had a problem anchoring the first half of the season.

Jones has spent the offseason improving his lower strength, and I feel that once camp opens in three weeks, we will see a different player. With all the experience he gained last year, Jones should be well on his way to being a winning left tackle in the NFL. I love his upside!

When the Bears couldn’t sign a veteran right tackle, they turned to the Draft and used their first-round pick on Tennessee’s Darnell Wright. Wright didn’t just have a good season last year, he was outstanding. The game of his career came against Alabama, where he kept Will Anderson, the third overall pick in this last Draft, from making plays. He didn’t just beat Anderson, he dominated him!

Wright has all the traits to be a dominant NFL tackle. He has great size and strength, as well as excellent athleticism. What’s even better is he plays with an attitude and can be downright nasty when he wants. Yes, he will go through some rookie growing pains, but he will be the best right tackle the Bears have had in years.

The depth at guard and center is pretty good, but there is a question mark at tackle. Inside, Patrick, Dieter Eiselen and Ja’Tyre Carter offer good talent. Coming from the Ivy League, it took Eiselen a couple years to be ready for NFL play, but he showed when he had to play last year that he is up to the task. He has versatility in that he can play guard or center. The same holds true for Patrick, but he must improve his play at guard if he is going to be a valuable backup. The guy I’m interested in seeing in camp is Carter. Carter has rare athleticism, along with great strength and power. He’s just raw. He played tackle at Southern University but was moved inside last year. With last year as a learning year, he should take a big jump this season.

Going into camp, the third tackle is returnee Larry Borom. Borom is entering his third year and has 17 starts to his name. The previous regime drafted him, and he was more of a fit for their scheme than for the outside zone scheme the Bears now use. Borom is tough and strong, but he lacks the degree of athleticism the Bears want at tackle. If he lost weight during the offseason, it should improve his movement skills. If that is the case, he can be a valuable backup.

None of us know what Alex Leatherwood is. The former first-round draft pick by the Raiders in 2021 struggled in Las Vegas and looked the same when he had to play here. Leatherwood was a pure left tackle in college, but he has yet to play that position in the pros. It’s no secret that he totally lost his confidence after his days with the Raiders.

The Bears tried to use last year as a learning year for him and to try to build him back up. We won’t know or see the results until camp opens. He can be valuable if he can revert to the form he showed while at Alabama. If not, he’ll be gone.

The interesting rookie free agent is Gabe Houy from Pitt. He played mostly right tackle while at Pitt but easily has the athleticism to play on the left side. He missed a lot of time in ’22 because of injury, otherwise he would have been drafted. The talent is there for him to make the 53.

All told, this group should be much improved over last year. The starting five is very good, as well as the interior backups. If the depth at tackle is what is hoped for, this line will be the most improved OLine in the NFL.