The Bears' wide receiving corps has been the subject of heavy criticism this offseason. Rightfully so.
Chicago unsurprisingly saw Allen Robinson leave in free agency and only added Byron Pringle and Equanimeous St. Brown in free agency. The Bears used their third-round draft pick on Tennessee's Velus Jones Jr.
While the wide receiver group is reason to be concerned for Justin Fields as he enters Year 2, it's not the biggest issue facing a Bears team trying to set the second-year quarterback up for success.
That distinction belongs to the offensive line.
The quickest way to ruin a young quarterback is to have him spend more time picking himself off the turf then picking apart defenses.
Last season, the Bears' offensive line ranked 22nd in the NFL, per Pro Football Focus. The Bears' O-line ranked 24th in PFF's Pass Blocking Efficiency metric and allowed the 10th most pressures in the NFL at 194.
That unit got worse this offseason. Forty-year-old Jason Peters, who was Chicago's highest-graded pass blocker last season, is gone. The Bears' second highest-graded pass blocker, James Daniels, left in free agency.
The Bears signed Lucas Patrick this offseason. Patrick, who played at all three interior spots for the Green Bay Packers last season, likely will play center for the Bears. Dakota Dozier, a backup for the Minnesota Vikings last season, signed to compete for the right guard spot with Sam Mustipher. Cody Whitehair will be back at left guard, with Teven Jenkins and Larry Borom expected to be the starting tackles.
Here's a brief rundown of the Bears' potential starting offensive line's pass-blocking stats from last season, courtesy of PFF.
Snaps: 546 (RT), 85 (LT)
Pass Block Grade: 62.7
Pass Block Grade: 61.3
Snaps: 822 (C), 88 (RG), 57 (LG)
Pass Block Grade: 64.3
Dakota Dozier (stats from 2020)
Pass Block Grade: 36.7
Pass Block Grade: 54.6
Pass Block Grade: 61.7
It's not a pretty picture. But, it's one general manager Ryan Poles is trying to fix.
Poles, an offensive lineman by trade, is aware the Bears need a facelift upfront, and he drafted four O-linemen on Day 3 of the 2022 NFL Draft. Chicago selected tackle Braxton Jones, center Doug Kramer, and guards Zachary Thomas and Ja'Tyre Carter.
While all four rookies are developmental prospects, there could be a few openings for guys like Jones or Thomas on the starting offensive line.
"Obviously, as a rookie, you can't come in like you've already got the job done. You've got a lot of stuff to learn," Jones said at rookie minicamp. "But in the course of playing, you're trying to take someone's job. Everyone's out there to take someone's job.
"So I try to approach the playbook like a rookie and try to figure it out. Then on the field, when it comes to finishing and playing hard, you're approaching that like you're trying to take someone's job."
Of the five projected starting linemen, Patrick and Whitehair would appear to be cemented at center and left guard, respectively. Borom and Jenkins have the inside track on the starting tackle jobs, but their jobs are far from secure.
The right guard position is wide open. Thomas, who was a tackle in college but is transitioning to guard, is focused on refining his technique and not the position battle head.
"I think right now I'm just trying to learn as much as I can about the game, between college and the NFL, it's been a bit of a leap," Thomas told reporters at rookie minicamp. "We'll see once the vets get here what happens. But right now, I'm just trying to learn as much as I can and really get going."
But, given Dozier and Mustipher's suboptimal numbers, there could be an opening for the sixth-round pick to compete for the starting job in training camp.
Fields' growth should be the Bears' priority this season as they begin Year 1 of a rebuild under Poles and new head coach Matt Eberflus.
It's easier and sexier to discuss the skill positions as the biggest issue facing Fields and the offense this season. But the offensive line, if it puts up a similar performance as last season, will be a bigger detriment to Fields' growth than not having a "true No. 1 receiver."
Offensive coordinator Luke Getsy plans to build his offense around Fields' strengths. We'll likely see a lot of outside zone runs and bootleg actions off it to utilize Fields' athleticism and create easy throws to receivers in space.
Running a quarterback-friendly system should help Fields in Year 2. But if he's under constant pressure, it doesn't matter who he's throwing to or what scheme the Bears are running.