All offseason, many of the biggest questions surrounding the Bears have focused on the offensive line. Who will make up the starting five? Where precisely will those five play? And how will they all fare together? Typically the answers to questions like that become more clear as the summer goes on, but in the Bears’ case, things got even murkier on training camp report day.
“We have a lot of spots on the roster that are in flux right now and we're just trying to find the best combination of players,” said Matt Eberflus. “You know offensive line moving guys from outside to inside and if it's defensive line, moving a guy around for pass rush purposes, inside or outside, we're going to do that all across the roster. Moving a corner from outside to inside, moving a receiver from outside to inside, we're going to do all those different things to find out the best combination for the Chicago Bears going forward.”
Eberflus’ examples at other position groups are relevant, but still the spotlight shines brightest on the OL. Not only will they be tasked with protecting Justin Fields, but they’re also the position group that’s undergone the most recent tinkering. Ryan Poles has signed veterans Michael Schofield and Riley Reiff in back-to-back days. During OTAs, the team moved Larry Borom from left tackle to right tackle, and gave fifth-round rookie Braxton Jones some reps with the starters at left tackle. Last year’s second-round pick Teven Jenkins was relegated to the second unit.
Previously, the Bears have stated that they view Jenkins purely as a tackle, and that’s how they’d focus on developing him. That may change given Eberflus’ comment about moving O-linemen inside. Or maybe that comment was in reference to Borom? Or Lachavious Simmons? At this point we don’t know who Flus was talking about, and he declined to offer any hints about how the OL will line up when practices begin on Wednesday.
“You’ll see tomorrow,” Eberflus said.
What is clear is that the Bears still aren’t content with any group of five just yet. They’ll continue to tinker until they’re confident they’ve got the right group, and Eberflus says there’s no deadline to figure it out.
“But like I said in the spring, the sooner the better,” Eberflus said. “We just added a couple of pieces, so that’s gonna be two more pieces to the puzzle, which is a great thing, like I said with the position flex and guys moving in and out, moving to guard, center, inside, outside, from guard to tackle, so we’ll figure it out.”
While the continued adjustments are focused on finding the best starting unit up front, Eberflus noted some added benefits to having guys play in various spots throughout the summer.
“Obviously seeing guys' skill sets, that's an important part. But also the flexibility when injuries happen. We're going to have injuries during the course of the year, we're going to have to flex guys, move guys in and out and we have to be able to see that as coaches and as personnel guys we've got to make sure we see that, where can a guy operate and what can he do? So that's an important piece as well.”
From a players’ perspective the competition is appreciated.
“I think it's a great message that in the NFL, nothing is guaranteed,” said Lucas Patrick. “Competition is the greatest barometer for a team. If we could have 100 guys in here who are all NFL veterans and make everyone better I think it makes the team better which then helps us win games. That's how I see it. I've been on both sides of the coin and it's definitely a benefit. You just have to approach it with the right mentality that you have to bring your best every day. That's why it's the National Football League and why we are professionals.”
Patrick also said that it’s hard to truly judge who will make up the starting five until the pads come on in practice.
“We have to block people,” Patrick said. “We have to run into each other. So when the pads get on, that's a really good test to see where guys fit and how you fit everything.”
In Patrick’s opinion, there’s no magic amount of time it takes for an offensive line to come together. It’s not two weeks. It’s not two months. They just have to play football and see how well they mesh. One thing Patrick does know is that adding veterans like Reiff and Schofield can only help matters.
So for now, the offensive line remains a mystery. It’s hard to say how many combinations the Bears will try, and how many players they’ll try in new positions. With so many variables still at play, the only thing to expect is the unexpected.