Bears Senior Writer
The following is the fifth of nine position previews in advance of training camp.
The most intriguing battles for starting jobs in training camp are expected to be waged at both offensive tackle positions.
The Bears experimented with two combinations during offseason workouts: Larry Borom lined up at left tackle and Teven Jenkins played right tackle for the first six practices, while Braxton Jones worked at left tackle with Borom moving to the right side for the final six practices.
Borom was selected by the Bears in the fifth round of the 2021 draft out of Missouri. He played both tackle positions as a rookie, starting eight games on the right side and entering two contests as an injury replacement at left tackle.
A 2021 second-round pick, Jenkins missed the first 11 games of his rookie season after undergoing back surgery last August. He made his NFL debut by playing two special-teams snaps Dec. 5 against the Cardinals. A week later, he was inserted at left tackle in the first quarter versus the Packers after veteran Jason Peters suffered a high ankle sprain.
Jenkins started the next two games, exited a win in Seattle Dec. 26 with a shoulder injury and played in the final two games of the season.
Having recovered from his back injury, Jenkins is determined to prove to the Bears’ new regime that he can perform at a high level.
“For me, it’s about earning trust and earning their belief that I deserve to be on this team still,” he said during the offseason. “I’m working for that trust. That’s ultimately what I’m doing.”
Jones was chosen by the Bears in the fifth round of this year’s draft out of Southern Utah. After working with the No. 1 offense in offseason practices, he hopes to build on that momentum in training camp. The 6-5, 310-pounder appeared in 34 games over five seasons at Southern Utah. He was named first-team all-Big Sky in each of his final two seasons, starting all six games during the Thunderbirds’ 2021 spring campaign and all 11 contests last fall.
The Bears spoke to Jones at the Senior Bowl and the NFL Combine, and then requested a third meeting shortly before the draft. He obliged, working out for assistant offensive line coach Austin King in Utah. The same athleticism and football intelligence that Jones demonstrated in that workout was evident throughout the offseason practices, earning the 23-year-old valuable reps with the No. 1 offense.
Center of attention
One of Ryan Poles’ top priorities during his first offseason as Bears general manager was to acquire an offensive lineman who possessed a nasty demeanor and could lead the unit.
Poles found his man in center Lucas Patrick, telling reporters after signing the veteran free agent: “He embodies that. He’s a [jerk], and he knows it, and that’s how he survives, and that’s what we need up front.”
Patrick spent his first six NFL seasons with the Packers, appearing in 73 games with 34 starts. He originally signed with Green Bay in 2016 as an undrafted free agent from Duke—after participating in the team’s rookie minicamp on a tryout basis. The 6-3, 313-pounder eventually developed into a full-time starter, opening 15 games in 2020 and 13 in 2021.
After signing Patrick, Poles described him as a “glue guy in the locker room and on the field” who will “add leadership to our offensive line and raise the standard of how the Chicago Bears will play with grit, tenacity and finish.”
After adding Patrick in free agency, Poles selected four offensive linemen in the draft—Jones, tackle Zachary Thomas and center Doug Kramer in the sixth round and guard Ja'Tyre Carter in the seventh.
It marked the first time that the Bears had chosen four offensive linemen in a single draft since 1989 when there were 12 rounds. It’s probably not a coincidence that Poles was an offensive lineman at Boston College who signed with the Bears in 2008 as an undrafted free agent.
“You can never have enough offensive linemen,” Poles told ChicagoBears.com after the draft. “It’s a position—at least from my experience—regardless of how it shakes out, it’s rare to finish a season with the starting five that you started the season with. So, anytime you can increase the volume of talent in that room, you’re getting better.
“The other thing I wanted to make sure we did is just increase the competition as well. It’s human nature to relax when you feel there’s no threat to your job, so I want these young guys to come in and compete for jobs. That’s going to lift everyone in that entire room to know that they’ve got to compete and be their best self to make the team, as well as to make the starting line.”
Whitehair provides stability
The most experienced veteran on the Bears offensive line is left guard Cody Whitehair, who returns for a seventh season. Whitehair and safety DeAndre Houston-Carson, who were picked in the second and sixth rounds of the 2016 draft, respectively, are the team’s longest tenured players.
A Day 1 starter, Whitehair has been dependable and durable since he arrived in Chicago, opening 95 of a possible 97 games. He played center during his first five seasons before moving to left guard in 2021.
The switch was made to install Sam Mustipher at center. After Patrick was signed, Mustipher moved to right guard with the first-team offense.
Others in the mix
In addition to the rookie draft picks, competition in training camp will also come from veterans Shon Coleman, Julién Davenport, Dieter Eiselen, Lachavious Simmons and Willie Wright and undrafted rookie Jean Delance.
Coleman has appeared in 23 NFL games with 16 starts, all in two seasons with the Browns in 2016-17. He was on the 49ers’ 53-man roster in 2018 but was inactive for every game. He spent the 2019 and 2021 seasons on injured reserve and opted out of the 2020 campaign due to COVID-19.
Davenport has played both left tackle and right tackle throughout his first five NFL seasons with the Texans (2017-18), Dolphins (2019-20) and Colts (2021), appearing in 60 games with 32 starts. Last season with Indianapolis, he played both tackle positions, appearing in nine contests with four starts.
Eiselen signed with the Bears in 2020 as an undrafted free agent from Yale. He has played a total of six NFL snaps, all on special teams, three in one game in 2020 and three in two contests in 2021.
Simmons was selected by the Bears in the seventh round of the 2020 draft out of Tennessee State. After spending most of his rookie season on the practice squad, he appeared in two games with one start last year.
Wright signed with the Bears in February. He has spent time with the Browns (2019) and Falcons (2020-21), but has yet to play in an NFL regular-season game.
Delance played in 41 games over four seasons at Florida, including 12 starts at right tackle last year. He began his college career at Texas, appearing in two games as a freshman in 2016 before sitting out the 2017 season due to transfer rules.
The lone returning tight end on the Bears roster, Cole Kmet will look to build on his performance last season when he more than doubled his rookie year output with 60 catches for 612 yards.
The Bears on Wednesday acquired receiver N’Keal Harry from the Patriots in exchange for a 2024 seventh-round draft pick. Neal has appeared in 33 games with New England over three seasons, catching 57 passes for 598 yards and four TDs.
Ascending star Darnell Mooney—whose 142 receptions are the most by a Bears player in his first two NFL seasons—returns to lead a receiving corps that was bolstered by free agency, the draft and a trade.
Running back is arguably the Bears’ deepest position heading into training camp, featuring starter David Montgomery, backup Khalil Herbert and rookie sixth-round pick Trestan Ebner.
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Bears Senior Writer