The Chicago Bears have an offensive line problem. It’s not that they don’t have capable players to start an NFL game, but they don’t have a clear starting five. And with roughly one month until training camp kicks off, that’s not an ideal situation.
The offensive line was back in the spotlight Tuesday when word traveled that second-year pro, Teven Jenkins, was once again lining up with the second team. He was slotted with second-teamers at the Bears OTAs last week, and his backup role at mandatory minicamp turned a ‘no big deal’ into a near-Twitter meltdown.
Teven Jenkins is supposed to be one of the Bears’ better offensive linemen. He’s expected to be a starting tackle. It doesn’t matter whether he’s on the left or right side; he just has to be a starter. Otherwise, he’ll be yet another massive draft miss — no pun intended — from the Ryan Pace era. He was Chicago’s second-round pick last year and was viewed at the time as a huge steal. It doesn’t look that way anymore.
But before alarm bells begin blaring, it’s important to pay attention to what coach Matt Eberflus says. He addressed Jenkins — and the entire offensive line — after Tuesday’s practice session.
“So, we’re just assessing guys’ talents, assessing their skill level, and going forward from there,” Eberflus said. “You want to start honing it down. Guys getting the same looks all the time, ‘I’m playing right guard, I’m playing right tackle,’” and getting the same looks, the same mechanics, so to speak. The technical mechanics to play the position. We want to hone that down; the sooner, the better. We just don’t have the answer right now.”
Teven Jenkins’ draft pedigree is irrelevant right now. He’s part of a cluster of offensive linemen fighting for a starting gig. He’ll benefit the most once pads go on in training camp; his physicality should set him apart. Jenkins has never been the kind of player who’ll win a t-shirt and shorts competition, so it isn’t all that shocking that he hasn’t separated from the pack. And he’ll remain with the second team the rest of the week.
“We’re going to finish off the minicamp with this alignment, and then we’ll decide, ‘Hey, we like this alignment, that alignment,’ or, like I said, ‘(We) don’t like either one; let’s go with a new one,’” Eberflus said. “So we’re just assessing guys’ talents, assessing their skill level, and going forward from there.”
This should be viewed by Bears fans as good news. Sure, it isn’t great that Chicago hasn’t figured out who’s starting up front. Let’s face it, if the Bears had obvious starters with a resume of success, this practice assessment wouldn’t be happening. But they don’t have those guys, and rather than hand a job to a player because of what round he was drafted in, it’s better to make him earn a starting spot. That’s what Eberflus and his staff are doing. It’s fantastic.
The clock is ticking for Eberflus to choose his starters, though. General manager Ryan Poles has to do his part, too. If a clear starting five hasn’t emerged after the first week or so of training camp, Poles will have no choice but to figure out a veteran solution. The free-agent market will be bleak by then, but there’s a chance a player on the street will be an upgrade over what’s on the roster.
Can the Chicago Bears realistically begin the 2022 season with rookie Braxton Jones as the starting left tackle? Can Sam Mustipher really be the starting right guard? It’s a problem if they are. And I don’t see it happening. If it does, buckle up. It’s going to be a rough year.
Bryan is the founder and managing editor of Bears Talk. His previous stops include Bears coverage for NBC Sports Chicago and USA Today.