LAKE FOREST, Ill. — It took the Bears until Week 8 of the 2022 season to find their “best five” on the offensive line. The Bears mixed and matched all offseason and into training camp. Injuries on the interior and ineffective play at right tackle meant the Bears never found a unit they could rely on to protect quarterback Justin Fields consistently.
Fast forward to last offseason, and general manager Ryan Poles made it a priority to shore up that unit, so the Bears had their “best five” the moment OTAs began. The signing of right guard Nate Davis bumped Teven Jenkins to left guard and Cody Whitehair to center. First-round pick Darnell Wright immediately filled the biggest hole on the line at right tackle.
Start five was set in May. All the Bears had to do was cross their fingers and hope to get 14 or 15 plays out of that unit.
Davis’ OTA absence shed an early light on the Bears’ troubling lack of depth up front. With Davis out, Lucas Patrick and Ja’Tyre Carter will share reps at starting right guard. Behind them? Rebuilt tackle Alex Leatherwood and Dieter Eiselen. Meanwhile, Larry Borom remains the Bears’ only real swing option. Borom was benched halfway through last season in favor of veteran Riley Reiff.
Davis arrived toward the end of OTAs and was healthy during mandatory minicamp. The Bears opened training camp with their “best five” healthy and took all the first team reps together.
It lasted about four days.
Midway through Saturday’s practice, Patrick and Carter split reps with the first team at right guard while Davis watched from the sidelines.
Head coach Matt Eberflus said there was nothing wrong with Davis and he just wanted to look at other combinations to prepare for a potential injury during the season.
After a day off Sunday, the Bears returned to practice Monday, but Davis did not participate. This week, he has not participated in practice, leaving Patrick to take first-team right guard reps. The Bears do not have to disclose Davis’ injury, but maintain that it is nothing serious.
With Davis out and Patrick at right guard, Leatherwood and Carter become the Bears’ top backup interior offensive linemen.
The pads came on Tuesday, and the first-team offensive line struggled mightily, especially the right side of Patrick and Wright. Trevis Gipson gave Wright fits while the Bears’ fleet of interior defensive linemen had their way with Patrick.
It was a jarring opening salvo for an improved unit down a key man.
One injury might not break the Bears’ offensive line. The Bears believe Patrick can provide serviceable reps if needed. But two injuries and the dam quickly begins to splinter.
That brings us to Wednesday, when Jenkins left practice early with an athletic trainer, meaning Leatherwood stepped in at first-team left guard while Whitehair and Patrick formed the rest of the interior.
A brutal day for the offense followed.
To be fair, everyone had a hand in Wednesday’s “flat” outing for the offense. Fields’ accuracy was off, receivers misaligned and dropped passes, and the line offered little resistance against a Bears’ defensive front without Justin Jones and DeMarcus Walker.
But it gave the Bears a glimpse of how quickly their season can evaporate with just two injuries.
The Bears entered camp confident they had an offensive line that would be an unstoppable force in the run game and top-tier club safety for Fields in the passing game. But without quality depth behind the top five, the Bears were always going to play with fire this season.
Few teams can survive losing multiple starting offensive linemen. I’m not sure the Bears can afford to lose one. Two will likely be a death sentence.