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Bears 2023 position preview: Offensive line

Chicago Bears offensive linemen Nate Davis, Cody Whitehair and Teven Jenkins
Chicago Bears offensive linemen Nate Davis, Cody Whitehair and Teven Jenkins

The following is the fourth of nine position previews in advance of training camp.

Together for the final two weeks of the offseason program, the Bears' starting offensive line began developing cohesiveness it intends to keep building in training camp.

The No. 1 unit consists of left tackle Braxton Jones, left guard Teven Jenkins, center Cody Whitehair, right guard Nate Davis and right tackle Darnell Wright.

The only member of the group returning at the same position as last year is Jones, who started all 17 games at left tackle in 2022 as a rookie. The Bears bolstered the line this offseason by selecting Wright with the 10th pick in the first round of the draft and signing Davis in free agency. They also moved Whitehair from left guard to center and Jenkins from right guard to left guard. 

"I think the transition is not going to be too bad," Davis said in mid-June during mandatory minicamp. "They've definitely brought in the right people, including myself. And we're all studying, doing all the right things off the field to make sure that it also carries over to on-the-field things, too."

Last season the Bears utilized 10 different starting offensive line combinations, something they are determined to avoid this year.

"Hopefully it won't be the moving chairs like we had last year, which is always difficult," said coach Matt Eberflus. "You'd like to have some continuity in there, and hopefully we can get that done."

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Step into Bears territory

Wright joins the Bears after appearing in 47 games with 42 starts over four seasons at Tennessee, where he opened 27 contests at right tackle, two at right guard and 13 at left tackle. The versatile 6-6, 335-pounder did not allow a sack in his final 19 games with the Volunteers.

Asked about the key to a rookie lineman transitioning into the NFL, offensive line coach Chris Morgan said: "No. 1, they have to be strong enough to play. That's probably the biggest starting point, and he is a strong person, a strong guy." 

Davis described Wright as big, strong and smart, adding: "He's got all the tools you need as a right tackle. I'm excited for him. I'm excited to play next to him."

Davis signed a three-year contract with the Bears in March. He spent his first four NFL seasons with the Titans, starting 54 of 55 games he played after arriving as a third-round pick in the 2019 draft out of Charlotte.

In Tennessee, Davis helped open holes for star running back Derrick Henry. During their four seasons as teammates, Henry was selected to three Pro Bowls, named first-team All-Pro in 2020 and second-team All-Pro in 2019, and led the NFL in both rushing yards and rushing touchdowns in 2019 and 2020.

With the additions of Wright and Davis, Sam Robinson of Yardbarker ranked the Bears offensive line as the ninth most improved position group in the NFL. 

Whitehair returns to center, a position he played exclusively during his first three seasons with the Bears from 2016-18, including in 2018 when he was selected to the Pro Bowl. The 2016 second-round pick from Kansas State split time between center and guard in 2019-20 before moving to guard full-time in 2021-22. 

"It's kind of like riding a bike," Whitehair said during the offseason program. "I know at first there were some issues as far as the consistency of the snaps. But I feel like I'm past that. I feel like I'm in a good spot. The experience there before has helped me."

Whitehair remains a highly respected team leader. 

"Cody, first of all, is just a great human being and he's just a great young man and a great family guy, so we just love having him around," Eberflus said. "He's always positive, always energetic. He brings it every day to practice, which is also great for the young guys to see that. He's a true professional, so ups or downs, he is always going to be the same guy in the building every single day. We really appreciate that from him, and the guys gravitate towards him because of his leadership and years of experience he's had playing multiple positions."

Selected by the Bears in the fifth round of last year's draft out of Southern Utah, Jones joined the No. 1 offense at left tackle during OTAs last June and never relinquished the position. He not only started all 17 games as a rookie but was the only Bears player who played every snap in 2022. The 6-5, 310-pounder told the media that he would spend the offseason getting stronger in the weight room to help improve against bull rushes.

"He's putting in a lot of work," Morgan said in May. "His mindset's really, really strong right now. He's attacked the offseason, so what he told [reporters] he was going to do, he's done it to this point."

Jones figures to benefit from remaining at left tackle heading into his second season.

"I think anytime you can stay somewhere and perfect your craft and bank more reps, yeah it obviously helps," Morgan said. "It helps a lot. Is it easy to go from right to left? No, it's not easy. Can it be done? Yeah, certain people can do it. Braxton did a good job last year, and the way things worked, he's the left tackle going into camp to compete. It benefits him greatly to stay over there and continue to work on the left side. The stance, the set, the calls, his eyes, all of it."

Jones will play alongside Jenkins, who showed resiliency in forging a role at a new position last year. The 2021 second-round pick from Oklahoma State missed the first week of training camp with an injury, was the subject of trade rumors and then lined up as the third-team right tackle upon returning to practice. But he moved to right guard midway through camp and flourished there, playing in 13 games with 11 starts at his new position.

Now at left guard, Jenkins said the biggest differences between the two sides are "footwork" and "just using your hands and where they aim and where to hit."

Jenkins told reporters in mid-June that he was planning to spend the time off before training camp sharpening his pass protection techniques.

"A big thing for me right now is my pass pro," he said. "That's the thing. I'm trying to get better at it. And this big break that's coming up right here, that's exactly what I'm going to be working on the whole time."

Jenkins revealed that he received a call from Morgan immediately after the Bears signed Davis informing him that he'd be moving to left guard.

"They signed Nate at whatever time in the morning and five minutes later that's when 'C-Mo' told me I was moving to left and to make sure I was all comfortable and ready to go," Jenkins said. "It gave me time to actually work on my footwork and my mentality. I got back in my playbook. Had to flip because certain plays are going [one] way and now they have to go [the other way]. My whole mindset had to change. So it was very good to have that time in between."

Veterans who will provide depth and competition on the line in training camp include Lucas Patrick, Larry Borom, Ja'Tyre Carter, Doug Kramer, Dieter Eiselen and Alex Leatherwood. 

After signing with the Bears last year following five seasons with the Packers, Patrick missed the final 10 games due to a toe injury. He has since worked hard to put himself back in position to battle for playing time at center and guard.

"Lucas has done an outstanding job," Eberflus said in mid-June. "He's really changed his body. He's really been working that physical side of it so he can stay in there and stay healthy. He's going to continue to do that, so we're happy with where he is in terms of competing inside.

"We know how the season goes. At all positions we're going to need everybody. At some point, somebody is going to step in there and be a starter and we're fortunate to have Lucas."

Last season Borom started the first seven games at right tackle before sustaining a concussion. The 2021 fifth-round pick from Missouri returned later in the year in a reserve role before opening two of the final three contests—at right tackle in Week 16 against the Bills and right guard in Week 18 versus the Vikings.

"He's a guy that's in that competition for sure," Eberflus said. "He's continuing to work on his body in terms of being a little bit quicker, a little bit leaner. This will be a big offseason for him, to be able to work on his movement, jumping to the second level and staying and mirroring in front of people in pass protection. It's going to be a big summer for him."

Also competing in camp will be first-year tackle Kellen Diesch and undrafted rookies Robert Haskins, Gabriel Houy, Josh Lugg and Lorenz Metz.

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