The Chicago Bears will line up for the first practice in full pads today and here are the key offensive line battles to keep an eye on after the first five practices of training camp has given fans a clear indication of where the competition is shaping up.
The first practice in pads is finally here for the 2022 Chicago Bears training camp season. The Bears have had five practices in shorts and a helmet during their ramping up period and now things get real during the padded sessions. As it’s been said before by numerous former players and coaches, evaluating players during the underwear Olympics means very little towards who will make the roster.
This is the primary focus of evaluation during any training camp, seeing how each of the offensive lineman compete. Thus far three spots on the offensive line seem to be wide open battles. The first one is an unexpected battle due to a recent injury to a key player.
The Bears have a notable injury to starting center Lucas Patrick who will be out an estimated six weeks with a broken thumb he had surgery on. As a result reps have been split between rookie Doug Kramer and veteran Sam Mustipher at the center position.
Talk is Kramer looks much smaller than the rest of his teammates and stands out on the field as a result of that. Kramer was a sixth-round pick so he already faces and uphill climb to make the roster. The Bears started him with the 1s at center for about a day but then immediately shifted Mustipher inside. Can Kramer compete at the NFL level with his modest 6-foot-2 300-pound frame? He won’t be tested as much with the Bears’ 4-3 front with the 1-technique (off the shoulder of the center in the gap) as much as he would be tested against a 0-technique (straight up over the center and typically much bigger than a one-gap player).
If Kramer was going up against the 340-pound Eddie Goldman every day we might be able to get a more accurate evaluation of him. Some teams having that true nose tackle gives you the chance to better evaluate your center. Kramer is an early favorite of the fans because he grew up in the area and is a Bears fan, but he faces an uphill battle to be a key contributor. My guess is pads will be a big test for him and Kramer will ultimately wind up on the practice squad.
One player who has made waves early in camp is seventh round pick Ja’Tyre Carter at right guard. Carter has split reps at right guard with veteran Michael Schofield. Carter goes 6-foot-3 311-pounds but is built with a very strong lower half. To quote Mike Mayock the NFL draft sage from the NFL network, Carter has a lot of “sand in his pants.” Carter gets his shot to make the roster as potentially the starting right guard or the primary backup. Schofield is the vet, and Carter is the young hungry pup pushing for the starting spot. Pads will go a long way in determining this battle.
The next battle early in camp is at left tackle between veteran Riley Reiff and Braxton Jones. Jones is pushing the newly signed veteran for the starting spot. Reiff thus far is holding off the rookie, but the new GM really likes this fifth round find in Jones. Jones is a very good athlete and checks off all of the boxes. He has pushed his way into getting reps with the first team early. As camp has ramped up however the veteran Reiff has started to solidify his spot as the likely starter.
Can Jones rebound and supplant the 33-year-old veteran? The guess here is despite all of the warm feelings the Bears have about Jones’ future, he won’t beat out the veteran. Jones’ status is even more safe now with last year’s second round pick Teven Jenkins on the trade market after bumping heads with the new coaching staff. Jones is the future at left tackle, but until he gets some true experience in pads working against the likes of Robert Quinn and Al-Quadin Muhammad, there’s likely no way he breaks through into the starting spot. Jones has been up to this point the biggest beneficiary of non-padded practices to the focus will be on him, especially after Muhammed had such a huge day in practice yesterday racking up multiple sacks and pressures on Justin Fields during the team period.
In conclusion the prediction here is the veterans will hold off the three rookies and solidify themselves as the starters for the week one match up against the 49ers who have one of the better defensive lines in the NFL. If Patrick comes back to start week one that would be ideal to the entire line. Kramer, Carter and Jones are going to battle and they will continue to push the veterans. It’s going to be fun to watch over the next four weeks as these battles unfold across camp and into the pre-season games. Rookies usually get their time to shine during the games because veterans get one series to one quarter to really stretch their legs. Ultimately that’s where the best evaluation is going to come from, pre-season games against someone other than their teammates.
For now, despite the hype, the veterans were brought in for a reason, and that reason is the #1 consideration and stands behind center. The Bears starting five likely is set with LT Reiff, LG Whitehair, LG Mustipher, RG Schofield and RT Borom. Two of the three rookies could represent the future in Carter and Jones. While Kramer will be in a fight just to make the roster.
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