Bears feel good about their offensive line, but there are questions

The spring practice period is in the books. The Bears have wrapped up OTAs and minicamp. Many of the players are leaving town, heading back home for a little while or taking vacations. They will return to Lake Forest for training camp in about a month.

OTAs were a testing ground for rookie quarterback Caleb Williams. He went up against a veteran Bears defense during mandatory minicamp. There were some good moments and some bad, as to be expected.

But Williams’ fate in 2024 will not be completely within his control. The offensive line in front of him will play a huge factor in how his rookie season goes.

So what exactly did fans learn about the offensive line this spring? Preface this by saying that it’s pretty tough to get a true read on anything in the trenches until players don full pads. Most of the offensive and defensive line play is not worth reading too much into during the spring.

Still, there were a few interesting nuggets to come out of the spring. Here are four of them.

1. Center position still up for grabs

The center spot is the only position where the Bears are certain to have a new starter. The only question? Whom that starter will be. The Bears traded for former Buffalo lineman Ryan Bates, and they signed former Rams starting center Coleman Shelton.

At times during the spring, both Bates and Shelton played center with the first-team offense. When camp begins in July, they might continue to rotate.

“They’re competing,” offensive line coach Chris Morgan said. “Those guys are doing an excellent job of making each other better and everyone around them while they’re doing it.”

It appears to be an open competition. Bates has played in 73 regular-season games with Buffalo, mostly as a backup. He started 15 games in 2022 at right guard. Shelton has also appeared in 73 regular-season games, all with the Rams. He has started 32 times.

Both can handle multiple positions along the offensive line. Whoever doesn’t win the job will likely be the jack-of-all-trades backup on the interior.

“Do you want to move guys around? No, of course not,” Morgan said. “But things happen, it’s really good flexibility when guys are smart enough, athletic enough, big enough, strong enough, good enough to play a couple of spots.”

Chicago Bears offensive tackle Teven Jenkins (76) works on the field with teammates during NFL football practice at the team's minicamp in Lake Forest, Ill., Wednesday, June 5, 2024. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh) AP

2. Big year for Teven Jenkins

Left guard Teven Jenkins and his agent have engaged with Bears general manager Ryan Poles about a contract extension, but no deal is on the table. Jenkins enters the final season of his four-year rookie contract in 2024.

The Bears likely want to see if Jenkins can stay healthy. He has yet to appear in more than 13 games in any one season. Jenkins is well aware that health will play a major role in how much he gets paid beyond 2024.

“Teven knows what he’s playing for,” Morgan said. “But really, all these guys do.”

Jenkins, a second-round draft pick in 2021, began his career as a tackle but moved to right guard in 2022. He then moved again, this time to left guard, ahead of last season. He appears to be heading for another season at left guard. Jenkins said stretches of last season were a real confidence boost.

“It shows me that I can still be a top-10 guard,” Jenkins said. “Left guard, right guard, Week 5, Week 6, over there. It shows I can still be versatile, and it shows that I’m confident in myself.”

Chicago Bears guard Nate Davis (64) arrives on the field before an NFL football game against the Arizona Cardinals, Sunday, Dec. 24, 2023, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Kamil Krzaczynski) AP

3. Nate Davis remains a wild card

Last year, right guard Nate Davis missed large portions of training camp while dealing with an off-the-field personal matter. He had a disjointed 2023 season because of time missed and an ankle sprain suffered midway through the season.

But when OTAs opened this spring, Davis was not present. He did show up for mandatory minicamp, but his participation was limited.

Coach Matt Eberflus said he anticipates Davis being ready to go come training camp. Eberflus “expects” Davis to start at right guard, but the coach also noted he doesn’t know what the best combination on the interior might be.

“I really don’t know,” Eberflus said. “We’ll see. We’ll see how it goes. I’m just thinking through my head a bunch of multiple combinations. I really don’t know exactly.”

Bates and Shelton could also play the right guard spot if Davis proves unreliable. The Bears are paying the 27-year-old Davis more than $11 million this season.

4. Tackles seem solid

Both left tackle Braxton Jones and right tackle Darnell Wright are expected to resume their starting spots at their respective positions. Jones exited minicamp with an undisclosed injury following the first day. At this point there’s no reason to believe it’s anything major.

Morgan believes Wright — who was already an All-Rookie performer in 2023 — could be poised for a big jump in Year 2. Wright was the Bears’ first-round draft pick a year ago.

“I’ve said it many times, he can be a great player in this league and we’ve got a lot of work to do,” Morgan said.

Rookie third-round draft pick Kiran Amegadjie sat out the entire spring with an injury that dates back to his final season at Yale. It would’ve been nice to see him on the practice field, but Eberflus thinks he should be ready to go once training camp begins. Amegadjie and veteran Larry Borom will likely be the backups to Jones and Wright at the tackle spots.

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