What Lucas Patrick's possible return to center could mean for Bears' O-line
LAKE FOREST -- Bears offensive lineman Lucas Patrick is snapping the football again.
That's big news at Halas Hall. Patrick came to Chicago as a free agent in March expecting to be the starting center for the Bears. A thumb injury in late July derailed that plan before the season even started.
Patrick injured his thumb on his right hand, his dominant hand, during a practice early in training camp. The injury required surgery and set him out for a month. He returned to the football field in Week 1, but played with a club on his hand. Because of the club on his hand, Patrick was unable to snap the football and play the center position.
Instead, he took reps at right guard, splitting time with Teven Jenkins at the position. The Bears haven't said what their plan is for Patrick this week, but taking snaps at center is a huge step toward returning to the position.
"We still have (practice time) to figure out exactly what's best for us," offensive coordinator Luke Getsy said Thursday. "We'll take that time and we'll figure that out."
Patrick jokingly said that gripping the football again "is pretty fun." With the club on his hand, Patrick basically didn't even have fingers.
In Patrick's absence during the preseason, the Bears settled on a starting five of Braxton Jones at left tackle, Cody Whitehair at left guard, Sam Mustipher at center, Jenkins at right guard and Larry Borom at right tackle. In Weeks 1 and 2, Patrick and Jenkins played a nearly identical number of snaps at right guard.
If Patrick does return to center in the near future, that would necessitate a shuffling along the line. The Bears brought Patrick here to play center. If he's healthy, that position likely belongs to him.
"I just want to do what's best for the team," Patrick said. "Whatever it takes for us to win, whether that's what I've been doing (at right guard) or moving to another position. I just want to win football games."
Where things become interesting is at right guard. The whole purpose of rotating Patrick and Jenkins at right guard was likely so that Patrick would be in game shape when his thumb healed and he could return to center. It also provided an opportunity to keep scouting Jenkins at right guard.
Now, the Bears could simply relegate Mustipher to a backup role and give Jenkins, the 39th overall draft pick in 2021, the starting job at right guard. They could also continue the time share with Jenkins and Mustipher both playing right guard. Or they could move Mustipher to right guard and Jenkins to the bench.
Before Patrick suffered the thumb injury, Mustipher was playing almost exclusively at right guard. In 2021, he started all 17 games at center for the Bears. He fought hard for every snap after entering the league as an undrafted rookie out of Notre Dame in 2019.
"Sam is a smart, tough, productive football player," offensive line coach Chris Morgan said. "He finds a way to get things done. He does a great job of getting the table set for everybody, getting in the right calls. ... That's why he's done what he's done in the National Football League."
Morgan said Jenkins is "getting better every day."
"Any time you have a little success, it helps your confidence," Morgan said. "Consistency's the big key, and that's what he's always striving for."
What the Bears might do at right guard is anybody's guess, but they're not going to tip their hand ahead of Sunday's game against the Houston Texans.