The Bears spent the offseason investing in quarterbacks.
Now they have to protect them.
Coach Matt Nagy claims he’s not nervous, but he’s definitely concerned. The Bears’ projected starting offensive tackles — rookie Teven Jenkins and veteran Germain Ifedi — have yet to play during training camp because of, respectively, a lingering sore back and a hip flexor injured during the team’s conditioning test. On Tuesday, Elijah Wilkinson, the swing tackle, was put on the NFL’s reserve/COVID-19 list.
That leaves Lachavious Simmons, who has played zero NFL snaps, on the right side and rookie Larry Borom, a fifth-round pick, on the left. With the Bears’ first preseason game looming — they host the Dolphins on Aug. 14 — the clock is ticking to make sure Andy Dalton and Justin Fields don’t get blindsided and injured because of a rookie mistake.
“It doesn’t give me anxiety,” Nagy said. “But it’s definitely something we need to focus on and make sure we get right.”
There is, he admitted, a sense of urgency. The team practiced with pads for the first time Tuesday, and there’s concern that the Bears’ edge rushers could dominate the backup tackles and make it hard to run team drills properly.
Dalton said this week that he was eager to see his linemen in pads.
“The competition is real,” he said. “I think things will get solidified once the pads come on and we start playing some real football.”
The Bears put a “halo” around quarterbacks during practice, meaning defenders can’t touch them. That won’t exist Aug. 14. The Bears can game-plan around it, helping the tackles with chips from tight ends and pass-blocking help from running backs. But that’s no way to learn whether they can block.
“It’s going to be evident and obvious,” Nagy said. “If they can’t, they won’t be there. That’s where you go to the next part and the next part; you got to go through those steps.”
The next part, Nagy conceded, would be general manager Ryan Pace scouring the league for veteran help. Starters aren’t available, though, unless they’re overpaid or otherwise problematic.
The Bears’ best hope is for speedy recoveries by Jenkins and Ifedi. Jenkins, whom the Bears traded up to draft in the second round, worked out with trainer Andre Tucker on Monday afternoon and is “getting a little bit better,” Nagy said. Still, there’s no timeline for his return.
“The sooner, the better for sure,” Nagy said. “I just can’t predict days or weeks.”
Once he comes back, Jenkins will work at left tackle after playing most of his college career on the right. Until then, the Bears are left to see what they have in Borom, a rookie who played on the right side at Missouri and during the offseason program.
“I think [Borom is] really light-footed for being such a big man,” Nagy said. “I don’t know if he can play left tackle. That’s why we’re trying to put him there, to see. It’s not easy when you go from the right side to the left side, but I think now is the time to see, really, what he can do.
“It would be pretty cool to see that you find out, you draft a guy in the fifth round and then you end up having a guy that can do some big things for us. So we’re going to test him out.”
That’s not the Bears’ first choice. Or their second or third. But that’s where they stand a week into camp.
New Texans coach David Culley gave Nagy a mantra when they worked together for the Eagles and Chiefs. When Nagy would worry, Culley would say, “It will all play itself out.”
Nagy repeated that Tuesday, trying to will it to be true.