Rookie LT Braxton Jones gets his shot at Bears OTA
Coach Matt Eberflus said the Bears will be mixing and matching to find the best five offensive-line starters. On Wednesday, Jones, a fifth-round pick from Southern Utah, played with the first-team offense, with Larry Borom at right tackle.
A clean slate.
That has been the theme of the Bears under new general manager Ryan Poles and new coach Matt Eberflus.
Poles cleared out the roster, trading linebacker Khalil Mack, cutting nose tackle Eddie Goldman and letting guard James Daniels and defensive end Akiem Hicks leave via free agency.
And Eberflus has made it clear that he is taking a very objective look at the roster he inherited. Linebacker Roquan Smith might be the only player who is certain to start in Week 1 — and that’s not that much of an exaggeration. There’s very little status on this team right now.
Every coach says “the best players will play,” but that NFL cliche seems more real than ever under Eberflus. And the portion of the practice open to the media Wednesday provided another example. Rookie Braxton Jones was at left tackle and Larry Borom at right tackle with the first-team offense, while Teven Jenkins, a 2021 second-round pick and presumed starter at either tackle position, lined up with the second team.
Just part of the process, Eberflus reiterated after practice. But it’s an indication that everybody has a shot on this team. The Bears opened the offseason with Borom at left tackle and Jenkins at right tackle — which is still a likely Week 1 combination.
Borom, a 2021 fifth-round draft pick, started eight games as a rookie. Jenkins, started two games after recovering from preseason back surgery. But when Eberflus says open competition, he means it.
“Early on in OTAs . . . we said, ‘Hey, we’re going to move guys around,’ ’’ Eberflus said. “So it’s the halfway point for us. We made the switch, and we wanted to change combinations.
“And that’s not the only [change]. We’ve changed from tackle to tackle. We’ve moved some receivers around. Some guys playing ‘X’. Some guys are playing ‘Z.’ We’ve adjusted. some guys on the defensive line to really find out — have a true evaluation of what’s the best fit for us going into training camp.
“We might like the other combination. We might like this combination. We might not like either of them. Now let’s go to [this] one in training camp. We’ll figure out what the best thing is, and that’s really just more information for the coaches to find out what’s best for the Bears.”
The 6-5, 310-pound Jones started 28 games over the last three seasons at Southern Utah.
“Braxton is a tough kid, very athletic,” left guard Cody Whitehair said. “He’s got really long arms as well. He’s learning. As hard as that is to be thrown in the fire like that, I feel like he’s responded well. [I’m] excited to see what he can bring.”
The first-team line Wednesday consisted of Jones at left tackle, Whitehair at left guard, Lucas Patrick at center, Dakota Dozier at right guard and Borom at right tackle. Sam Mustipher, who started all 17 games at center last season, has alternated with Dozier at right guard. But that position is a candidate for an outside upgrade. And rookie Zachary Thomas, a sixth-round draft pick, can’t be discounted as a contender.
The Bears still have next week’s veteran minicamp. But the real tests won’t happen until players are in full pads in training camp.
“That’s your true evaluation when you get pads on,” Eberflus said. “I’ve seen guys, man, they look great all the way through this part of the year, and then the pads come on and they stay on, [and] it’s like [practice] No. 4 or 5 in training camp, and all of the sudden you see a guy slide.
“It’s because of the physicality of the game. Some guys are really suited for that, and those are the guys that succeed in the NFL. The guys that are not suited to that, they have a harder time.”