Things started getting interesting with the Chicago Bears offensive line towards the end of mandatory minicamps. Most people were focused on the big news that Teven Jenkins had been demoted to the second-team offense. Yet an equally notable development was rookie 5th round pick Braxton Jones sliding into the starting left tackle spot. That was not something anybody predicted when practices began in May.
Still, expectations were sanity would re-establish itself by training camp. That was reinforced when the Bears signed veteran tackle Riley Reiff. He would handle the left side with Larry Borom or Jenkins on the right. Except once the first padded camp practice began, that was not the case. Reiff had moved over to the starting right tackle spot, and there was Jones, running with the first team on the left.
Unless I missed a snap or two, rookie Braxton Jones appeared to get every rep today at left tackle with the Bears' starters. Riley Reiff and Larry Borom rotated on the right side.
— Adam Jahns (@adamjahns) August 2, 2022
Context is key here.
The Bears have shuffled their offensive line since camp began, searching for combinations that might work. It seems their decision to move Reiff to right tackle came from Borom struggling in pass protection. Mostly against Trevis Gipson. Reiff played right tackle last season in Cincinnati, where the Bengals made a Super Bowl run. So he has proven experience on that side. That they again were willing to trust Jones with that spot can’t be ignored.
Every time the rookie has appeared in front of the press, he’s come across as intelligent and mature for his age. He knows his responsibilities and is working tirelessly to improve his craft. It becomes easy to see why coaches continue to grant him opportunities. He is approaching his job the right way, which must be rewarded. It seems he is showing enough on the practice field to have a real shot at the starting job.
Braxton Jones’ chances likely hinge on a key factor.
That is pass protection. Through the early part of training camp, it’s become apparent the Bears offensive line has struggled to keep Justin Fields from getting harassed. Running the ball might be the focal point of this offense, but the coaching staff knows protecting the QB matters most. That is one reason they demoted Jenkins. His foot speed and average arm length made him a liability in that department. Borom, too, seems to be struggling.
When coming out of college, scouts circled Braxton Jones’ pass protection as his primary strength. He had the size, length, and foot speed necessary to handle NFL rushers. The only hurdles he had to clear were hand technique and pad level. Based on the amount of work he keeps getting with the #1 offense, he must’ve made considerable progress in those departments.
There is no telling if this new alignment holds.
Bears coaches may continue experimenting through the first week or two of the preseason. However, they must know a point will come where they must pick a starting five and get them playing together. Chemistry is every bit as important as talent on an offensive line. It will be quite a story if the Bears trust a rookie to protect Fields’ blind side.