Visiting with Chicago Bears offensive line coach Juan Castillo a couple weeks ago and then this week with Germain Ifedi, the team’s only remaining veteran tackle, it occurred to me media and fans may be grilling the wrong guy with the constant questions about when rookie Justin Fields will take over the Bears’ starting quarterback job.
I know, I’m leading you down a bit of a winding path here, but bear with me.
Certainly, it will be head coach Matt Nagy and Nagy alone who eventually pulls the trigger on Fields taking over.
But there will be significant contributing factors. How well is Andy Dalton playing? How much is the team winning? If the team is losing, how much of that is on Dalton? And, perhaps most importantly, how ready is the rest of the offense for Fields?
Mitch Trubisky failed for a variety of reasons. One of the big ones was that he was asked to develop behind a well-below-average offensive line.
I’m sure Nagy will not want to repeat that mistake again.
Coming out of the bye last season there was a resurgence up front, but the bulk of it came at the guards and center, and now they will get their best lineman, center/guard James Daniels, back after he missed the last 11 games last season.
But while they’ve added talent and great hope at tackle this offseason, do they even have two starters?
At right tackle, where Ifedi has been re-signed, Elijah Wilkinson was added as a free agent. The team claims to like 2020 seventh-rounder Lachavious Simmons, and the Bears drafted Larry Borom in the fifth round.
Castillo tells us he’s not the starter yet, but expects Ifedi to be a Pro Bowler.
“I don’t want to make predictions, but I would not be surprised if this kid made the Pro Bowl next year,” Castillo recently said.
Of course, Ifedi won’t if he isn’t the starter, but Ifedi said he sees a Pro Bowl on the horizon as well.
“I don’t think he’s wrong,” Ifedi said. “That’s my expectation. You know coach Nagy, that’s Ryan [Pace’s] expectation, that’s Coach Castillo’s expectation, and I try to live up to that every day because they took a chance on me. They believed in me, and I’m going to give them everything I’ve got.”
But at left tackle, while there is no depth chart yet, it appears we have second-round pick Teven Jenkins ... and that’s it?
Predominantly a right tackle at Oklahoma State, Jenkins’ college head coach, Mike Gundy, recently talked him up.
“Again, I’m going to go back to he’s so talented athletically below the hips that I can’t imagine they couldn’t train him either way,” Gundy said about Jenkins playing left or right tackle.
“When you guys get to watch him in practice and in training and see his athleticism, I think you’re going to see that he could stay on either side of the ball.”
Fair enough, but what about being a Day-1, plug-and-play rookie at any position in the NFL?
Ifedi was a rookie starter at right guard by Week 4 in Seattle before being moved to right tackle his second season. I asked him how he would counsel Jenkins about the process.
“Just keep competing. Keep playing hard. Keep getting better,” Ifedi said. “I think as a rookie O-lineman, there are so many things you don’t know, and you don’t even know what you don’t know, and it can be a real tough thing.
“You just gotta keep getting better. You gotta keep asking questions. You gotta keep learning from your mistakes. Keep moving on, and keep your head up about it.”
At the moment even Jenkins himself isn’t sure what to expect.
“I’m worried about actually just getting in, knowing my plays, knowing players, getting to know my teammates, getting my feet wet in the scheme, doing all the techniques and everything,” he said. “Right now it’s for me to develop and progress, and if comes to that [starting], that’s what it comes to because that’s what I’m here to do.”
This all sounds reasonable and fair, but at the end of the day I’m betting it’s highly unlikely Nagy will want Fields on the field without some comfort Ifedi can help guide him and Jenkins can minimally provide decent protection from his blind side.