Dannehy: Bears Should Prioritize Offensive Line

| January 26th, 2023

There is no foolproof method to build an NFL team, but as the Chicago Bears head into a crucial offseason, they should prioritize strengthening their offensive line.

As the debate about offensive line vs. wide receiver rages across the Twittersphere, it’s important to take a step back, look at what the Bears have on their roster and how they can best maximize that talent. That starts with quarterback Justin Fields, who has flaws as a passer, but has shown great touch on deep balls and is as electric a runner as there has been in the league, at any position.

Playing his first two seasons behind a subpar offensive line hasn’t allowed Fields to showcase his ability as a passer. At Ohio St., he did most of his damage from inside the pocket – his 4.4 speed was seen as a bonus. But there haven’t been clean pockets to work from in Chicago, which has made evaluating the quarterback that much more difficult.

When the Bears have kept the pocket clean, Fields has shown the ability to go through his progressions and make the right read. Furthermore, it allows the team to open up his greatest asset as a passer: the deep ball.

The Bears already have two wide receivers who can fly down the field in Chase Claypool and Darnell Mooney. They, along with Cole Kmet and (probably) David Montgomery, aren not as bad a pass catching group as some would have you believe.

After a horrible start with just four catches in the first three games, Mooney came around last year, catching 40 passes for 466 yards in his last eight games. Not terrible on a team that didn’t throw the ball much.

There are quite a few reasons why Claypool never got going but we should expect him to return to form in 2023.

Kmet put together another good season, catching 50 passes and seven touchdowns.

The Bears don’t have a traditional Number One wide receiver, but there aren’t that many of those players available. With all due respect to the Tee Higgins’ of the world, there is a pretty clear gap between players of his caliber and those of his teammate Ja’Marr Chase.  If the Bears can get a top 10 wide receiver, they should certainly explore that opportunity — at this point, that seems unlikely, especially with the 32nd overall pick already having been dealt for Claypool.

Should they have more time to allow their routes to develop – and for their quarterback to find them – it isn’t out of the question that either Mooney or Claypool could be 1,000-yard, 10-touchdown catch wide receivers in 2023.

There is little question that the Bears still need to upgrade their wide receivers, but it’s far more likely to come in the form of a third wide receiver in the draft or free agency. With that being the case, the only way the Bears will make a jump offensively is if they invest in building an elite offensive line.

When it comes to Fields, the simple truth is that he’s a quarterback who is likely always going to hold onto the ball as he processes what is happening down the field. That was the book on him at OSU and those things tend not to change. The Bears can win with that if they can block for him — it will allow him to attack defenses vertically or, if the shots down the field aren’t there, take off for big gains.

Protecting Fields should be the biggest priority. It’s necessary to get a fair evaluation of him; if the Bears build a good offensive line and still can’t pass the ball with Mooney, Claypool, Kmet and others, then the biggest problem is likely under center.

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