Zooming in on the OL: Tackles

| July 23rd, 2024

The offseason is winding down as we are now firmly in training camp and shifting into preseason mode, but before the real games start I want to sneak one last series examining part of the roster to give us a better sense of what to expect in the 2024 season.

I’ve spent quite a bit of time looking at the offense in the last few months, as we’ve learned together about new OC Shane Waldron, the WRs, the TEs, and expectations for rookies Caleb Williams and Rome Odunze. However, I’ve completely ignored the offensive line, and want to spend a little time this week focusing on the big boys up front who will be tasked with protecting the quarterback and opening lanes in the run game.

We already looked at the interior yesterday, and will shift gears to the tackles today.

Side note: If you read yesterday’s article, this one will follow the exact same format and have identical table setup, so hopefully the familiarity makes digesting all of the data a little easier. 

Pass Protection

Let’s start by examining pass protection, which is the most important part of an offensive lineman’s job. The Bears have two locked in starters in Darnell Wright, who are both back from 2023. The table below shows how they help up protecting the passer compared to 68 OTs (2.1/team, so roughly starters) around the NFL with 300+ pass blocking snaps. A few quick notes:

  • All data is from Pro Football Focus (PFF).
  • True pass sets are intended to remove plays designed to minimize the pass rush and make the OL’s job easier, such as screens, play action, and rollout.
  • Pass blocking efficiency measures overall pressure allowed, but weights sacks more heavily than other pressures. A higher number is better.
  • In a 68 player sample, 34th would be the middle rank, while cells highlighted in green indicate they ranked in the top 25% (top 17) and red indicates the bottom 25% (52nd or worse).
  • Two other players are also included, though they don’t have ranks indicated because they did not qualify with 300+ pass blocking snaps in 2023:
    • Larry Borom had 225 pass blocking snaps for the Bears last year, and will be competing to keep his role as the swing tackle in 2024.
    • Borom’s main competition is Matt Pryor, who didn’t play much in 2023 but had a combined 583 pass blocking snaps across 2021-22, which are included here.

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Zooming in on the Blockers, Vol. 1: Tackles

| March 6th, 2023

Free agency is right around the corner, and the Bears have money to spend. In order to best understand which positions they need to prioritize, it helps to examine who they have coming back. I already did that at both defensive end and defensive tackle, and this week the focus shifts to the offensive line. That starts today with a look at the tackles.

Pass Blocking

The Bears had three offensive tackles play meaningful snaps last year, and the table below shows how they held up in pass protection compared to the 79 tackles around the NFL who had at least 200 pass blocking snaps. All data is from Pro Football Focus (PFF), and true pass sets are intended to remove plays designed to minimize the pass rush, such as screens, play action, and rollout. Cells highlighted in green indicate they ranked in the top 25%, while red indicates the bottom 25%.

A few thoughts:

  • The first thing to notice is that the Bears utilized true pass sets at among the lowest rate of any NFL team last year. This indicates the lack of trust they had in their offensive line. To think of it another way, the Bears helped their offensive line in pass protection more than pretty much any NFL team.
  • The rest of the data makes it pretty clear why the Bears didn’t trust their tackles to hold up in pass protection. All three of them ranked below average in pretty much every category.
  • This data is especially concerning for Braxton Jones, who graded the worst of the three but is generally expected to be Chicago’s starting left tackle in 2023. However, he was a rookie in 2022, so perhaps he showed growth throughout the season. To check that hypothesis, the table below shows how he graded if you split the season into four-game samples. (Five games at the end of the year. Curse you, 17th game for messing up the easy sample breakdown!)

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Four Young Bears Off to Cold Starts (Non-Quarterback Category)

| September 20th, 2022

Again, Tuesdays are a good spot in the week to assess the development of young players on this young roster and a few concerning trends have begun to emerge.

Darnell Mooney/Cole Kmet

Where are they?

That’s serious question worth asking after two games.

Where are they?

There was no scenario wherein the Bears could be a productive offense in 2022 without serious production from Mooney and Kmet and, through two games, they have been utterly invisible. How much of that do they own? How much of that is on the quarterback? How much of that is on two difficult defensive opponents?

Whatever the reasoning, it has to stop. The next two games – home to Houston and at the Giants – need to be games where these two players are fed the football. Scheme them open if necessary. The Bears need to find out just how many weapons they need to acquire this off-season.

Roquan Smith

In the winter, Aaron Judge played hardball with the New York Yankees. He wanted a zillion dollars over a zillion years. The Yankees only wanted to give him 3/4 of a zillion over slightly less than a zillion years. Nobody budged. No deal. And now Judge is having the greatest contract year in the history of professional sports.

Roquan Smith is off to the opposite campaign. He is getting blown off the ball repeatedly, including by backs and receivers. He looks slow in coverage, normally a major strength. And the tenacity that has come to define his game is absent. Roquan is 25 years old and should be a long-term answer on this defense. But playing at this level, it’s becoming more and more likely he is elsewhere in 2023.

Imagine the criticism that would befall Ryan Poles were Smith to be playing at this level after being given $100 million.

Larry Borom

With a nod to Dave Wasserman, I believe I’ve seen enough. Borom is not a starting offensive tackle.

Teven Jenkins looks good inside. Braxton Jones is holding his own at left tackle. But Borom is a severe liability on the right side and the Bears need to start thinking about an upfront construction that doesn’t land him in the starting five. (This might take Alex Leatherwood’s return from mono.)

This shouldn’t be read as a striking criticism, either. Borom was a late-round pick and is a perfectly capable swing tackle. He is a roster asset. But in a league where the athleticism on the defensive edge seems to increase tenfold yearly (have you seen Micah Parsons play?), Borom simply can’t handle the role four quarters a week for 17 weeks plus.

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Three Tweets to Close Camp

| August 22nd, 2022

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Borom Starting a Sign: Bears Know Who They Are

| August 21st, 2022

The Bears know who they are. And that is refreshingly unlike them.

It would have been easy for Eberflus, Poles, Chris Morgan, etc. to plop their recently-signed veteran offensive linemen into the starting lineup and lean on their experience to stabilize the position group. Riley Reiff and Michael Schofield would not have elevated the 2022 OL to the status of good (or even almost good) but it would have elevated the floor of that room’s potential to not terrible.

But that is not what this leadership did. In the last week or so they slid Teven Jenkins inside, a projected move that caused consternation from the player earlier in the year. To say Jenkins has thrived would be an overstatement, but the Bears are excited by what they’ve seen thus far and Jenkins has wholly bought in to the project.

And, while most of us believed Larry Borom was just place holding for a resting Reiff, Eberflus announced publicly that the former is actually now the starter. (See Courtney’s above tweet.) Is there still competition for the job? Of course. But it’s Borom’s to lose and that is no small thing.

This is a franchise operating with a plan; making roster decisions with the future squarely in mind. The Bears don’t gain anything for 2023 and beyond if Reiff and Schofield play meaningful snaps in 2022, outside of perhaps giving Justin Fields a bit more reliability up front. Playing Jenkins and Borom on the right side gives the Bears a full season to evaluate two potential starters.

Will that come with some growing pains? Of course. But the end result of growing pains is growth. And the potential upside of playing these two on the right side is having the right side solidified for the foreseeable future with two players under 25 years old.

If Jenkins flames out, you turn to Schofield. If the Borom party becomes unruly, Reiff is ready to clean up the mess. Young talent on the field. Veteran experience on the bench. This is how a team at this stage of the process should be constructed.

But that requires the organization acknowledging where they are in the championship process. The Bears – by making the moves they have along the offensive line – are showing us all they are who we think they are.

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Training Camp Questions for a Season Lacking Urgency (Not Import)

| July 18th, 2022

Training camp for the 2022 Chicago is now next week, and thus this seems the appropriate time to think about the questions that will need answering over the coming month. Do these questions require urgent reply? Not necessarily. 2022 is not an urgent season. But just because it’s not an urgent season – a season defined by lofty expectations – does not mean it lacks import.

Here are some questions worth considering.


Question #1. Can the offense resemble a professional unit? 

Dannehy did a nice job detailing the first-year struggles of this offense historically, and it would be unfair not to expect those same troubles here. The offensive coordinator has never done the job. The quarterback is on his third offense in three years. The team is going need solid production from a third-round wide receiver and a fifth-round left tackle. None of these elements are dealbreakers but they portend a period of struggle.


Question #2. Are the kids alright in the secondary?

The Bears are assuming Jaylon Johnson and Eddie Jackson will be just fine. (Jackson back into a defense that fits his skills is a huge bonus.) But if the same can be said for rookie Kyler Gordon and Jaquan Brisker, the secondary goes from one of the team’s weakest units in 2021 to one of its strengths in 2022. There will be a lot of bullshit emanating from training camp about young players. There always is. But the narrative arc of a professional career usually begins that first summer. And expectations are high for Gordon and Brisker.


Question #3. How does the offensive line shake out?

This is probably the most pertinent question facing the Bears this summer because, right now, everybody is just guessing. Is Braxton Jones going to anchor the blindside? Is Larry Borom going to start over Teven Jenkins? If Borom usurps Jenkins, does that kick Jenkins inside? No franchise wants to enter camp with this much uncertainty across the whole of their offensive line but that is where the 2022 Chicago Bears find themselves.

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Dannehy: Bears Should Kick Jenkins Inside

| June 23rd, 2022

Before officially demoting Teven Jenkins to the second team, Matt Eberflus and the offensive coaching staff should try him at right guard.

Jenkins’ demotion was a surprise because, if the Bears had any questions about his ability to play right tackle, why didn’t they do more to address the position in the offseason? As it stands, the team promoted fifth-round rookie Braxton Jones to left tackle and moved 2021 fifth-rounder Larry Borom to right tackle, with Jenkins taking snaps with the second team.

Eberflus has said it was always part of the team’s plan to move players around, but that excuse doesn’t make sense for a variety of reasons. For starters, the team didn’t even have Jones until the draft. If they planned on having a draft pick seriously compete for playing time, they would’ve spent an earlier pick on the position. Secondly, it isn’t as if Jenkins is in a rotation, he was firmly on the second team, with Borom switching positions to take Jenkins’ starting reps. Lastly, the idea that they’re getting a good look at offensive linemen at this point is flawed because they have yet to see the players do any blocking.

It’s hard to figure out how Jenkins could’ve lost the job or why they made the move at all, but — anyway you figure it — it doesn’t look good for Jenkins’ 2022 outlook, at least not at tackle.

There is so much we don’t know, but assuming Jenkins is physically capable of playing, the team would be wise to try him at guard instead of forcing a competition at tackle.

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Five Quick Hits for a Monday Morning

| May 23rd, 2022

It is a slow period. Here are a few things.

  • From the spectacular Twitter feed of Adam Jahns: Bears coach Matt Eberflus on CB Kyler Gordon: “Kyler’s been lighting it up the last two days. I’ll just tell you that. The guy’s got tremendous ball skills. He’s been playing the defense the right way and we’re very impressed with him.” If Ryan Poles found a reliable starting corner with his first draft pick, the 2022 NFL Draft will be remembered as a success.
  • Sort of drifted through the news but it’s somewhat telling the Bears cut punter Ryan Winslow. That means rookie Trenton Gill – who was born in 1999 and looks like he’s about 14 years old – is the only punter on the roster. A lot of confidence in the kid.
  • A Tweet from Nate Tice seemed to capture the imagine of the internet this week: “the 2021 Bears drew up isolation plays in the redzone for 34-year-old Jimmy Graham with a straight face.” Aside from the insanity of the actual concept, this is also a reason I don’t take Cole Kmet touchdown production criticisms very seriously. Kmet didn’t score in 2021 because the Bears didn’t really give him many opportunities to score. Because, you know, they had Jimmy Graham!
  • As for the offensive line, there is still nothing to evaluate until we know how the players shake out. The Bears still don’t know where Teven Jenkins is going to line up. They don’t know if Larry Borom if going to be in their starting five. Similar to the QB, these guys are still learning how to play within a new scheme/structure.
    • One thing I have heard from inside the building is Morgan likes Borom more than Poles and company did when they were first hired. Poles didn’t initially envision Borom as a starter. That may be changing.
  • Jason La Canfora’s “report” that Robert Quinn wants out of Chicago is basically poppycock. Here’s the truth. (1) The Bears have been trying to trade Quinn for months. Poles wants more draft picks, and less salary and Quinn is coming off a career year. But he’s not just going to give players away and the Bears need pass rush to be competitive defensively in 2022. It’ll take a significant offer. (2) Quinn is making a fortune and quite likes it in Chicago. He’s not unhappy. He’s not disgruntled. He’s not trying to force a trade. Would he prefer to be on a team trying to win a title this season? Sure. But he’s not creating any issues at Halas Hall.

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Four Questions, Pertaining to the Building of a New Offensive Line

| March 21st, 2022

(1) Does Ryan Poles want to spend big money for a premier tackle? Terron Armstead will be 31 this season but has had trouble playing a complete season. His price will be north of $20 million per season. When he is healthy, he is worth every nickel. But does Poles want to absorb that risk financially?

(2) Where do Poles and this coaching staff expect Teven Jenkins to play in 2022? Do they want him at left tackle for another season? Do they want to move him to the right side? Jenkins is going to be one of the five starting linemen, but we honestly don’t know what position he’ll be playing. (My guess is they haven’t reached that conclusion yet and may not until they see how the rest of free agency and the draft shake out.)

(3) Can Ian Cunningham coerce Ryan Bates to Chicago? Bates is 25 and the folks in Buffalo absolutely adore him. But the Bills are cash-strapped and would unlikely be able to match a generous offer sheet. Minnesota is interested. New England is interested. But the Bears have Cunningham, the man responsible for bringing Bates to Philadelphia as an undrafted free agent. Is that relationship strong enough to make a difference now? (Bates can play anywhere on the line.)

(4) Two things I was told about the offensive line when Ryan Poles was hired were: (a) James Daniels was not going to be re-signed and (b) the opinion of Larry Borom was not particularly high. But this was before Poles and Flus engaged a thorough evaluation of the entire roster. Has that opinion changed at all? Do they view Borom as a potential starter? Versatile backup? Anything?

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Three Bears Players Worth Watching Tonight

| November 8th, 2021

It is time to shift our collective gaze to the players who look to be part of the Justin Fields future in Chicago. There are several to peer at this evening.

Cole Kmet

Kmet has had two big drops the last two weeks but his production levels are starting to seriously rise as his rapport with Fields develops. 4/49, 5/43, 3/24 don’t look like gaudy numbers but Kmet’s season now projects to 47/419 and one would think those numbers will be higher as he’s trending to the positive. These aren’t great games (by any means) but they’re not bad considering he’s in the league’s worst offense. (Kyle Rudolph – a common comp for Kmet – had 53/493 in his second season. But he had nine touchdowns.) Kmet has given fans a reason to think he can be a productive NFL tight end. But the production must continue.

Larry Borom

Considering he made his first start with Nick Bosa breathing on his face for three hours, Borom held up well against San Francisco. That’s the good news. The bad news is T.J. Watt is next on the docket. But just as it is important for Fields to play as a rookie, and struggle, it is equally important for Borom. Watt is going to beat him; he’s paid many, many monies to do so. But Borom should have a few victories as well and it’s those he’ll need to build confidence moving forward.

“The Outlaw” Jesse James

Yes, it’s a revenge game for James, but that’s not why he’s worth watching. He’s worth watching because he’s only 27 years old and has a defined chemistry with the quarterback. It is no surprise that the passing game looks its most dynamic when James is on the field; Fields spent all summer throwing to the damn guy. He’s got three targets in both of his games (the last two weeks) and he’s caught every ball thrown his way. Quarterbacks don’t usually want to see those guys leave town. (Ask Aaron Rodgers.) If James continues to give this dimension to the offense (and Fields) the Bears will be looking to keep him around a few more years.

Yep, two tight ends and a tackle. Are you ready for some football?

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