As a fifth-round draft pick from FCS Southern Utah, Bears rookie tackle Braxton Jones knows he has a lot to learn to adjust to the NFL. But he also knows there’s a job to win.
“Obviously as a rookie you can’t come in like you’ve already got the job done. You’ve got a lot of stuff to learn,” said Jones, a three-year starter in college who was the 168th overall pick of the draft. “But in the course of playing, you’re trying to take someone’s job. Everyone’s out there to take someone’s job.
“So I try to approach the playbook like a rookie and try to figure it out. Then on the field, when it comes to finishing and playing hard, you’re approaching that like you’re trying to take someone’s job.”
At this point, Jones is a contender. Almost any new offensive lineman is, actually. New Bears general manager Ryan Poles’ rebuild has been a pretty clear repudiation of the roster he inherited, but particularly on the offensive line.
Guard James Daniels — arguably the Bears’ best lineman and seemingly a long-term keeper at 24, was let go in free agency and signed an affordable three-year, $26.5 million contract with the Steelers. Poles signed Packers center Lucas Patrick at the opening bell of free agency to replace Sam Mustipher.
Tackles Teven Jenkins and Larry Borom would have been foundation pieces under former general manager Ryan Pace — Jenkins was a second-round draft pick (39th overall). Borom was a fifth-round pick who acquitted himself well in eight starts at right tackle as a rookie. But with tepid-at-best endorsements of both players from Poles, Jenkins and Borom will be competing for the starting jobs they had at the end of the Pace regime.
When the Bears held their first mini-camp last month,their starting offensive line was comprised of Borom at right tackle, veteran Cody Whitehair at right guard, Patrick at center, Mustipher at right guard and Jenkins at right tackle.
Whitehair, a six-year starter who made the Pro Bowl at center in 2018, and Patrick appear entrenched. But all bets are off after that. Free agent Dakota Dozier will compete with Mustipher at right guard. And a lot could depend on just how quickly rookies develop.
Jones and sixth-round pick Zachary Thomas bear watching. Jones is playing left tackle at rookie mini-camp. Thomas, a tackle at San Diego State, is playing right guard. The Bears also drafted center Doug Kramer from Illinois in the sixth round and tackle Ja’Tyre Carter from Southern — a college tackle playing guard with the Bears –in the seventh round.
It might be a long shot for any rookie lineman to win a starting job, but let’s see how things shake out. Jenkins is a second-round draft pick. Borom has experience. But nowhere is it better to be a Poles guy than a Pace guy than on the offensive line. That’s Poles’ college position, an area of expertise for him in player personnel with the Chiefs. And the first-time GM has specific ideas of what kind of linemen he wants — “lighter and quicker” for starters. All the new linemen were acquired with that in mind.
That gives anyone a chance.
“When I was drafted where I was, I watched the rest of the draft and how [the Bears] drafted as well,” Jones said. “It looks like we’re just trying to compete everywhere. They have o-linemen here and the situation is good here. But last year, giving up a bunch of sacks [58, most in the NFL] we’re just trying to be great. I think the biggest thing is we’re trying to get a bunch of guys to compete against each other, and to have fun while we’re doing it.”