Last year was a disaster for the Chicago Bears offensive line. Seeing the quarterback on the ground was more than a common occurrence no matter who was back there.
The Bears gave up a league-high 58 sacks in 2021 under Juan Castillo and have sine made changes. Now the group is attempting to rectify that stat with a more feeble bunch. This offseason, new general manager Ryan Poles said he wanted to rebuild the offensive line by slimming down on body fat. Poles, a former lineman himself, is trying to remake the group.
This seems to imply the Bears will look to be more run-heavy this season. Running with some play-action pass to free up the deep ball Justin Fields provides. Teven Jenkins has gotten with the program, losing nearly 20-pounds this offseason. However, he said the decrease in weight made him less “stout.” Having starting linemen say they’re weaker than the previous season makes any fan nauseous. Especially from a group ranked dead last in the NFL keeping their quarterback right-side up.
Chicago Bears hoping to become strong by getting slimmer
Poles told the media in March the Chicago Bears were intent on changing the shape of their offensive lineman from last year to a leaner, faster bunch. Body fat of linemen would be held to a certain standard, he said. This way, they would play better for the team.
“You know we’re going to change it up a little bit in terms of the style,” Poles said. “So a lot of those guys and the message has been clear, we’ve gotta change body types a little bit. We’ve gotta get lighter, we’ve gotta get quicker. Through that, I think there’s some young talent that just needs to be pressed. That’s part of our job is to create competition and bring the best out of them. We’ll do that and we’ll see if the cream rises to the top.”
We’ll see about the cream. Jenkin’s cup of coffee, for now, looks black. The second-year tackle told the media Tuesday it was too early to tell if he’d be a better player after his weight loss. (Not sure about the transformation at all by this point.) A reporter asked Jenkins if he’d be just as good following his weight loss transformation this offseason. Jenkins wasn’t sure he’d be as good as he was or strong.
We will know more when the pads come on
“We’ll tell the tale when we start putting on pads. Everybody knows that,” Jenkins said. “It’s just, it’s how can he move with all that weight at like 330 [pounds]. Cause you’re going to be stronger with all that weight because you’re going to be stout of course. But when you start losing weight, now you say he’s ‘mobile’, see how you’re strength from that 330 [pounds] to whatever you cut off at. That’s where it goes to.”
Without pads, Jenkins doesn’t seem confident in his new abilities. Let’s hope for Justin Field’s sake the Bears feel better about their shape by the time training camp ends. If not, Nathan Peterman might be under center by October. However, it’s likely the offense will be run-heavy this season. It’s quite a risk to take a group that gave up 58 sacks and ask them to become softer. Especially if it were for a heavy passing scheme.
Faster lineman set the edge for Bears’ new scheme
The Bears are moving to a more up-tempo, fast-paced version of the offense under new offensive coordinator Luke Getsy, Jenkins said. Offensive linemen, he said would be “getting around” and “setting edges”. This jargon is implying the running game via the “outside zone” will be an emphasis for the Bears under Getsy. Many analysts have speculated the Bears will utilize the outside zone under Getsy.
Getsy and Bears new offensive line coach Chris Morgan come from the Mike Shanahan school of offense. Getsy’s former boss Matt LaFleur was a quarterbacks coach on the same staff as Morgan, the offensive line coach for the 2015-16 Atlanta Falcons under the tutelage of Kyle Shanahan, then offensive coordinator.
This is a run-heavy offense that is supposedly quarterback friendly. The most successful variations of the offense in recent history in the NFL tried to mask poor quarterback play. Think Jimmy Garoppolo with the 49ers or Jared Goff with the Los Angeles Rams.
Cole Kmet more or less explained Tuesday how run blocking and play-action were important to the Bears’ new scheme. As a tight end, he’ll be expected to block to set up the passing game in space. “Because if you can do both, run and pass really well, you’re going to get some nice open passes in the field,” he said.
The offense is a-lot-of-info complex
Kmet also let us see behind the curtain how hard the new transition to the outside zone scheme will be. He mentioned Getsy has given the offense a lot to look over since he took over the offense. “He’s thrown a lot at us this past month and a half, two months. But I think he just wants to see what everyone can do and I think that’s a good thing,” Kmet said of Getsy. “We’ve been getting a lot of info thrown at us and all that type of stuff. But it’s been good and we’re just trying to see how much we can absorb at once.”
That’s twice in one thought the Notre Dame alumn (a school known for its academics) noted the offensive players are receiving “a lot of info”. So much so that they’re just seeing how much they can “absorb” all that lot of info. This is a phenomenon described by Connor Orr with Sports Illustrated, writing why installing this scheme is hard and takes years to implement:
“The difference with Shanahan’s offense and its various clones is that it’s extraordinarily difficult to teach, especially up front, because, for offensive linemen, most of the required movements are unique to this scheme. Blocking schemes require specific personnel that exclude a lot of standard, lumbering type linemen. Some of the most critical blocks cannot be practiced, because the backside “cutting” techniques, which ask an offensive lineman to dive at the turf, tripping a chasing defender at the hips, are too dangerous to try out on fellow teammates who could easily sustain lower body injuries.”
This scheme is a maddeningly complicated, yet stupidly popular system that few have mastered well. If the tight end is struggling to absorb concepts you can only wonder where the lineman are at this point. Chicago fans might be flipping to the Bulls sooner this season. The return of Lonzo Ball seems more exciting than watching a confused, frail lineman struggle to lift Fields off his back.
Bye to lumbering linemen for Chicago Bears
The linemen are currently a batch of silly putty as we speak during the Bears OTA’s. Jenkins is playing right tackle but said nothing’s set in stone at this point with Larry Borom playing left. Poles brought in Lucas Patrick (familiar with Getsy with the Packers) and Dakota Dozier this offseason in free agency. They also drafted a center, Doug Kramer, and tackle to guard, Zach Thomas in the 6th round of the 2021 draft.
It’s going to be one hell of an offseason to get this group ready by September in this offense. It’s safe to say at this point the depth chart is marked with a dry erase board for that group. Poles said in the March press conference the staff would move linemen around during camps to see where they would fit the best. “Especially with o-line play, a lot of times, and I don’t want to speak for the coaches, but it’s going to end up being the best five to roll out there,” Poles said.
Jenkins has done his part to earn trust with the Bears organization by dropping his body fat from 33-percent to 24-percent. Hopefully, Jenkins and his teammate’s lack of stoutness doesn’t affect the Bears’ offensive line’s ability to be an efficient NFL group and protect Fields. This motley crew Bears line group will have to master a new run blocking scheme and figure out how to still protect the quarterback with their new size. That’s a sizable ask in one offseason, even if the group didn’t have question marks coming into the season. There are better linemen groups to try this out with than one that failed to acquire Ryan Bates.
The line needs to protect the Chicago Bears most valuable position
The Bears have given up way too much capital to not protect their asset. Fields needs the pocket to be clean to make good throws and protect his body. While having offensive linemen in shape is important, it’s also important to build your scheme around your talent. If Jenkins and the line can’t reach their full potential at a low weight, they should be able to bulk up. Morgan will hopefully be able to coach the thinner squad techniques to keep the pocket clean.
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