Preseason Once More Has Meaning for Bears

Matt Nagy has never put much faith in preseason games but this year he really needs to see those meaningless battles because of the left tackle position.
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Of all the risks taken by Bears general manager Ryan Pace with the roster he has compiled for 2021, the biggest has to be at tackle.

The possibility exists they could start two rookies, although Germain Ifedi looks like the more obvious choice at right tackle. At best, the Bears will be protecting Andy Dalton's blind side with a rookie left tackle who didn't play the position regularly in college, although he was prepared to be there.

They're also leaving the blind side of their franchise savior quarterback, Justin Fields, in these same hands.

Coach Matt Nagy said after Sunday's last practice that there is no actual depth chart for the tackle position, and there never is until training camp.

"We have an idea of the direction that we think we want to go," Nagy said. "But again there's so many things that are fluid and that can change based off what we can see and I think that's probably why we don't go that route right now."

Actually, with the group assembled there appears very little way they can go at left tackle other than Teven Jenkins and then hope he's ready. Fifth-round pick Larry Borom is too big of a player to figure in at left tackle, although he did play the position a little in college. They're planning on him playing at 331 pounds.

It's possible for Jenkins to do. It's not a rarity for a tackle drafted after Round 1 to be an opening-day starter. 

Five tackles drafted after Round 1 in 2019 have started at least 31 of their 32 possible games. In 2020, only one tackle taken after Round 1 started every game, although eight did start in double figures.

"I think that for really all of these guys, that benefit that we'll have this year that we did not have last year is going to be having those preseason games, to know that we'll at least get to see them out there for a little bit with full-speed, real-live 'bullets,' " Nagy said. "We did not have that last year and that can be hard for some of these guys.

"But this year what we got to do is really make sure that we're teaching them the techniques and fundamentals that we teach, so that they can take that into the offseason and practice their techniques without pads for OTAs and the offseason program. And then when we get to training camp, it is gonna be how fast can they get used to seeing for instance those tackles, Khalil Mack and Robert Quinn and these other guys coming off the edge and what better way to try to evaluate yourself."

They're counting on the iron sharpens iron routine.

"We're gonna have to be able to see what they can do in those preseason games but also be prepared that and let them understand that, we want everybody competing to be a starter and that’s gonna be obviously their mindset," Nagy said.

Ironically, it's Nagy saying this and he has always been the one who wanted nothing to do with preseason games for starters. Now he needs them.

The Bears painted a picture of both Jenkins and Borom as strong run blockers, but Borom doesn't consider himself the same way.

"My strength is I feel like I can pass protect with the best of them," Borom said. "And I'm a big body that can run off the ball. And one thing I'm gonna need to work on is just smaller, just little technique things regarding some things in the run game, maybe footwork here and there, hand placement. But other than that I feel like I can pass block with the best of them."

In Jenkins' case, a strength hasn't been characterized one way or the other. The bigger issue really seems to be getting him used to left tackle because he played right tackle even though Oklahoma State had slated him to start on the left side before an injury to another tackle.

Jenkins won't make a bold prediction about starting.

"Right now it's for me to develop and progress, and if comes to that, that's what it comes to because that's what I'm here to do. But at the end of the day right now I'm just trying to learn everything I can and just absorb every information I can."

He must. Considering there is no one on the roster who ever started a game at left tackle in the NFL, if he doesn't make the jump then it comes to something drastic like moving either Cody Whitehair or Alex Bars to the position.

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