LAKE FOREST — It must have been obvious to Ryan Poles and Matt Eberflus at the start of the Bears’ offseason program. The offensive line they had put together was not going to be enough.
There were questions about the correct guard position from the jump. Eberflus’ decision to move Teven Jenkins to the second string midway through the offseason schedule and set up rookie Braxton Jones as the first-string left tackle had alarm bells ringing from Carbondale to DeKalb.
If the plan was to protect and develop Justin Fields, this group wouldn’t do it.
Enter: Riley Reiff and Michael Schofield.
The Bears signed Schofield, a veteran guard, to a one-year contract on Monday and signed Reiff to a one-year contract Tuesday on report day of training camp.
With two quick moves, the Bears likely have their starting left tackle and starting right guard. Once a sight is unfit to show children under eight, the offensive line may be usable.
“What’s great about signing these two guys is that they have flexibility,” Eberflus said Tuesday of his two new offensive linemen. “In their careers they’ve played on the left, they’ve played on the right, they’ve played inside. So for us, it’s great that Ryan brought those two guys here. The experience and the flexibility from these guys, it’s just exceptional. It allows us to do a lot of different things. We’re in a much better position with these two guys on our roster than 24 hours ago.”
Of this, there is no doubt.
Schofield automatically becomes the favorite to start at right guard, returning Sam Mustipher to an inside swing depth role.
Last season, Schofield ranked seventh among all guards in passing block, by Pro Football Focus (min. 600 snaps). He ranked 11th in pass blocking efficiency and allowed just two sacks and four hits.
This is your starting right guard.
Cody Whitehair, Lucas Patrick and Schofield should give the Bears a decent inside line.
The next question, the biggest question, was the tackles.
The Poles sent a strong message to his two sophomore tackles, Jenkins and Larry Borom, by signing 33-year-old Reiff. By signing the veteran on a deal worth up to $12.5 million, the Bears have strengthened the left tackle position and created competition at right tackle between two players who don’t seem to live up to the norm.
“I think the way of looking at it is just extra competition for the guys and you have to go for it,” Poles said of what the addition of Reiff means for Jenkins and Borom. “You have to go. You have to play and it’s for everyone.”
Competition often brings out the best in people, and Patrick thinks that can happen for a Bears offensive line that’s still tinkering with combinations.
“I think it’s a great message that in the NFL, nothing is guaranteed,” Patrick said Tuesday. “Competition is the best barometer for a team. If we could have 100 guys here who are all NFL veterans and make everyone better, I think that makes the team better, which then helps us win. games. That’s how I see it. I’ve been on both sides of the coin and that’s definitely an advantage. You just have to approach this with the right mentality you have to do your best every day. That’s why it’s the National Football League and why we’re professionals.
While Eberflus claims he’ll keep looking for the right group of offensive lines, conventional wisdom says the Bears have four starters set in stone if they’re healthy. The only unknown seems to be at the right tackle.
The offensive line is by no means a force. But Reiff and Schofield are capable veterans who remove the two biggest question marks from the group tasked with protecting Fields.
Did the Bears pay too much for Reiff? Maybe. But it was a call they had to make to ensure the second-year quarterback didn’t spend more time stripping turf from his face mask than chopping secondaries.
Proven, veteran offensive linemen could make the difference in whether Fields leapfrogs this fall or heads into third year wondering if his time in Chicago is heading to an abrupt end.
Questions remain as to how the group will function as a whole. But Fields should be able to breathe a little easier now, and the moves are proof that the Poles and Eberflus haven’t, in fact, let the young quarterback dry out as they begin their rebuild.