NFL Draft 2022: Bears reshape offensive line with four picks

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Ryan Poles, Bears scouts share notes on all four OL picks originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

When Ryan Poles took the job as Bears GM he promised changes were coming to the offensive line. Over the first months of his tenure there were a few tweaks, like adding new center Lucas Patrick, and letting James Daniels walk in free agency. But Poles really delivered on that promise on Day 3 of the 2022 NFL Draft.

Poles was wheelin’ and dealin’ early, making four trades to turn three picks on Saturday into eight. Poles used four of those eight picks to add to the offensive line. As for where each man will play, and how much each man will play, that’s still to be determined. But the team isn’t going to put limitations on anybody, opting to keep an open mind about their new players, instead.

“There’s going to be some surprises,” Poles said. “We see that across the league all the time where guys shoot to the top quickly and earn that trust and they make plays and they’re rolling. Obviously you hope for the best, but there might be a process. It takes time. This league’s extremely hard and tough. There’s a lot thrown at these guys, but that’s why we really emphasize the makeup that they have inside of them because they’re willing to go through the hard times, they’re willing to listen, they’re willing to put their pride away and start from the bottom and work up.”

It started with the Bears’ first pick of the day, No. 168. The team selected Braxton Jones, a tackle from Southern Utah.

Poles liked Jones’ footwork, length and overall size. A blend of technique and god-given traits. But they also felt like Jones had room to grow into an even better lineman than he is today.

“There’s a ceiling there we believe we can develop,” Poles said.

Scout David Williams noted off the field intangibles that make Jones a good fit for any team trying to build a new culture, too.

“What I love about Braxton is how they talked about him at the school,” Williams said. “His head coach at the time, Demario Warren, his offensive line coach, they highlighted his football intelligence. They highlighted, he was a two-time team captain. Sitting down and talking to him, he’s very relatable. He’s a nice kid. I think he can gel. He’s not gonna come in thinking he’s got a big ego that he’s made it. He’s just looking for that next step to grow. He’s got those type of intangibles that we’re really excited about.”

Next came San Diego State Aztec Zachary Thomas in the sixth round. Compared to Jones, one Bears scout thought Thomas was “a little bit more physical” in the run game, and a “little bit more dense,” in his lower body. He’s played all over the line, and feels comfortable playing inside or outside. But the thing Thomas really hangs his hat on is playing clean football. He had a goal to play the entire 2021 season without drawing a single flag. Thomas didn’t accomplish that goal, but came pretty close. Over 1,444 snaps in 2020 and 2021 combined, Thomas was only penalized three times.

Twenty-one picks after Thomas, came hometown hero Doug Kramer out of Hinsdale Central. Kramer played center at Illinois and is small for the position at 6’2” and 305 lbs. But the Bears believe he can overcome that with his technique.

“Not the tallest, not the biggest, but maybe when the ball is snapped he may be the best up front,” said Bears scout Jeff Shiver. “He stays so low. He keeps good leverage. Ya know? And he can work low really well. If he was the typical high blocker, I would say, ‘Man, this guy’s going to have trouble.’ But he stays so low, and he’s just so steady.”

Finally, with their second-to-last pick, the Bears added Ja’Tyre Carter out of Southern University. Carter may have been picked late in the draft, but he’s still eminently confident in his ability as a lineman.

“I’m gonna go in and try to go start, I’m going in to try to take a spot,” Carter said. “I’m very competitive, so when it comes to sport I want to be the No. 1 person.”

The scouts saw Carter’s confidence with their own eyes at the Senior Bowl.

“I was actually on the field right off the bat, and they go right to one-on-ones,” said Breck Ackley. “That’s kinda the highlight for O and D line. You wanna see ‘em and right off the bat, I believe it was Oklahoma guy he lined up against, so I’m kinda back there standing by the goalpost going, ‘Here we go. Baptism by fire.’ And he gave a little ground, kinda sat on it, then when he came out of the rep he almost bought back a little bit. It was almost like he, himself, realized, ‘I can hang.’ After that, every other rep, he battled and held his own. There’s gonna be some losses, right. I mean everybody there goes up and down, but he just kept showing up and held his own. That’s probably what stood out, I was excited to see him battle and kind of realize he could play at that level.”

Poles wouldn’t declare if any of the offensive linemen drafted on Saturday were “starting caliber” like he did with Kyler Gordon and Jaquan Brisker one day before. But he didn’t rule out the chance for any man to win a job this summer, either.

“We added competition,” Poles said. “As I said opening, when you have competition, when we all have competition, it brings the best out of you. Any time you add, and the makeup of those guys also helps that as well. So it’s all in an effort to get better, not only to improve the skillset up front but also just making the entire group function at a higher rate.”

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