Why Bears' O-line additions could be vital to Justin Fields' growth

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Bears' OL additions could make difference for Fields in Year 2 originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

LAKE FOREST – It had to be apparent to Ryan Poles and Matt Eberflus early in the Bears' offseason program. The offensive line they had assembled wasn't going to cut it.

There were questions about the right guard position from the jump. Eberflus' decision to move Teven Jenkins to second-string halfway through the offseason program and install rookie Braxton Jones as the first-string left tackle had alarms ringing from Carbondale to DeKalb.

If the plan was to protect and develop Justin Fields, this group would not do.

Enter: Riley Reiff and Michael Schofield.

The Bears signed Schofield, a veteran guard, to a one-year contract Monday and inked Reiff to a one-year deal Tuesday on training camp report day.

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 the age of eight, the offensive line might be serviceable.

"What's great about signing those two guys is they have flex," Eberflus said Tuesday about his two new offensive linemen. "During their career they've played left, they've played right, they've played inside. So, for us, it's great by Ryan in bringing those two guys in here. The experience and the flexibility those guys have, it's just outstanding. That enables us to a lot of different things. We're in a much better spot with those two guys on our roster than we were 24 hours ago."

Of that, there is no doubt.

Schofield automatically becomes the front-runner to start at right guard, bumping Sam Mustipher to a swing depth role on the interior.

Last season, Schofield ranked seventh among all guards in pass-block grade, per Pro Football Focus (min. 600 snaps). He ranked 11th in pass-blocking efficiency and gave up only two sacks and four hits.

There's your starting right guard.

Cody Whitehair, Lucas Patrick, and Schofield should give the Bears an adequate interior line.

The next question, the bigger question, was the tackles.

Poles sent a loud message to his two sophomore tackles, Jenkins and Larry Borom, by signing the 33-year-old Reiff. By inking the veteran to a deal worth up to $12.5 million, the Bears shored up the left tackle position and created competition at right tackle between two players who don't appear to be meeting the standard.

"I think the way to look at it is just added competition for guys to compete and you got to go," Poles said of what the addition of Reiff means for Jenkins and Borom. "You got to go. You got to perform and that's for everyone."

Competition often brings the best out of people, and Patrick believes that can happen for a Bears' offensive line still tinkering with combinations.

"I think it's a great message that in the NFL, nothing is guaranteed," Patrick said Tuesday. "Competition is the greatest barometer for a team. If we could have 100 guys in here who are all NFL veterans and make everyone better, I think it 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 it's definitely a benefit. You just have to approach it with the right mentality that you have to bring your best every day. That's why it's the National Football League and why we are professionals."

While Eberflus claims he'll continue searching for the right offensive line group, conventional wisdom says the Bears have four starters etched in stone if healthy. The only unknown appears to be at right tackle.

The offensive line is by no means a strength. But Reiff and Schofield are capable veterans who remove the two biggest question marks from the group tasked with protecting Fields.

Did the Bears overpay for Reiff? Perhaps. But it was a move they needed to make to ensure the second-year quarterback doesn't spend more time picking turf out of his facemask than carving up secondaries.

Having proven, veteran offensive linemen could be the difference in Fields taking a leap this fall or heading into Year 3 wondering if his time in Chicago is headed for an abrupt end.

Questions remain about how the group will operate as a whole. But Fields should be able to breathe a little easier now, and the moves are proof that Poles and Eberflus have, in fact, not left the young quarterback out to dry as they begin their rebuild.

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