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Bears' offensive line issues present dilemma for Justin Fields' preseason finale plan

The current state of the Bears' offensive line presents a dilemma that could be tough to navigate

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LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- The Bears had a clear plan for navigating the preseason. They mapped out how and where they wanted quarterback Justin Fields and the offense to get their reps so that they could hit the ground running in Week 1 against the Green Bay Packers.

We can probably throw that plan in the trash.

Fields and the first-team offense played two series in the preseason-opening win over the Tennessee Titans, dazzling with explosive catch-and-run touchdowns by DJ Moore and Khalil Herbert. After two days of good work in joint practices with the Indianapolis Colts, head coach Matt Eberflus and his staff elected not to play the Bears' starters in the second preseason game.

That decision came on the same that Eberflus said the Bears had "A to Z" issues on offense, including problems with execution, precision, attention to detail, and playing with speed.

The conclusion from both Eberflus' evaluation of the offense and Fields and Co. sitting in Indianapolis is that the Bears planned to give the starters a healthy snap count in Saturday's preseason finale against the Buffalo Bills at Soldier Field.

Last preseason, the Bears gave Fields and the first-team offense 30 snaps in the finale. The Bears likely hoped for a similar plan this year as they try to work out the kinks before the Packers come to town.

But the current state of their offensive line could change that equation. At the very least, it presents the Bears with a dilemma that will be tough to navigate.

As of Tuesday, five of the Bears' top-six offensive linemen were either injured, banged up, or ramping up to a return to full practice.

Left guard Teven Jenkins suffered a leg injury and is deemed week-to-week. It's almost certain he will miss the start of the season and could be out until October.

Starting center Cody Whitehair injured his right hand during joint practices last week. He returned to practice Monday with a wrap on his hand. With Jenkins out and his snapping hand in a wrap, Whitehair has been kicked to left guard. Top reserve offensive lineman Lucas Patrick missed two weeks of camp with an injury. He returned Monday but is early in a ramp-up and was a limited participant Tuesday. Right guard Nate Davis continues his ramp-up period after missing two weeks of practice.

Meanwhile, rookie right tackle Darnell Wright left practice early Tuesday after appearing to suffer a foot/ankle injury. He limped to the sideline and did not return to drills. Left tackle Braxton Jones is the only fully healthy member of the Bears' rebuilt offensive line. That line took a grand total of seven padded snaps together in camp.

With the offensive line in flux, Eberflus has a decision to make regarding the preseason finale. Does he risk putting Fields behind a line that might have only one or two starters? Or does he sit his third-year quarterback and hope his offense can work out its issues on the back fields of Halas Hall?

The answer might be easy, but that doesn't make it palatable for a football team that has hopes of taking a leap and needs to start hot with games against the Packers, Buccaneers, Broncos, and Commanders in the first five weeks.

The offense has had a choppy, uneven camp. Part of that is due to the lack of cohesion on the offensive line. Fields has rarely had a consistent pocket to throw from, which has led to some ill-advised throws and turnovers. There have also been miscommunications on several routes that have caused Fields to pull receivers to the side to sort out the issue.

There have been moments of brilliance. At least once a day, Fields hits Moore on a deep strike or finds tight end Cole Kmet up the seam for a chunk play.

But the lack of consistency and issues with execution after almost a month of camp is troubling. Live game reps are the best way to smooth out the rough edges.

But we don't know the status of Wright's injury. Given that Patrick just started his ramp-up, it's unlikely he will play Saturday. I'd say the same is true of Whitehair, and it's unclear where Davis is in his ramp-up return.

The good news is the Bears have time. There's a chance some or all of those injury issues clear up between now and Sept. 10 when the Packers arrive at Soldier Field. There's also a chance some of these issues remain.

But chances are slim the Bears will be able to trot out most of their new planned starting five Saturday.

That would mean potentially putting Fields behind a line of Jones, Alex Leatherwood, Doug Kramer, Ja'Tyre Carter/Davis, and Wright or Larry Borom.

At that point, the injury risk far outweighs any potential progress the offense could make with a makeshift offensive line and no Chase Claypool.

"That will be looked at. There's no question that will be looked at," Eberflus said Tuesday when asked if the O-line issues might disincentivize him from playing Fields on Saturday. "You've always gotta look at the combinations and the health of the offensive linemen when you're talking about the quarterback. That will all be looked at and we'll see where it is."

Keeping Fields healthy is the smart, long-term play. But that would also mean resigning yourself to a likely choppy first offensive month -- one you hope to leave with a 2-2 record at worst.

Perhaps Wright returns to practice Wednesday, Davis' ramp-up finishes, and the Bears can field an offensive line they trust to protect Fields against the Bills.

But if the banged-up offensive linemen continue to be question marks, the Bears will find themselves in a predicament -- one with an obvious answer. But one that will leave them trudging uphill with Week 1 on the horizon.

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