Bears NFL Draft Preview: OL competition could intensify

Share Bears Insider John "Moon" Mullin goes position-by-position as the Bears approach the 2016 Draft, taking a look at what the Bears have, what they might need and what draft day and after could have in store.

Bears pre-draft situation

The stability of 2013 and the same five starting all 16 games gave way to the chaos of 2014, which was followed by an equally addled 2015 that began with switching Kyle Long from right guard to right tackle just days before the opener against Green Bay and including three different starting centers, three different starting left guards, and Long being the only offensive lineman to start all 16 games anywhere.

Best symbol of the mess: Vladimir Ducasse started the season at right guard, lost his job to Patrick Omameh, then found himself back at right guard, Omameh moving to left guard for Matt Slauson, who needed to start Week 17 at center because rookie Hroniss Grasu was hurt, Grasu being the starter because Mike Montgomery suffered a broken leg at Oakland.

(Punch line: Of the five players in that previous paragraph, none will come into mini- and training camps assured of starting jobs or, for that matter, roster spots.)

Coaches and GM Ryan Pace have established “competition” as the mantra, and proceeded to sign veterans Bobby Massie to start at right tackle, and guard/centers Ted Larsen and Manny Ramirez to push for job at two of the interior-line positions. Slauson did not play well enough to put himself above replacement, and Grasu’s rookie season had its moments, not all of them good.

“We needed to improve our offensive line,” coach John Fox said. “Could’ve gone a lot of different directions but we were able to obtain Bobby and that’s how we’re going to start. He makes us better.”

Massie is set at right tackle, deemed best-available on the market, which was really the objective rather than targeting the position specifically. “In this case, we feel Bobbie is a really good right tackle, so it kind of let us put our best five on the field,” Pace said. “So it could have transpired differently. It just kind came to us that way. And we felt we got good value on it so it pushes Kyle back into guard and we’re rolling.”

Behind Massie is Tayo Fabuluje, coming off a rookie season marked by seven game days inactive and five off the roster due to a suspension. Long, a Pro Bowl alternate despite the near-complete lack of preseason time at tackle, is expected back at right guard.

The curiosity is at left tackle. Charles Leno Jr. was a surprise find after flopping at right tackle in preseason, then stepping in for Jermon Bushrod during game three and never giving the job up.

But Leno did not make anyone forget Jimbo Covert just yet and the real question is where Pace and coaches find competition at the pivotal left anchor of the line. Long at left tackle? He hasn’t sounded like he wants to be there. The draft… ?

Bears draft priority: Low/moderate

The additions of Larsen, Massie and Ramirez dramatically dial down any glaring urgency at multiple positions on the depth chart. But over the past 11 years, with Pace in New Orleans for 10 and the Bears last year, his team has drafted at least one offensive lineman within the first six rounds, sometimes more than one, in nine of the drafts. Five of those picks have come round-three or earlier.

The lack of offseason activity around left tackle is suspicious. The Bears hold the 11th pick of the first round, and four tackles – Michigan State’s Jack Conklin, Taylor Decker from Ohio State, Notre Dame’s Ronnie Stanley and Mississippi’s Laremy Tunsil – have been three-year starters for top programs. All are prototype NFL tackles (6-foot-5/6-foot-6, 310-320 pounds).

Not all would need to be grabbed with the 11th pick, giving the Bears an option of trading down to add picks and still secure a potential Week 1 starter – based on competition, that is.

Keep an eye on ...

Jack Conklin, Michigan State:  Late riser rated a possible Week 1 starter at RT but with upside and mindset to work at any of four OL spots.

Taylor Decker, Ohio State: Big 10 offensive lineman of the year, proven winner against elite competition and leader of a very good college line.

Joshua Garnett, Stanford: Outland Trophy winner and Pac-12’s best lineman; mauler inside, and Stanford turns out quality O-linemen (Andrus Peat, David DeCastro).

Ronnie Stanley, Notre Dame: Started 39 straight games with impressive resume at LT but also started at RT.

Corey Whitehair, Kansas State: Four-year starter who played left and right tackle but better suited to compete at guard. May not last beyond early third round, however. “I think Corey Whitehair is the best guard in the draft,” said ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper.

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