The Chicago Bears entered the practice field for the first time Wednesday morning at Halas Hall, but the real work for offensive linemen begins Monday when rules allow the team to wear full protectors.
So when the first unit the team finished June minicamp with was first in team drills, that said something. But much more revealing will be how the group will unfold in another five days.
Fifth-round rookie pick Braxton Jones was at left tackle. Logic dictates that newly signed Riley Reiff will assume that role soon. The Bears are looking for the top five players on the line, and Reiff’s experience, with 124 career starts, makes him a clear candidate for the starting lineup.
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Reiff’s one-year deal calls for a base salary of $3 million, and he’ll earn an additional $4.5 million if he plays just 10% of the snaps and the offense improves in any of six key offensive categories. Category details are unknown, but the offense was so bad last season that the Bears obviously plan to pay the extra money and aren’t going to make $7.5 million per layup for a player they expect to be a backup. Reiff can earn another $2.5 million tied to playing time and also has a $2 million playoff bonus, so it’s easy to picture him as the starting left tackle.
Reiff said the Bears were in contact with his agent and things moved quickly over the weekend to sign him. He had surgery on his left ankle near the end of last season with the Cincinnati Bengals and has been fully released. With three years of experience in Minnesota, he has played a similar blocking scheme. He looks fresh and ready to roll after being home all offseason.
“(When) you’re in year 7 or 8, you’re like, ‘Damn, OTAs suck,’” Reiff, 33, said. “But then when you don’t have them, you really miss them, right? I have a one-and-a-half year old hanging around, so there were a few times during the off-season where I was like, ‘Hell, I’d rather be in the OTAs than chasing him.’ ”
With Cody Whitehair established at left guard and Lucas Patrick, the coaches’ clear choice at center, that leaves the right side of the line open for competition. Sam Mustipher was at right guard and Larry Borom was at right tackle for most of Wednesday’s practice.
Michael Schofield, the other veteran signed just before camp, could be in the mix at any right-side position, but he has more experience playing inside. He will earn $1.12 million with a veterans salary benefit, which means he will only count $895,000 against the cap.
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The Sandburg High School graduate said signing with the Bears was like being drafted again because he grew up a fan of the team and said his first jersey was a Marty Booker model. He entered the league in 2014 as a third-round pick out of the Denver Broncos. He too has experience in the scheme, having played for Gary Kubiak.
Borom, a 2021 fifth-round pick, would appear to have an edge at right tackle over Teven Jenkins, a second-round pick last year, but things can change quickly once the pads come on and coaches start mixing and combine.
“We have to keep an open mind to the best combination, top five and top three guys after that,” coach Matt Eberflus said. “So it’s important that we keep an open mind.”
Practices with full protectors and preseason action will tell us much more, but the Bears have a new veteran to anchor the left side of the line and another experienced candidate who will compete for a job.