Offensive linemen have a tough job as the Chicago Bears front five has learned through countless hard lessons this season and durability has been one of them. They have graded out fairly well. And, if you only catch bits and pieces of Bears games, you might come away with the impression that all is well in the trenches for Chicago. Except the eye test reveals that quarterback Justin Fields negates far more pressure than he invites by holding onto the ball too long. He certainly can be prone to trying to make a play that isn’t there.
But the Bears allowed six sacks in Week 15 bringing Fields’ season total to 47 which leads the NFL.
Two of the most unlikely candidates to do so have turned into the most consistent presences and spoke out about what Sunday’s tilt was like and what it means going forward.
Bears’ Braxton Jones, Sam Mustipher Sound Off on Durability
The Rookie Wall
“That’s huge for me,” left tackle Braxton Jones said. I try to be as consistent as possible. Just try to play in whole games, playing every rep. It means a lot to me just because, [you] show you’re durable and you can take multiple snaps and stuff like that. So I think it means a lot.”
Jones is the only lineman to start every game this season, quite an accomplishment for the fifth-round rookie out of Southern Utah. He was placed on the left side in the spring and has not looked back despite the Bears bringing in veteran tackle Riley Reiff at the beginning of training camp.
Asked about preparing for the rigors of an NFL season, Jones cited something familiar to anyone following this team closely.
“The workload in the offseason was a lot just because we’re training to run 40[-yard dashes] and stuff like that. So I think it’s just taking it one week at a time, one practice at a time – one game at a time.”
The 6-foot-6 athletic tackle’s pass blocking grade ranks behind Reiff’s, per Pro Football Focus, along with a couple of reserves in interior linemen rookie Dieter Eiselen and Michael Schofield as well as second-year tackle Larry Borom whom Rieff has replaced in the starting group.
Reiff spoke highly of Jones when he arrived saying that the “ceiling is sky high” but his head coach agreed with Jones’ long-running assertion that the bull rush is his weakness right now.
He spoke on how he can improve.
“Now, I just got to be alert of it. Use better technique, sit on it when I can. In the offseason, I think it going to come in the weight room. I think another thing, too, is flexibility. Right now I don’t bend very well when I try to anchor back on the bull rush. So I think that’s a big thing as well. And then obviously strength. Everybody could always get stronger. More explosive, I think that will help too. And then just being consistent with that stuff.”
That is an honest self-assessment from any player let alone a 23-year-old rookie charged with protecting Fields’ blindside.
He has been charged with five of the NFL-leading 47 sacks Fields has taken this season.
Mr. Still Here
Center Sam Mustipher’s journey has been rockier than Jones’. Undrafted out of Notre Dame, Mustipher has started 31 games for the Bears between this season and last. But Mustipher has almost exclusively been a fall-back option, earning the job last year after the Bears decided to move Cody Whitehair out to guard.
The team went out and brought in Lucas Patrick to be the starting center this offseason. But myriad injuries kept that from sticking before he was ultimately put on injured reserve.
Aside from Jones, Mustipher is the only lineman to appear in every game this season. It’s not something he takes lightly either.
“Just try to stay healthy” Mustipher said of his durability. “Attack your recovery the same you attack your skills and fundamental work. It’s tough, football’s a violent game…My first game, I had a Grade 2 MCL I had to play through. So, I understand very well the violent nature of this game.”
Mustipher has often been the focus of fans’ ire for the offensive line’s uneven play. But he said during camp that he just falls back on the work he puts in amid the presumed challenge from Patrick in camp.
"I work too hard for there to be a disadvantage."
LOVE that line from #Bears C Sam Mustipher
— Josh Buckhalter (@JoshGBuck) August 23, 2022
“As a center, having veterans in the room around that I’m able to learn from and understanding what it takes to compete day in, day out, practice day in, day out, and then show up on Sundays ready to go,” Mustipher said after Sunday’s loss adding, “I’m very fortunate, very blessed and just try to keep everybody on the same page around me.”
Bears Durability Tested
Week 16 brings the latest daunting challenge for Jones and Mustipher in particular. The Bills’ pass rush ranks fifth in PFF’s rankings and 11th in sacks. Fields and his likely makeshift offensive line will have their work cut out for them.
After all, as legendary head coach Bill Parcells said, the best ability, is availability
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