Do the Bears Have Bigger Plans for Ja’Tyre Carter?

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Do the Bears Have Bigger Plans for Ja’Tyre Carter?

Chicago Bears

It’s far too early to carve the Bears 2023 starting lineup in stone. However, Chicago does seem intent to go into the season with this starting five in the trenches:

  • LT Braxton Jones
  • LG Teven Jenkins
  • C Cody Whitehair
  • RG Nate Davis
  • RT Darnell Wright

All things considered, this group looks fine. No, it doesn’t look like a collection of talent that will inspire copycats throughout the league. But it doesn’t need to be. At least, not this season. What this group is — as of now — is better than what the team was throwing out at the end of last season. Progress, however small, still counts as progress. And the Bears offensive line is better today than it was when the team was closing the door on the 2022 season back in January.

With that being said, there are some long-term questions about what is happening in the middle.

Cody Whitehair is set to return to the center position he was manning during an earlier portion of his career. A few years ago, that sentence would’ve been reassuring. Having a steady, stable presence in the middle of the line has its perks. Between Whitehair’s veteran know-how and his prior experience at the position, it is easy to feel comfortable with the move. But injuries in recent years have limited his time on the field and bring questions regarding Whitehair’s potential long-term fit. These are fair concerns to have for the veteran interior offensive lineman, but the Bears didn’t try to unearth a long-term answer at the position this offseason. Not even via the draft. It’s not that the Bears didn’t have options. They just chose not to go that path — all while knowing the state of the interior line.

That was a curious decision, to be sure. But one that might make sense if one of their internal candidates takes a step in their development.

Ja’Tyre Carter was one of a handful of Day 3 picks GM Ryan Poles made in 2022 in an attempt to build depth along the offensive line. Admittedly, throwing stuff at a wall and hoping something sticks isn’t the best approach toward building an offensive line. But I’ve seen the Bears use their Day 3 picks in more questionable ways. With that in mind, I found myself embracing this plan — in part because it provided a path for rookies to play their way into bigger roles. We saw Braxton Jones take full advantage of the opportunity last year, when he went from a Day 3 pick to starting left tackle. Maybe Carter can follow that example and do something similar a year later.

For what it’s worth, Carter’s Bleacher Report pre-draft profile was envisioning a path to playing time coming along the interior line — and there is even a mention of him playing center (bold emphasis mine):

Overall, Carter has a stout build with good arm length and upper-body strength to hold and take ground in the running game plus the burst out of his stance to stay square with a strong base to his landmark. Carter’s technique starts to break down late in reps, and his inability to dominate middling competition is a concern, but he more than held his own at the Senior Bowl at guard and center, making him a Day 3 flier with swing interior backup potential.

OK, so I’ll fall short of penciling Carter into a starting role anytime soon. But that is fine. Catching lightning in a bottle twice isn’t something I’d bet on anyway. But let it be known that the Bears aren’t only betting on the unlikely.

Instead, this team is rolling the dice on its offensive line coaches and developmental system to unearth depth with some upside. This is what it looks like when you have confidence in your coaches without explicitly saying it. And, frankly, this gives us something to look forward to when camp starts up. We were already going to watch the line with great interest.

The Bears seem to be fine with Whitehair starting at center and Lucas Patrick playing the role of swing interior offensive lineman. With those two ahead of Carter on the depth chart, the Bears could conceivably slow-play Carter’s development as a center. Developing offensive linemen isn’t easy. Progress often isn’t linear. So if you can build up a young player without risking wrecking his development by giving him too much too soon, then you should do it. And it looks like the Bears could do this with Carter. Good on them if they do it. And good on Carter, who was a college tackle when the Bears drafted him in 2022.

Let me be clear. This isn’t me saying that the Bears didn’t draft a center prospect because Carter would block them. Instead, this is me offering up the idea that the Bears were so certain with the top of their depth chart at center that they were well-positioned to give a player already on their roster the runway to develop into a bigger role. Maybe it’ll work. Perhaps it won’t. But no matter the outcome, the process seems sound. And that’s a good place to start.

Author: Luis Medina

Luis Medina is a Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at@lcm1986.