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Column: Drafting Darnell Wright the latest item on the checklist so the Chicago Bears can better evaluate Justin Fields

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Ryan Poles used the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft to add future assets and get a bona fide wide receiver for Justin Fields in DJ Moore.

When the Chicago Bears general manager got around to using his first-round pick Thursday night, he added more protection for Fields by choosing Tennessee offensive tackle Darnell Wright with the No. 10 pick.

Much of the rest of the draft figures to be about finding defensive linemen and pass rushers for an undermanned unit, but the Bears won’t go into next season with folks saying they lack adequate protection or targets for Fields. Poles called Wright a “tone setter.”

If 2022 was about tearing down the roster and resetting the salary cap, 2023 is about making a complete assessment of Fields. To do that, the Bears needed to start building the offense. After coming up short in a bid to sign offensive tackle Mike McGlinchey in free agency — I was told the Bears’ offer was close to $17 million per year — they drafted a player who can step in as a Day 1 starter.

[Don’t miss] Chicago Bears in the 2023 NFL draft: Top pick Darnell Wright could be an immediate starter at right tackle ]

It might not be the best offensive line in the NFL, but the Bears now have Wright, who played primarily right tackle in four seasons with the Volunteers; a new right guard in free-agent signee Nate Davis; and might grab a center with a pick Friday or Saturday. It’s a better group than they rolled out last year, when the biggest addition to the offensive line was signing Riley Reiff to a one-year deal a week before training camp.

If left tackle Braxton Jones makes a big step forward in his second season, there’s a chance for real growth, and having starting tackles on rookie contracts creates cap flexibility for a couple of years.

What’s interesting is the Bears passed on Jalen Carter and traded the ninth pick to the Philadelphia Eagles, who promptly selected the Georgia defensive tackle. As much as the Bears needed to add protection for Fields, they remain without any threat at the three-technique position for coach Matt Eberflus’ defense. Carter could have filled the role, but clearly the Bears didn’t get enough satisfactory answers from him when they visited.

“He had a really bad visit with us,” said a high-ranking source from another team that brought Carter in.

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The Eagles probably figure veteran defensive linemen Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham and the presence of former Georgia teammate Jordan Davis will make Philadelphia a good spot for Carter, who possesses immense talent. Poles declined to address how the team finalized its evaluation of Carter.

The Bears netted a 2024 fourth-round pick from the Eagles for moving down one spot and did so without risking losing out on the offensive lineman they wanted. Wright was the second offensive lineman selected after the Arizona Cardinals chose Ohio State left tackle Paris Johnson Jr. at No. 6.

Johnson and Wright started a mini-run of four offensive linemen in a span of nine picks as Northwestern’s Peter Skoronski went 11th to the Tennessee Titans and the Pittsburgh Steelers traded up to No. 14 for Georgia’s Broderick Jones. Poles wanted Wright all along and said he remained nervous until it became evident he would get a player he believed could learn and adapt quickly to the pro game.

“I don’t know if I am going to be much interaction,” Wright said on a Zoom call with media after he was selected. “I’m in shock right now.”

Tennessee offensive lineman Darnell Wright during the Senior Bowl on Feb. 4, 2023, in Mobile, Ala.

Tennessee offensive lineman Darnell Wright during the Senior Bowl on Feb. 4, 2023, in Mobile, Ala. (Butch Dill/AP)

Wright, who played in the Senior Bowl for Bears offensive coordinator Luke Getsy, is the fourth offensive lineman the Bears have drafted in the first round since 2008 (Chris Williams). They selected Gabe Carimi in 2011 and Kyle Long in 2013. Long was far and away the best of the bunch before injuries short-circuited his career.

Offensive line coach Chris Morgan is demanding of his players, and that won’t be a surprise for Wright after he described a grueling pre-draft workout earlier this month in Knoxville, Tenn.

“We just actually got off the phone and (Morgan) was saying, ‘It was so hard to not just call you and say, “Hey, man, we’re going to pick you,” ‘ “ Wright said. “I knew as far as my talent and what I can do, I knew I could go this high. But just took the right team to see that, the right coaches who know what they’re looking at, they know what I can be.

“I haven’t even reached my (potential), just scratching the surface of what I can be. I think they know that. And I know that. It’s going to be fun.”

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Wright is a massive man at 6-foot-5, 333 pounds, and he moves pretty well. There has been buzz about how he did last fall against Alabama’s Will Anderson Jr., selected third by the Houston Texans. There were inconsistencies in Wright’s game, but this draft really lacked a prospect who was head and shoulders above the rest.

The Bears have a lot of work to do up front, but they’ve upgraded the personnel and will be starting from a much better position this spring. They’ve helped Fields with the addition of Moore and they’re expecting more from Chase Claypool this season. Perhaps Poles will target a tight end in the next few rounds as well.

Fields has a lot more to work with. The Bears will feel good about the chances in front of him with Wright likely protecting his right side.

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Column: Drafting Darnell Wright the latest item on the checklist so the Chicago Bears can better evaluate Justin Fields Reviewed by RP on April 28, 2023 Rating: 5

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