This promises to be one of the more interesting roster constructions of the team as far as the offensive line is concerned. More so with it’s depth than the starters. That’s pretty much set. Perhaps who plays Center or Left Guard is worthy of monitoring but the starting five can be pretty much written in pen not pencil. There are some real interesting Prospects that may have real good futures with the proper development under a coaching staff that has the chops to max out their skills sets. In the same respect, they may not be ready to contribute this season, so exposing them in the preseason might be a bad idea if they try to sneak them on the practice squad.
One of those players I was referring to was Jeremi Hall who was recently waived to make room for Ro’Derrick Hoskins an Inside Linebacker UDFA to give the Bears a body at that spot with the absence of Roquan Smith who is holding out until his contract gets resolved, and Danny Trevathan struggling with a hamstring issue. So, I would not be surprised to see him back. As it is he isn’t so I’ll leave him out of the position battles for the meantime. However, wherever Hall ends up I am intrigued by him as he is a massive human being who can move his feet pretty well. Sounds like a future Right Tackle in this league if he gets his chance and maxes out his ability.
Now, as a unit, the Bears already productive offensive line figures to advance into the elite category as a top 5 unit in the league with some of their additions and the return of their leader Kyle Long. The Bears were amazingly productive in spite of dealing with injuries to their interior linemen which of course starts with Long. Josh Sitton, who signed in Miami this past season when the Bears chose not to resign him was also a player struggling with injury. Also, the Bears two primary guard backups in Eric Kush who suffered a season ending injury in camp, and Tom Compton who was playing well until his own injury. Bears also added the highly regarded Offensive Line coach Harry Heistand who they coaxed away from Notre Dame where he developed several big NFL draft picks in his tenure including this years Mike McGlinchey and Quenton Nelson both high first round picks.
The Bears did give up 39 sacks which was the 12th least total in the league which isn’t too bad. However, it’s more impressive considering a ton of those sacks were on the Quarterback with Mike Glennon in the first 4 games being a statue, and the very raw rookie Mitch Trubisky not getting the ball out as quick as he struggled with his reads early on. There also was the matter of the carrousel that was the Bears interior line. Still they were very productive in spite of all that.
They gave up the 14th least Quarterback hits at 84, had the 16th most rushing yards with 1,788, the 5th highest average per run at 4.2 a carry. They had the highest 10+ runs to the left, the third least negative runs up the middle, 8th in non short yardage first downs with 34, and 3rd in power rushes (which is essentially short yardage and goal line runs that go for a 1st or a touchdown). Now imagine the production with less predictability, better line coaching, a Quarterback who isn’t nearly as green as he was last year or the statue that started proceeding him, and an insane amount of skill players keeping teams from stacking the box or blitzing relentlessly, and better depth and health.
Locks to make the team: Kyle Long, Cody Whitehair, Eric Kush, Charles Leno jr., Bobby Massie, James Daniels:
These six names are pretty much guaranteed to make the 53 man roster said for a possible injury, but let’s not go there after the past three seasons of debilitating injury issues for this team. One of those players who has struggled with injury issues and the main story of this year’s offensive line is of course the leader of that unit Kyle Long. He is now healthier than he’s been in 2-3 years. How long will that last? It’s a legitimate question for a player who had to rehab four separate surgeries coming into this season.
Now the good news is the Bears have never been deeper with their Guard depth. One of those depth guys is Eric Kush, who is coming off his own serious injury rehab after tearing his hamstring in camp and ultimately being placed on the IR. The good news about that is Kush was hurt so early, so he had about a year to get it repaired and rehabbed and looks good in camp this far.
He may not be the backup actually as he’s running with the ones in camp thus far at Left guard, and they may want to bring James Daniels along slowly by giving him a year to build up strength and learn the offense. It’s highly likely they ultimately want Daniels at Center as he has Center size. Of course he could probably add 30 pounds to his game but at what cost athletically which is his strength right now. Typically guards are in the 330 pound range as they have to battle the behemoths that occupy the middle of the field on the other side of the line of scrimmage.
That seems more suited for Cody Whitehair who has both the athleticism and the bulk and strength as well as some of the best mechanics in the entire NFL at any position on the Offensive Line. It’s very possible he may even start at Left Guard if the Bears choose to start their high 2nd round pick at the get go, or if and injury arises. Whitehair is a Pro Bowl caliber player who probably should have made it his rookie season. He did regress a little bit especially early on but he did have to move around the line and logged in significant time at all three interior Offensive line positions a year ago. That may have been a contributing factor to his early struggles. This season, I would not be a bit surprised if he was a Pro bowler, and perhaps even a second or first team All-Pro. He has that kind of ability at any of the three interior line positions.
Bobby Massie and Charles Leno Jr. are solidified as the starters at Tackle. They will not be challenged. I see both having good seasons. More so from Leno who is now taking a leadership role with the team and should have his technique improved being under the tutelage of Harry Heistand. Leno is a perfect fit for this team as he is a superb athlete and in shape so he’ll be able to execute all the movement and up tempo plays Matt Nagy and Mark Helfrich will be requiring of their Stallworth Left Tackle.
Massie is another story. He’s more of a bulldozer. The Bears will likely give him a lot of help in pass pro especially going against their speed rushers as he does not have the lateral quickness to block one on one against these types of players. That strategy is fine just as long as Leno is able to block his man one on one for the bulk of his snaps. No team will thrive on offense in the passing game if you have to double both Edges. However, as a run blocker especially on the power side he can get the job done.
Bubble players for the final spot on the 53 man roster: Rashaad Coward, Hroniss Grasu, Jordan Morgan, Earl Watford, Bradley Sowell:
Most people handicapping this Offensive Line battle will look at it and say, “wow, there’s only one guy who’s payed tackle in this league and this will leave the Bears no choice but to keep Bradley Sowell.” Well, not necessarily. He was used sparingly last year and wasn’t very good with Seattle as a starter the season prior. So I would not be so quick to write him into the 53 man roster just yet.
One of those reasons is the all everything Lineman Whitehair who literally can play and has played all 5 positions on the Offensive Line. As a matter of fact, the only position he did not log significant time in at a high college level was his current position with the Bears at Center.
The second reason is the emergence of converted Defensive Lineman Rashaad Coward. When the move was first made to convert the 6’6″ 330 pound plus lineman with agile feet, I thought he would be kind of stashed and not play much in pre-season. The reason being so he wouldn’t be exposed to the league so the Bears could get him through waivers and ultimately move him to the practice squad for further development, but it looks like he may make the 53 man roster. Everything I’ve read from reporters I trust and podcasters I listen to is that Coward has looked really good at Right Tackle in OTA’s and thus far in camp. He’s also listed as the main backup to Massie on the first depth chart of the year just released yesterday. He may actually make the 53 man roster.
Jordan Morgan also has looked good and has that edge you want out of one of your interior lineman which is were he’s at now playing Guard. However, he played Left Tackle in college and has very athletic feet and appears to be a very good fit in this offense. I expect him to make the team coming out of camp. I can’t imagine a talented player like Morgan who was a 5th round pick (a round the Bears have done well in) being cut the year after being drafted.
I also can’t see Earl Watford getting cut. The Bears signed him as a free agent for a reason. He also has the versatility to dress on Sundays as their swing interior lineman. He’s still pretty young and has upside even as a veteran in this league.
That leaves Hroniss Grasu possibly the odd man out. However being a former day 2 pick and having the skill set that fits team and the fact Nagy said they are not judging anything that happened in the past, if he plays well and makes an impression in camp he may very well make the team. It doesn’t hurt that his old college coach is coordinating the Bears offense. He will need to show the ability to play Guard better as well as Center and contribute on special teams. This is going to be a very competitive and interesting competition from this group.
Dark horse candidates and practice squad possibilities: Dejon Allen, Brandon Greene, Matt McCants, Will Pericak.
Dejon Allen is an extremely interesting prospect who I think has an excellent shot at making someone’s practice squad and I get the feeling the Bears are hoping it’s theirs. Allen played left tackle in college at Hawaii but will be competing as an interior lineman particularly at Center. Allen is versatile and he is very athletic, but not very big. Weighing only 290 he will need to find and extra 20 pounds while maintaining his athleticism if he wants to stick around as an NFL player. However, being able to play all 5 positions won’t hurt his chances.
Brandon Greene is in jeopardy of losing his roster spot. He was promoted from the practice squad and saw some live action with the club last season after making the team out of camp replacing the injured Kush. He is going to have to have an impressive camp to even get back on the practice squad.
Matt McCants is another player who’s bounced around the league a bit playing for the Raiders and the Browns prior to his Bears stint. He has good size and moves well for his size, but it’s a real long shot for him to make the team. Especially with the emergence of Coward who is younger and cheaper and has a bit more upside.
Will Perciak may have the hardest road to hone out of this group. Not only is he a journeyman lineman but he also is a Center. A position the Bears are extremely stacked at. Unless the former Colorado Bison Defensive Tackle convert can find his way in the Long Snap competition I don’t see a chance for him making this team.
Up Next: Inside linebacker