Good offensive lineman are boring. They have their best games when nobody can remember what they really did as an individual. When fans can only remember general positives like "The line played well..." or "The QB had time to throw" then the individual linemen probably had great games, but they'll happily take the anonymity. When offensive linemen are "exciting" it is usually like playing with live grenades: you never know when something is going to blow up. Exciting offensive lineman get your franchise QB pummeled. Exciting offensive linemen help good football teams lose games they should have won.
Cody Whitehair, Guard, Kansas State University
Cody Whitehair is boring, in the best possible way. He is so consistent, poised and solid in his play that watching him for more than about 10 minutes is akin to watching paint dry or grass grow. You know what to expect and what you expect happens . Then it happens again, and again, and again. It actually happened so often in the tapes I watched that I started to root for the guy lining up across from him. Maybe this would be the play the defender got a sack, or a hit... I would have settled for a faint pressure on the Wildcat's QB. Whitehair, in his relentless quest for perfection, couldn't be bothered with entertaining me so he just stonewalled rusher after rusher until I fully admitted that I would probably never see it.
It didn't start out that way. Two minutes into the first game I watched (against TCU) Whitehair got yanked to the ground by the defensive end. "Ooooh... a weakness" I thought naively. I frantically scribbled down a note about balance and plowed on through the tape, interested to find the other chinks in the armor of this year's top-rated guard. That was a great idea, but there really weren't any more flaws. He got pulled slightly off balance at about 8 minutes into the tape, but he recovered and it didn't result in a pressure. To be fair to Cody, the Kansas State offense was up against the play clock and their QB had to either call for the ball to be snapped or take a penalty; and he just barked for the ball before everyone was really set. Exciting right? In Whitehair's tape that kind of bobble is downright exhilarating. Otherwise you are strictly looking at "business as usual".
Whitehair lined up at left tackle for the Wildcats, but he projects squarely to the guard position in the pros. You might ask "If he's such a stud why doesn't he play tackle in the NFL?". Great question and the answer is simple: Von Miller. Some of the best quick-twitch athletes in the world line up in the NFL as pass rushers. If a player does not posses the off-the-charts physical measurements, athleticism and mental makeup to counter those threats, they will end up looking silly week after week and their team will lose. Whitehair's top attributes are his power, balance, leverage, consistency and technique. His quickness was adequate in college but not exceptional. That limitation, combined with his long list of attributes make him an excellent candidate to kick inside to guard in the NFL and excel from day one.
Cody is exceptionally powerful and he takes his craft very seriously. His repetition of technique is exquisite to witness if you enjoy the finer points of offensive line play. He's been very well coached and it is evident in many aspects of his on-field performance:
- Has a solid kickstep slide and uses it to mirror defensive rushers without fail
- Possesses excellent balance and plays very centered in his stance
- Does not panic, lunge, reach or overextend
- Employs a very functional (if not overpowering) punch to make contact with and redirect defensive lineman
- Drops back 2-3 steps to absorb contact, then locks down and simply does not go any further back
- Knows his assignments and executes them without trying to do "too much" and running himself out of the play
- Learns from his mistakes and does not make them twice
Whitehair is a rock both physically (and I imagine emotionally) for his team. He's just one of those players who never looks like he is panicking, always does his job and makes the others around him better. This was evidenced in a trend I noticed after watching a large number of his snaps from last year. Every time Kansas State had a long run or scored a rushing TD, Cody threw a key block that either opened the lane or sealed the edge on the side that run went to. Every, single, time. It was uncanny. He was always there, doing what needed to be done to make the play successful. Everyone cheered the running back or the QB (the Wildcats feature a high number of the designed QB runs) but it was Cody laying the foundation for that success time after time.
To allay some concerns I imagine will arise about his transition to guard, I'll offer the following observations:
- Is he mobile? - Yup. K-State features an offense that does pull the tackle on opposite side runs. Cody can pull (a necessary skill for any guard) and hit his target on the move. He will almost always make an impact on the first level.
- Does he have enough mobility to make impact blocks on the second level? - Tough to say as he was a tackle, and the opportunities he had were limited. If he didn't have to pull on a play (straight zone blocking) I'd say yes. With pulling involved... maybe. This is a limited concern as very few guards can reliably hit their targets on both the first and second level on a pull-based run (Kyle Long was one of them and he's a freak).
- Is he powerful enough to block down and control NFL DT's? - I think he is. He generated serious positive push on goal line runs and was able to move DT's on down blocks when the guard next to him pulled.
The Bears need a right guard. The lack of an impact player at that spot cost them plenty during the 2015 season. The addition of player who can lock that spot down and perform at a high level will boost the entire offense. The receivers will have more time to get open, Cutler will have more time to throw and the young running backs will have bigger holes to run through before they make contact with the defense. The addition of a player a skilled a Cody Whitehair could elevate the Bears offense in the little, unseen and totally impactful ways that would make any offensive lineman proud.