I was adamantly against the Chicago Bears moving Kyle Long to right tackle last year, not because I didn’t think he could do it, but because of the timing of the move. If you recall, it was during prep for the season opening game against the Packers when the Bears decided to take their Pro Bowl right guard and make a right tackle out of him.
Long struggled that day, and he had peaks and valleys all season long, but the Bears felt in order to get their best five offensive linemen on the field, Long had to kick out to tackle.
Then swing tackle Charles Leno struggled on the right side during the 2015 preseason, so he wasn’t a viable option and the Bears felt better about their guard depth than their tackle depth, so the last minute decision was made to have Long play right tackle. I understood the move, I just wish the Bears had played him all offseason at tackle.
This year the circumstances surrounding the Bears’ offensive line is a little different. They still want to get their best 5 on the field, but recent changes to the roster means another o-line shuffle will take place in week one practice.
When the Packers cut Josh Sitton, Pro Bowl guard in three of the last fours years, the Bears quickly pounced. Adding a talent like Sitton caused the Bears to remove promising rookie Cody Whitehair from the left guard spot he has manned all offseason.
At this point in their careers Sitton is clearly the better player, so that was a no-brainer. Sure Sitton could have played center, but as a free agent, he probably felt comfortable staying at guard.
But to the left of Sitton, center Ted Larsen is a serviceable veteran that would probably be best as a back up. Larsen looked much better at center, rather than his stint at guard this preseason, but at this point in the 29 year old’s career, he is what he is. Whitehair looked a little sloppy in the handful of snaps he had at center in the 1st preseason game, but I still think he deserves to be on the field week one.
Even if that means he’s playing center.
Long had 2 plus years to work on his guard technique before being told he’d have to learn tackle. Muscle memory was set in and he was the anchor of that line.
Whitehair, a college left tackle, has spent this offseason mostly learning left guard, although he was stealing a few reps here and there at center. I’m sure his comfort level at guard was coming along, but his job/technique wasn’t second nature to him yet. Sliding to the middle at this point will be difficult, but not impossible.
Larsen may even be a better center right now at this very second, but I don’t care. Play the rookie immediately. Get his growing pains out of the way as soon as possible. If he struggles this week at practice with shotgun snaps, then keep Jay Cutler under center.
The flip side to this argument is let Larsen start on the road in the season opener, not only because of his comfort level and the possible discomfort level of Whitehair, but because the Bears could use the savvy veteran Larsen helping new left guard Sitton, who probably won’t be up to speed on his new playbook.
We’re not talking about a drastic scheme change for Sitton, who knows how to zone block the running game. The pass protection schemes could be problematic for him, but left tackle Charles Leno Jr. could nudge him in the right direction when the Bears take to the air.
Larsen is currently listed as the starting center on Chicago's depth chart, with Whitehair as the #2. I also find it interesting that Larsen is listed as a back up guard while Whitehair only backs up center. It could mean nothing, or it could mean that the coaching staff wants Whitehair to focus his studies solely on center so he may take the job as soon as possible.
I see both sides to this dilemma, but if the Bears truly feel Whitehair has the skills to be their center, then play him.
Play him now.