Way back when, 2006 to be exact, Danieal Manning was a second-round pick of the Chicago Bears. He was an instant success as a kick returner but having come from tiny Abilene Christian University in Texas, there were some question as to where Manning would play in the NFL. He was definitely a project coming out of a non-FBS school and having played multiple positions in college.
The prevailing school of thought was that he was a cornerback. Surely at a shade under 5’11” and 202 pounds, he was caught in-between that and safety. He had the speed at 4.46 to play corner in the NFL but he was built more like a safety. Lovie Smith clearly had this internal debate with himself as Manning switched between free safety and his pet project — the nickel back — throughout his career.
Manning never quite found a true home and this led to the coining of the term DMS or Danieal Manning Syndrome. In short, DMS is the relentless switching of positions of a player which, in many cases, negatively affects a player’s ability to learn and grow in the NFL. Enter Cody Whitehair...
The DMS’ing of Whitehair started in college where he was moved from right tackle to left guard, back to right tackle, and finally to left tackle for his last two seasons at Kansas State. Catch all that? That is 3 positions (4 switches) in 4 seasons in college, none of which being the position he played as a rookie last year (center).
Initially, I thought that we were going to see him settle in nicely once he was switched to center after the signing of Josh Sitton prior to week 1. Whitehair started all 16 games at center and many believed that he had all-pro potential at the eminent position.
Fast-forward to the 2017 off-season and you started to get an uneasy feeling about the offensive line. Kyle Long was recovering from ankle surgery and his ability to start the season was in doubt. Couple that with the positional swapping of Long and Sitton, the injury to Eric Kush, and you can sense there’s trouble-a-brewin’.
Because of these developments — and Josh Sitton’s training camp availability following the birth of his daughter — John Fox and crew were forced to shuffle their lineups quite a bit to experiment. The prevailing thought on offensive lines is that a team needs to find their lineup quickly and allow them to “jell” together in camp and the preseason.
Whitehair began the off-season as the team’s starting center. With Long and Sitton out to begin training camp — and Long’s availability to start the season in jeaopardy — we eventually saw Whitehair shift over to left guard and Hroniss Grasu come in to play center. Once Kush was lost for the season, this appeared to be their “best five” offensive lineman — which just so happens to be another prevailing thought in the NFL, play your best-five lineman and worry about the rest later.
The Bears were in a precarious position from the onset and there was some sense in what they were doing (in moving Whitehair around). But the question I have is this: are they thwarting the young player’s development by moving him around so much early in his career?
In order to do this, I wanted to make note of his snap counts at various positions this season. To this point, 91 snaps have come from center (67 of which were in the opener), 16 snaps at left guard (after Tom Compton was injured) and 26 snaps at right guard (after Sitton was injured). Does this strike anyone else as odd that Whitehair backed up 2 different positions in the same game?
Let us enter the film vault to see how he faired at each position he played versus the Buccaneers. Keep in mind that Whitehair was universally thought of as having a poor game against the Falcons week 1 while playing strictly center*.
*Cody Whitehair was given a 33.1 overall grade from Pro Football Focus
Let’s take a look at the first snap of the game, when Whitehair was still at center. The first thing you notice is that he lunges out at his man while the Bucs caught the Bears in a stunt on the running play. Not only does he lunge but he ends up on the ground and even takes out his own fullback. Granted, there were many breakdowns on this play and Whitehair’s man doesn’t make the play but this is symptomatic of his game at center. Add in the fact that he is wildly inconsistent in shotgun snaps and voila, perhaps center isn’t Whitehair’s best position after all.
Here you see Whitehair shifting over to left guard, which is probably where he has played the most snaps in camp and in preseason. He makes an incredibly difficult block here to seal his man to the inside, when the defender initially has outside leverage. This is impressive work and reminiscent of what we saw from him last season. In my opinion, his brief stretch from the 4:50 mark of the second quarter until Sitton went down late in the third, was Whitehair’s best of the game. Here is a point for continuity as I mentioned that he has likely spent more time this season at left guard than at center.
This is the real head-scratcher for me. Why on Earth was Cody Whitehair moved to right guard after Sitton left the game with a rib injury? This made no sense to me at all. Why move him yet again? But I digress. This gif is emblematic of the problems that Whitehair has been having. At both center and right guard, he appears to get overpowered and lose his balance. This was a tough assignment against a very good player in Gerald McCoy, but his inability to re-anchor, his lunging “technique” and subsequently losing his balance is troubling to me.
For me, the move to left guard was the right call in the midst of a game but the move to right guard is frankly a bit puzzling. We are seeing a player that cannot get comfortable and it is obvious that his technique is suffering because of it.
We don’t know who is going to be playing this weekend against the Steelers but based on the popular theories, it sounds like Kyle Long will be back in action. Josh Sitton on the other hand, appears to be more of a question mark. Playing head coach for a minute here, I think the solution and the best thing for the players is rather simple.
Kyle Long has yet to take a snap a left guard and his natural position is right guard. Cody Whitehair has played mainly at left guard in the off-season and preseason, while struggling at right guard in Tampa. Obviously, we are all well aware that Hroniss Grasu is strictly a center but he is a better center than Bradley Sowell is a right guard. This makes the “best five” in my opinion and is what I would do for continuity’s sake.
The Bears can avoid totally DMS’ing Whitehair by leaving him at left guard this week (and back to center once the line is at full strength) as he does seem to play well there. What John Fox and the rest of the coaching staff actually does on Sunday however, is a whole other story.
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