When the Chicago Bears drafted James Daniels out of Iowa, many scouts assumed he would be an immediate plug and play starter at his natural center position, allowing the Bears to shift Cody Whitehair to left guard. But the Bears wanted the 20-year old to learn the ropes backing up at left guard at first, and that’s where he spent the majority of his off-season. This last week with the injury to back up center Hroniss Grasu, Daniels’ time at center increased, and that’s the position he lined up at in his preseason debut.
Daniels came in to play center with the No. 2’s last night in Chicago’s 30-27 loss to the Bengals, and his play earned him my game ball.
I think it’s a matter of time before the Bears starting five on the offensive line reads left to right, Charles Leno, Whitehair, Daniels, Kyle Long, and Bobby Massie. This isn’t because I think Whitehair is a bad center. I just think Daniels has the potential to be better at that position. I still feel Whitehair has Pro Bowl potential, but he could reach his ceiling by moving over to his left.
Some of our other WCG writers feel the same as I about Daniels getting in with the starters.
“James Daniels is going to be the Bears’ starting center by no later than Week 2,” says Robert Zeglinski.
“I thought Daniels played well. He showed good enough technique and had the promised levels of athleticism,” says Josh Sunderbruch. “In my opinion, Whitehair should move over to guard and the Bears should start cultivating Daniels as their 10-year center.”
“I was very impressed by Daniels at center, not only his blocking against some good talent but also his snaps,” says Ken Mitchell. “I love that the kid has the ability to play all of the inside positions, and I find it interesting that (Bears offensive line coach) Harry Hiestand has him playing so much at center over the last week.”
“James Daniels blocked three guys on that touchdown run,” Tweeted Andrew Link. “Good lord! That’s your starting center, Bears fans.”
Here’s the play that got Andrew fired up.
Daniels is initially popped by Cincinnati’s nose tackle, 320 pound Chris Baker, a nine-year pro with 53 starts the last four years. But Daniels recovers, anchors himself, then drives Baker through the goal line and onto a pile.
The end zone angle lets us see the play develop.
Andrew was doing film study earlier today and he shared the following play with me. So I immediately asked him to send it to me so I could share it here.
The Bears were zone blocking to the left, and Daniels (at center) ended up in a combo block situation with left guard Earl Watford. Watch how the rookie moves left until he feels the defender on Watford before working up to the second level and sealing off the linebacker. Daniels’ technique is far more advanced than your typical 20-year old.
I want to see him play with and against a higher level of competition.
I tweeted this out earlier in the week.
I've said all along I don't care where the #Bears end up playing Cody Whitehair & James Daniels as long as they let them get settled asap and learn their role.— Lester A. Wiltfong Jr. (@wiltfongjr) August 7, 2018
These aren't some fringe players that need to be versatile in order to make the roster, these are cornerstone players.
But now after Daniels played well with the No. 2’s, I think it behooves the coaches to let him get some work with the No. 1’s. Next week the Bears travel to Denver for some scrimmages against the Broncos in advance of their next preseason game. I would expect them to line Daniels up at center, and if he does well, they’ll need to start the Whitehair to left guard transition.
Get these guys in their spots and leave them alone.
P.S. Go back and check out the right tackle (Rashaad Coward) on the GIFs above. I think the Bears may have found something in the converted defensive lineman.
And for a deeper Xs&Os look at the game, check out Robert’s article right here.