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Bears o-line coach Harry Hiestand on Cody Whitehair’s snapping issues and when James Daniels could start

Photo by Lester A. Wiltfong Jr. of Serena Vitellaro Photography

One of the top offseason discussions surrounding the Chicago Bears was when rookie James Daniels, their second-round center from Iowa, would take over as their starting center. After the draft, the Bears talked about him playing left guard, and that was where he was playing most of OTAs, but an injury to a teammate led to Daniels getting more reps at center.

I thought he looked pretty good in his limited preseason time at his more comfortable center spot, but it wasn’t good enough to take Cody Whitehair’s job as the starting center according to head coach Matt Nagy and offensive line coach Harry Hiestand. Even though Whitehair struggled with a few bad snaps during camp, the Bears valued the experience Whitehair had.

The Bears eventually found more time for Daniels to battle for a starting job at left guard against Eric Kush, but Kush won that job for week 1.

Just before the season, it came out that the reason the 20-year old Daniels wasn’t ready to start was more mental than physical. The Bears weren’t comfortable with his grasp of the fronts he’d be seeing in the NFL, and where the blitzes would likely be coming from. Before this revelation I was squarely in the play-the-kid camp, but if he’s not quite ready to recognize what he’s seeing, then I’m fine with easing him into the lineup when he’s ready.

Chicago’s o-line coach is one of the best in the business, and Coach Hiestand recently talked about Whitehair and Daniels with Colleen Kane from the Chicago Tribune.

Offensive line coach Harry Hiestand on Cody Whitehair’s snapping inconsistencies, which included a high shotgun snap in Sunday’s game. Whitehair has switched to a “dead snap” technique in the shotgun to help his consistency:

“Anytime it’s not what it should be, it’s technique. But there are also the anxious moments. The pressure, the type of game it was, being on the road and the silent cadence, all the things he had to deal with. He’s got to get them there. That’s part of the game. We want to eliminate those obviously.”

“It’s hard. Coach (Matt Nagy) talks about being obsessed to be the best. I can’t tell you how many times he snapped between the spring and then the middle of training camp. We were really struggling, and we switched the technique. … As a staff, we were looking for answers. I forget who brought up the dead snap, with the hand on top, and we decided to give it a shot. He has done well with it.”

If the snapping issues continue, they may be forced to make a change. If Whitehair does move to left guard, it shouldn’t be looked at like a demotion. He’s one of their best o-linemen, and I think he’ll thrive at that spot.

Hiestand on what rookie guard/center James Daniels needs to do before he can start:

“He’s on a good progression. You have a big difference between college football and the NFL, and he’s learning that. He’s learning how to play in the system we have, and we’re really pleased with his progression.”

“Consistency is the main thing. Consistent blocker in both run and pass, make good decisions and be fundamentally sound.”

Whether at guard or center, I think Daniels is one of their best five offensive linemen once he has the mental side of things down. I think by mid-season, at the very latest, we’ll see him running out with the first string.