Even though the Chicago Bears are returning the same five starters from a year ago, their offensive line room is undergoing a makeover. Gone are Bryan Witzmann and Eric Kush, who started seven games each at guard last year, and Bradley Sowell, last years swing tackle, changed his number to 85 and is now playing tight end. Their Pro Bowl starting center and and 21-year old starting left guard are swapping positions too.
But I’m not worried at all because leading this group is the best offensive line coach in the business,
A year ago the Bears opened the season with eight offensive lineman, so there’s a good chance they do the same in 2019. Chicago’s starting five — if healthy — has the potential to be one of the best groups in the league. The underrated Bobby Massie will be at right tackle, a healthy and determined Kyle Long is at right guard, second year pro James Daniels moves over to center, Pro Bowler Cody Whitehair will settle into his new left guard position, and he’ll be next to Pro Bowl left tackle Charles Leno Jr.
Long is the key to the unit taking a step forward in 2019, which is why he appeared on my 10 Most Important Bears list this year. The three time Pro Bowler has been able to go through all offseason activities for the first time in three years. With no injuries to rehab, he’s raring to get after it and lead this group back to the playoffs.
The Daniels/Whitehair position swap is a big thing, but I fully expect it to be a seamless transition. Whitehair is such a solid professional that hasn’t missed a start in three years, and Daniels was a stud at center in college. “He’s a very intelligent football player,” Trubisky said about Daniels via the team’s website. “It comes easy to him and obviously he played it in college, so it’s been a natural switch and it’s been going really well. Cody’s been doing a great job at guard also.”
With Bradley Sowell dropping some weight and changing positions, that leaves Rashaad Coward as the only returning swing tackle candidate, and I think he has the tools to win the job. Last year was his first at o-line, and I thought he looked promising.
With Witzmann and Kush moving on, the Bears turned to a familiar face to back up on the interior by bring Ted Larsen back. He started 8 of the 16 games he played in with the Bears in 2016, but he was signed away by Miami before the 2017 season. With the Dolphins he started 21 of the 23 games he played, so he’s bringing some valuable experience to the position. He can also play both guard spots and center.
If these 7 are locks, then the battle for the last spot will be fierce.
A good bet to make it
Undrafted free agent Alex Bars (6’6”, 312) chose Chicago so he could be reunited with his college o-line coach, Harry Hiestand, who caoched him when the two were at Notre Dame. His recent collegiate experience was at guard, but he also played right tackle for the Irish in 2016. If he can show some position versatility that could give him the edge for the eighth spot. However, he is coming off an injury in college, so he may get the sneaky red-shirt treatment if any injury pops up.
On the bubble
Veterans Cornelius Lucas (6’9”, 328) and T.J. Clemmings (6’5”, 309), who is currently on the PUP list, could both push for the swing tackle spot on the 53-man roster, but that’s only if Coward hasn’t developed like I believe he has. All things being equal, I think you go with the youth and upside over experience.
Jordan McCray, a 29-year old guard, will try to get his career on track now with his fourth NFL team after playing in the AAF.
The Bears have four other UDFAs in camp that will try to impress which are Blake Blackmar (6’5”, 326) from Baylor, Joe Lowery (6‘7”, 310) from Ohio, Sam Mustipher (6’3”, 306) from Notre Dame, and Marquez Tucker (6’4”, 291) from Southern Utah.
The Bears will try to get a couple of these players back on their practice squad.