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Saturday Spotlight: Sam Mustipher

Throughout the 2021 NFL season, we’ll spotlight a Bears player in a weekly column. This week, we’ll take an in-depth look at center Sam Mustipher.

Chicago Bears v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images

Name: Sam Mustipher

Position: Center

Number: 67

Age: 25

Time with Bears: 3rd Season

The Past:

“You come in to the gym and you got to understand the you got to match a certain intensity. It doesn’t matter how you feel, if you’re sore, if you’re tired. You got to match that intensity every day.”

Sam Mustipher has been working at it every day.

Ranked as a 4-star prospect out of high school as one of the best players coming out of Maryland, Mustipher turned down offers from SEC and Big 10 schools to play for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish for head coach Brian Kelly. Mustipher redshirted his freshman year in 2014, as then-team captain and current-NFL offensive lineman Nick Martin was the starting center. He was among other future NFL linemen to play for the Irish scout team.

Then in 2015, Mustipher found some game action at the college level. As a reserve offensive lineman, Mustipher played in games against some of the biggest programs in college football, as Notre Dame is known to schedule every year. He saw the field against Texas, Georgia Tech, Pittsburgh, and Boston College, among others, and the Fighting Irish went 10-3.

Zach Martin graduated and went to the NFL in after that season, so Mustipher found a starting role as Notre Dame’s center in 2016. Despite the team struggling to a 4-12 record, the offensive was explosive that year. Quarterback DeShone Kizer and running back Josh Adams led a team which averaged 417.6 total yards per game, and Mustipher was a member of an offensive line which featured multiple future NFL players. His season wasn’t without issues though, as a rough offensive line performance against North Carolina State led head coach Brian Kelly to describe the snapping as “atrocious.”

The Fighting Irish returned four starters in 2017, and Mustipher was among them. At this point a leader on the line and a pre-season Rimington Award Watch List member, he did not surrender a single sack or quarterback hit the entire year. The experienced offensive line helped Notre Dame to the 7th-ranked rushing offense (269.3 rush yards/game) in FBS, and they ripped off 515 rushing yards as a team against Boston College, with Adams totalling 229 himself. As a team, they eclipsed 300 rushing yards in seven games, which was as many times as they had reached over the past 17 years combined.

The Irish returned to form that year, going 10-3.

Then Mustipher came back for his RS-Senior season, as a captain and pre-season Rimington Award and Outland Trophy watch list. He started 12 games at center, and Notre Dame made a run at the college football championship, falling in the Cotton Bowl to Clemson. After that season, Mustipher entered the NFL draft hoping to follow in the footsteps of so many other Notre Dame offensive lineman in recent years.

Mustipher went undrafted, but the Chicago Bears called and he came to the windy city looking for a chance to earn a spot. Joining former Notre Dame teammate Alex Bars and coach Harry Heistand, Mustipher made it through camp and preseason, but was waived before the final roster. He signed with the practice squad and the Bears had a future center on their hands.

At the time, the Bears were dancing between Cody Whitehair and James Daniels at center, depending on health. They knew Whitehair’s best position was at left guard, and drafted Daniels with the idea of finding a long-term solution at center. Injuries derailed that plan, and after Daniels went down for the 2020 season, they found themselves themselves calling Mustipher up to play center.

Mustipher balled out. No selling it short. He earned his spot the same as he’d done at Notre Dame and on the Bears practice squad. The Bears have a starting center.

The Present:

While he hasn’t had a perfect so far this year, with two offensive holding calls, Mustipher has been a quiet consistent performer so far for the Bears, and with a rookie at quarterback that’s exactly what you need out of a center. He had a couple snaps get caught up in the turf, but his shotgun snaps have been on point, and Mustipher has been a solid part of an offensive line which has helped the Bears to rush for 137 rushing yards per game, good for 6th in the NFL.

Even with Daniels healthy, he’s been moved to right guard, with Mustipher retaining his starting center role for the Bears. He isn’t flashy enough yet to be a Pro Bowl candidate for the Bears, but he also isn’t a reason the Bears are struggling, like the offensive tackles have been so far.

The future:

Mustipher is currently on his second season of his two-year contract, meaning he’s scheduled to be an exclusive rights free agent after this season. His familiarity with the Bears’ system will be the biggest draw when it comes time to sign him to a new contract, and the Bears will likely do that until they draft his eventual replacement, and part with him on cut day the following preseason.

Against the Steelers, the Bears offensive line is going to struggle. It’s no secret what the Steelers are sending at Justin Fields, and if the Browns game is any example, then they really can’t keep up against elite pass rushes. The Steelers bring their best talent off the edge, however, so Mustipher shouldn’t be on the wrong side of sacks and penalties unless they match 4 time Pro Bowler Cameron Heyward up over him. My guess is he’ll be a quiet member of an offensive line we won’t be very happy with on Tuesday morning.

Week 7 prediction:

No stats recorded.