The best thing for the Chicago Bears interior would be for third year pro, and former UDFA Sam Mustipher, to build off his solid 2020 by coming into camp and putting a strangle hold on the center spot. Another offseason concentrating on football could do just that. If he does then the interior of the offensive line would just fall into place and be a strength of the team. They’ll still need to boost up the depth, but there’s some promise at the position.
I touched on the two players I hope end up starting at guard for the Bears in yesterday’s article when I spotlighted the centers, but I’ll still mention them here as well.
Here’s how the guard position is set right now for the Bears.
Cody Whitehair - Signed through 2024 - Cody played some of his best football after moving over to left guard for the Bears final six games last season. Pro Football Focus has picked Whitehair as the Bears breakout candidate for the 2021 season.
Whitehair already has an elite season under his belt at the NFL level (86.5 grade, 2016) but has since struggled to nail down consistent play between injuries and being moved between positions. He played both guard and center this past year, and there was a massive split in his performance level at those spots. Whitehair’s overall PFF grade was 60.4 at center, and his pass blocking grade was in the 20s. But when lined up at guard, his overall grade shot up to 84.7 and his pass-blocking grade was 72.2. Whitehair could have a pro-bowl caliber campaign if he starts all season at guard in 2021.
Regardless if Mustipher can win the center job or not, I think Whitehair’s days as a starting center are over. He’s a guard now and I think he’ll thrive there in 2021.
James Daniels - Signed through 2021 - Daniels was looking really good at left guard before he tore his pec week five. He should be able to come back from the injury at some point and solidify one of the spots on the interior.
If Mustipher can’t take control of the center spot I think it’ll be Daniels that ends up at center.
Germain Ifedi - Free agent - Ifedi played decent at right guard and was okay as a fill in when he kicked out to right tackle. I think he definitely earned another contract with the Bears, but I would also rather see him come back as a RG/RT swing player and not as a starter. If another team is going to pay him starter money he’s gone, but if not I could see him returning.
Alex Bars - Exclusive rights free agent - Bars showed tremendous versatility last year for the Bears, and his ability to play center, guard, and tackle will get him signed for another year. EDIT: The Bears are bringing Bars back for another season.
Like Mustipher, a good offseason of work from Bars could put him in the mix to start in 2021, but the Bears can’t count on that happening. His best path as a starter could come at right tackle depending on what the Bears do with their o-line depth this offseason.
Arlington Hambright - Signed through 2023 - Hambright started one game in 2020 for the Bears and I though the was strong in the running game, but his pass protection needs to be tightened up. He has the athleticism to compete for a roster spot next season.
Dieter Eiselen - Signed through 2021 - I loved Eiselen’s Yale tape from 2019, but going from the Ivy League to the NFL as an undrafted free agent is a big leap for anyone, let alone a guy who grew up playing rugby and not football. His one year of high school football led him to Yale though, and he started 34 games for the Bulldogs. If he can hone his technique he could surprise in 2022.
Rashaad Coward - Restricted free agent - Coward started five games in 2020, and I had him down for allowing 4 sacks in my Sackwatch, which was more that any other player. He wasn’t good at either guard or tackle, and I think it’s time the Bears move on from him. EDIT: It was reported that the Bears would not be re-signing him as a RFA.
2021 OUTLOOK - The Bears have a bigger need at tackle, so if they do draft o-line early, I expect it to be there. But I did talk about guard/center prospect Quinn Meinerz from Wisconsin-Whitewater yesterday. He’s a mid round guy that makes a lot of sense for Chicago, and taking a mid round prospect on the interior would be a great idea this year. Several of the tackles in the draft project to guard, so one of those might be in play too.
If the Bears do go free agency at guard it won’t be a big money guy. They’ll look for a guy like Ifedi, still relatively young that could use a change of scenery, or a veteran that may get forced into a pay cut due to the 2021 cap going down.
The best case scenario for this team would be for the youngsters (Mustipher, Bars, Hambright, and Eiselen) to develop under the tutelage of o-line coach Juan Castillo.