Like many sports fans, I love a good underdog story, so rooting for a former undrafted free agent that was cut twice before finally earning a spot on the Chicago Bears active roster is a story I can get behind.
Sam Mustipher was a highly recruited player coming out of high school that started 37 games at Notre Dame, and while his tape showed a technically sound player, there were some physical limitations that prevented him from getting drafted in 2018.
As the son of a football coach, Mustipher plays the game with a high football IQ and he has a gym-rat mentality, so it makes sense that he’d keep working on his craft until making himself a viable option for Chicago.
Him locking down the center spot for the Bears is critical for the continuity of the offensive line, and that’s why he’s number nine on my Ten Most Important Bears of 2021 list.
While this is the first offseason of his professional career that he’s penciled in as a starter, his approach hasn’t changed. “I’ve always had the mindset that I was going to go into an offseason preparing to play football,” Mustipher said last month via the team’s website. “Whether that be on the practice squad, whether that be on the active roster, whether that be as a starting center, each offseason I prepare with that same exact mindset that I’ve got to be ready to play.”
His hardhat, lunch pail mentality has endeared himself to Bears fans, but his work ethic and dedication has earned the respect of his teammates and coaches.
From a December article by Kevin Fishbain of The Athletic;
“One of the greatest compliments I can give Sam is that when his name is brought up in front of the group — how do I put it? — the reaction of the team, offensive and defensive players, the cheer that came up almost took me back,” offensive coordinator Bill Lazor said. “What it did was it showed you, I can’t remember what (Nagy) mentioned him for, something in front of the team, but the reaction of the team showed me what the team thinks of him.”
If Mustipher can thrive at center in 2021, that allows the Bears to keep Cody Whitehair and James Daniels at left and right guard respectively. Whitehair played some damn good football last year when he moved over to left guard, and Daniels was playing the best football of his young life before he tore his pec a year ago.
While Mustipher started seven last season and was a huge part of the line’s resurgence down the stretch, some of those same physical limitations that kept him from being drafted showed up.
“This offseason was all about gaining strength,” Mustipher said last month. “I put on 10 pounds of lean mass, so it was a great offseason. Now June and July is going to be just trimming the fat down and trying to maintain the muscle I put on to withstand a 17-game season and hopefully longer than that.”
Gaining some strength will help Mustipher anchor better against bull-rushing defensive tackles, and it’ll help him get some movement at the point of attack in the running game. His technique in the zone blocking scheme has always been sound, with his ability to work off double teams up to the second level standing out on tape, but some more power and mass could set the 24-year old up to be the Bears starting center for years.