Ryan Poles has made a lot of changes from the 2022 Chicago Bears roster. As of right now, it looks like there will be approximately ten new starters across the offense and defense.
Two positions Poles has yet to make any significant changes are at edge and center. Poles has recognized that edge is a work in progress and openly admitted he’s still trying to add someone into the mix there. But center he has said he’s pleased with the options they have internally.
Being OTAs are upon us, and the Bears aren’t going to make changes at center, let’s take a look at the options they have.
Whitehair seems to be in the driver’s seat to be the starting center this season and why not? Whitehair has multiple seasons under his belt at center and has only been steadily back at guard the last couple of seasons. But Whitehair must be considered a question mark. He has had a very successful career with the Bears, but he’s now on the wrong side of 30, his performance has definitely been declining the last couple of seasons, and now he’s coming off a season where he missed five games and his body may be starting to struggle with holding up for a full 17 games under the rigors of an NFL schedule.
This should certainly be Whitehair’s job to lose. To me, Whitehair has two potential places this season, starting at center or on the waiver wire. If Whitehair fails to win the job, I have a hard time believing the Bears will keep him on the roster as a backup. Yes, he has the versatility to backup at three different positions, but so does Lucas Patrick, and Patrick costs a lot less. Whitehair will most likely be the starting center, but if he doesn’t take the job in August, he may lose his roster spot altogether.
Patrick is an interesting case this year. I think many Bears fans had a lot of hope that he could be an affordable piece but a significant upgrade to the Bears' offensive line in 2022. Unfortunately, that didn’t work out. Patrick was injured in August, and that opened the door for Sam Mustipher to go back to center. When Patrick returned, they needed help at guard so he played there, and he struggled mightily. When they were healthy enough for him to move back to center, he played a handful of snaps in one game before an injury forced him back out to guard once again.
It’s clear Patrick shouldn’t play guard for the Bears, and he won’t have to with Nate Davis and Teven Jenkins holding down the starting spots, but there simply isn’t enough tape to see how Patrick can handle the center position. We know Luke Getsy is a fan of Patrick’s so he will certainly have a chance to show what he can do at center coming up in training camp. I think it’s a guarantee that either Whitehair or Patrick make this roster. The Bears need a veteran at the position they can rely on. But it does have to be questioned if there’s a need for both of them to be on the final 53-man roster.
Kramer was one of the day 3 offensive linemen that Poles picked in the 2022 draft. A local kid that attended Illinois, Kramer’s a fan favorite and a player many fans hope can make an impact in 2023. Kramer was placed on IR last year on August 16th and missed the entire season.
Kramer feels like a lock to be on the practice squad, but can he make it to the 53-man roster out of camp? That’s going to be a tall order. Most teams don’t carry a straight backup center, they want their backup to be versatile and be able to play at guard as well. That’s something we don’t know if Kramer can handle but someone like Patrick can. There’s a collection of potential centers behind Whitehair and Patrick, and Kramer has the chance to be the one to emerge from the group, but he’s going to have to show he has the strength and balance to stay on his feet and drive defenders off the ball at the NFL level.
Eiselen is a player who appears to continue to improve each season he’s in Chicago. Eiselen is entering his fourth season in Chicago, and if you don’t know his story, it’s a fascinating one. He was born in South Africa, came over to America in high school, and found his way to Yale where he became an all-conference lineman. Largely a practice squad player, Eiselen was elevated for 1 game in 2020, 2 games in 2021, and 11 games in 2022.
Last season, Eiselen found time at center and at guard opening up the door for him to potentially make the active roster in week one as one of the team’s backup interior offensive linemen with the ability to backup multiple positions. Could Eiselen make the jump to starting center? Probably not. But he could absolutely jump Kramer and one of the veterans and find himself as the top interior backup this season in Chicago.
Lugg spent the last six years at Notre Dame (yes, six). He’s started the last two seasons and was a spot starter for the two seasons before that. Lugg largely played guard with the Irish but has seen action at center, and if he has a chance to make the roster, it almost certainly would be as a center. Lugg was not signed as a UDFA straight after the draft. The Bears added him to the roster after their rookie minicamp.
Lugg has an uphill battle in front of him. With two veterans and three other intriguing options, Lugg’s best case scenario will be to find his way to the practice squad this season and see if he develops beyond that. But with a crowded room at center, there’s a good chance that Lugg doesn’t stick on this roster, active or practice, at all.
I saved the most intriguing name for me for last. Carter was selected in the 7th round by Ryan Poles last season and settled in mostly at right guard during training camp and the preseason. What makes Carter intriguing is that of all the day-three offensive linemen that Poles went after last season, other than Braxton Jones, Carter was the only one that spent time on the 53-man roster. Carter only played in three games and only saw 35 snaps on offense and special teams, but the reason that’s interesting is that the Bears kept him on the roster because they didn’t want someone to poach him off the practice squad. Clearly, they like him.
Carter played both guard and center at the Senior Bowl last year, and he does profile well as a center. It will be very interesting to see how the Bears utilize Carter at OTAs and into training camp. If Carter starts seeing reps at center, the Bears may absolutely see if he could be a dark horse to win the starting job or at least, get him comfortable at both guard and center where he could be a more prominent backup interior lineman this season in Chicago.