Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Bears Position Preview: Offensive Line

The Bears return all five starters on their offensive line in 2019.
JULY 16, 2019 - 11:10 AM

(670 The Score) Continuity can be hard to come by in the NFL, and it's something to be coveted. So the Bears aren't taking for granted returning the same five starting offensive linemen in 2019.

With the exception of a position switch for Cody Whitehair (now at left guard) and James Daniels (the new center), the Bears are entering the new season with the same protection for quarterback Mitchell Trubisky and an established group of blockers for a revamped backfield.

But that's only part of the story for the Bears' offensive line it enters the 2019 campaign.

Projected depth chart

Left tackle -- Charles Leno Jr., 27

A seventh-round pick of the Bears in 2014, Leno has started 61 consecutive games on the team's offensive line. He remains under contract through the 2021 season.

Left guard -- Cody Whitehair, 27

The Bears have valued Whitehair's versatility since making him a second-round pick in 2016. Now, he has a new home at left guard -- and one that certainly should be more lucrative entering a contract season.

Center -- James Daniels, 21

The Bears viewed Daniels as a center since drafting him in the second round in 2018. But they didn't want to force the issue during his rookie season, so Whitehair remained as center and Daniels eventually became the starter at left guard. Now that there's more comfort, Daniels and Whitehair are swapping spots.

Right guard -- Kyle Long, 30

One of the key leaders for the Bears since his arrival in 2013, Long remains an important piece for the offensive line as he now enters his seventh NFL season. For the first time since 2016, Long is heading into training camp at full health.

Right tackle -- Bobby Massie, 29

The Bears ensured they would be retaining the same five starters on their offensive line by re-signing Massie to a four-year deal in January, ensuring he wouldn't hit the open market. Massie has started 46 games since arriving in 2016.

Depth: Ted Larsen, 32; Rashaad Coward, 24; T.J. Clemmings, 27; Alex Bars, 23; Blake 
Blackmar, 23; Joe Lowery, 23; Cornelius Lucas, 27; Jordan McCray, 27; Sam Mustipher, 22; Marquez Tucker, 22

Position coach: Harry Hiestand

Considered one of the most respected assistants in the game, Hiestand is beloved by his linemen and heralded for his work in revealing his players' best.

How they got here

The Bears entered the 2018 season with one primary question: How soon could Daniels show his readiness? That opportunity would come in October, and he never looked back.
Daniels displayed his development in starting 10 regular-season games for the Bears at left guard, with coaches like Hiestand speaking on behalf of his growth. His ascension to a starting role came in the same game that Long suffered an injury that forced him to miss eight games.

Meanwhile, Leno, Whitehair and Massie served as anchors for the offensive line by starting the entire season.

This offseason, the Bears lost veteran interior reserve Eric Kush but replaced him with Ted Larsen, who started eight games for Chicago during the 2016 season. Coward and 

Clemmings will provide depth at tackle. Meanwhile, the Bears have some intriguing rookies vying for spots, led by the Notre Dame standout Bars.

The leadership of Hiestand will help the Bears define roles behind their starting group.

Key storyline: What's next for Whitehair?

Under the regime of general manager Ryan Pace, the Bears have operated by offering contract extensions to eligible and deserving players days ahead of the regular season. This year, the player who fits that profile best is Whitehair.

Whitehair has been what the Bears had hoped in drafting him in the second round in 2016. Now, they feel his fit is best suited at left guard instead of center, and that position switch stands to bring him even more money on his next contract, given how guards are valued more highly than centers.

The Bears have been carefully maintaining their cap room for the coming years with the hopes of locking in homegrown talents like Whitehair. The team has spoken of how important continuity is on the offensive line. Losing a key starter on the open market would be problematic.

Whitehair said in June that he has stayed out of the contract dealings, instead deferring to his agency and the Bears' front office. But he's aware of the looming possibility that awaits. Considering the Bears have their other four offensive linemen locked in for multiple years, an extension seems even more likely for Whitehair.

Massie is secured through 2022, Leno and Daniels are signed through 2021 and Long is locked in through 2020. 

What happens next with Whitehair will be an important detail for the Bears, perhaps before the regular season kicks off.

Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670.

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