As apart of an ongoing series, Taking Inventory aims to assess every position set on the Bears, taking a peek at the previous season and provide a sneak peek into projections for the certain group. For day five, we take a gander at the offensive line.
The less noise an offensive lineman makes, the more of a positive impact he will have. Reliability always has more value than superstardom in the trenches and the Bears silently savored a generally on-again off-again season from their lineman. Nearly breaking the top ten in Pro Football Focus’ official offensive line rankings, a couple of breakout performances almost negate the immobilizing injuries and a pitiless sophomore slump.
For one thing, after expectations skyrocketed thanks to a PFWA First Team All-Rookie nod, sophomore Cody Whitehair disappointingly allowed twelve more pressures than his highly successful rookie year. Struggling mightily in botched snaps and pass protection, his pass-block grade dropped to a painful 39.4. A constant rotating door of injuries on the line caused him to uncomfortably shuffle throughout the interior line, making his job all the more difficult in pass protection.
He did, however, crack the top five in both run-block grades (fifth with an 81.8 and in run-block success (fourth with a 17.6), indicating an improvement in the pass protection will be all standing in his way of flowering into a premier center in the NFL.
With a slew of random injuries to general stalwarts Josh Sitton, Kyle Long, and Hroniss Grasu, the Bears tinkered with thirteen different line combinations and saw nine different players take at least 100 pass-block snaps, having to mix and match position almost weekly. Long’s void easily had the largest blow and the hole he left crippled the line beyond recovery.
In the nine games Long started last season, the Bears rushed for 1,186 yards for an average of 131.7 yards per game. Carrying those numbers for an entire season would have landed the Bears in the top four in the entire league in terms of rushing average. However, in the seven games he sat out in, Chicago put up a mere 602 rushing yards on an unsteady average of 86 yards per game.
Staying healthy will obviously be of paramount importance and could theoretically solve the pass protection issues. Losing the now Miami Dolphin Sitton, the owner of the highest pass-blocking efficiency rating on the team, shouldn’t go down easy either. But after mercifully addressing his absence in the draft, the pass protection will be in the good hands of Iowa product James Daniels.
Daniels has brilliant quickness and mobility, two factors of his game that create the perfect pass-blocking guard. At Iowa, the second round pick-up allowed just 10 pressures on 371 pass-blocking snaps and will immediately fill that left guard spot. So long as poor health stays out of the equation, sophomore Mitchell Trubisky will feel very safe in the backfield.
And as much as fans love to slander him, Charles Leno Jr. had a surprising career year and modestly finished off the season smoking hot in pass protection, allowing only seven pressures in the final seven games to add to the most exceptional run-blocking campaign of his career. A career-low twenty-four pressures highlight his breakout season.
Bobby Massie remains as the only question mark on the otherwise stellar offensive line crew for the Bears. A 39th ranked 69.9 PFF grade for the sixth year veteran will slightly hold the offensive line back. Though with the rest of the superior talent lacing the line, all the Bears require from him will be adequacy.
Considering the offensive line practically finished in the top ten in the entire league despite the injury carousel and a disenchanted Whitehair season, the line will be undoubtedly advanced stat darlings and should finally bloom into one of the NFL’s finest so long as the football gods choose not to slam them with injuries again.