In our series previewing the Chicago Bears’ position units, we take a look at the much-maligned offensive line.
The Chicago Bears‘ offensive line took a big hit last season. Injuries wiped out the right side of the line, some starters struggled, and a failed switch contributed to an ineffective unit that caused the entire offense to struggle.
This was much different than what happened in 2018 when the line produced two Pro Bowl linemen. In 2019, it seemed that everything fell apart. Since the line couldn’t do its job, the difficulty caused the rushing attack to rank 29th in average yards per carry (3.7 yards per attempt). That, in turn, contributed to quarterback Mitchell Trubisky‘s struggles.
Kyle Long, the right guard, again got injured. It was the fourth straight season that the Bears placed him on injured reserve. The fourth time was the last time. This offseason Long retired. If you listen to him, however, he says the coaches forced him out. Hitting injured reserve four consecutive seasons kind of forces the coaching staff’s hands, though.
Left tackle Charles Leno Jr. really struggled with penalties in 2019. After playing the entire 2018 season without committing any penalties, he committed 12 of them in 2019. His play when he didn’t commit a penalty wasn’t bad, but with all the penalties wiping out many drives, the fans had a sour taste in their mouths concerning him.
Right tackle Bobbie Massie was having a fairly good season before he went down. Without him and Long on the right side, the running backs had a difficult time running to that side.
The Bears switched center Cody Whitehair and left guard James Daniels. That move was a disaster. Daniels was a second-year player and had to learn how to call the blocking schemes along the line. He and Trubisky didn’t have much rapport and that didn’t improve as the season progressed. Trubisky and Whitehair worked together for two seasons so they felt more comfortable with each other. Additionally, Whitehair had a lot of experience so he didn’t have to depend on Trubisky for blocking scheme help. At mid-season, the coaches switched them back to their original positions, and the blocking improved.
Now, with Long’s retirement, Whitehair is the face of the Chicago Bears’ offensive line. He replaces Long as the leader.
As mentioned earlier, Long retired. There are no other changes to the starting line. The Bears brought in tackle Jason Spriggs and guard/tackle Germain Ifedi. Ifedi, Rashaad Coward, and Alex Bars will battle each other for the right guard spot.
Coward started in place of Long last season. He, however, is a converted defensive lineman and didn’t have much experience on offense. He struggled mightily, of course. He now enters this season with a better understanding of how to play the position.
Bars was a talented prospect in his senior season at Notre Dame before he tore his ACL/MCL in his senior season. He went from being a second-round prospect to going undrafted. The Bears signed him and he spent most of the season on the practice squad before playing late in the season. He is fully healthy now and ready to compete.
Ifedi is likely the favorite to win the battle. He was the Seattle Seahawks’ first-round draft choice (31st overall) in 2016. He started his rookie season at guard and did a good job. In 2017, the Seahawks moved him over to tackle and his play suffered. At 6-foot-5, 325 pounds, he is a big strong guy, but he wasn’t athletic enough to handle athletic, quick pass rushers. He grabbed too much and ultimately the Seahawks let him walk via free agency.
Hopefully, moving back to guard revives Ifedi’s career. He can move bodies around and open holes for the running game. Also, without having to worry about the edge, he could stop pass rushers cold in their track.
The tackles need to have a good season in 2020
This will be an important season for the tackles. With the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2021 salary cap could be as low as $175 million. The Bears are around $186.5 million in contracts. That means the team has to make hard decisions. If the Bears cut Leno, they receive $9 million in salary cap relief. For Massie, it is $8 million. That’s a big chunk of relief.
The Bears’ signing of Spriggs is big. He could step in and replace either of the tackles. He was the Green Bay Packers’ second-round draft pick (48th overall) in 2016, but there were rumors that they only picked him just to keep him away from the Bears. Bears general manager was reportedly set to draft Spriggs but the Packers picked him instead. The Bears then traded down and drafted Whitehair. Now the Bears have both of them.
Injuries derailed Spriggs’ career in Green Bay, but it also seems that they were happier having him on the bench instead of playing for the Chicago Bears. As noted by Ghost Insights, even when healthy, he never played more than 27 percent of the offensive snaps. He’ll start as a swing tackle with the Bears but could end up being a starter in 2021.
This line looks to be stronger than it performed in 2019. If struggling players play up to their abilities and if the players could stay healthy, there could be a drastic improvement in 2020.