The strength of the Chicago Bears offensive line is in the middle where – if healthy – the team boasts two Pro Bowl guards (Josh Sitton, Kyle Long) and a center (Cody Whitehair) worthy of consideration after a stellar rookie season.
Indeed, for the second straight week, Whitehair’s performance at left guard didn’t go unnoticed by Pro Football Focus. In fact, with a 90.6 grade, the best among all offensive lineman, PFF included Whitehair on the site’s Preseason Week 3 Team of the Week.
“Whitehair surrendered one QB hurry, but otherwise was excellent in pass protection. However, it was his 94.7 run-blocking grade that allowed him to post the top overall grade among guards this week.”
PFF graded Whitehair as the NFL’s sixth ranked center last season, boasting strong grades as a pass blocker (86.5, 4th among centers) and in the running game (83.2, 6th) in what turned out to be the best year for a Bears offensive lineman since 2013. Pro Football Weekly saw Whitehair as a potential breakout candidate who could help lead to strong performances from some of his teammates who play skill positions.
We explored the idea of Whitehair moving to tackle early in the offseason, but also left the door open for the possibility of a healthy Hroniss Grasu returning to center. However, we didn’t expect Long’s injury to linger this deep into the preseason. Long’s injury has had a direct impact on the shape of the offensive line. His absence has led to Grasu’s insertion into the starting lineup at a position where he started eight games two years ago. But if Whitehair can be as good at guard as he was at center, the line won’t miss a beat while Long is sidelined.
Head coach John Fox seemed optimistic about Long’s return, saying he’s “on target” to play in the team’s regular season opener against the Atlanta Falcons. Things weren’t all that bright a week ago, as Fox seemed unsure about Long’s status for the opener. All things considered, we’ll take the most recent update as a sign of progress until further notice. But if Long isn’t ready, at least the Bears have options able to hold down his spot until he receives a clean bill of health and is ready to return.