Internally or externally, changes could be coming to a Chicago Bears offensive line that had just one player start every game at the same position in 2017.
Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune reports the team is having an internal debate regarding Cody Whitehair’s future position. Whitehair’s rookie season – arguably the best for a Bears lineman since 2013 – set a standard that might have been too high to clear in Year 2. Instead of settling in for a second season at center, injuries elsewhere along the line forced Whitehair to play both guard spots.
Unfortunately, Whitehair’s early-season struggles were evident as he was Pro Football Focus’ lowest-graded pass-blocker in early October. But he eventually battled through the sophomore slump and bounced back late in the season when he re-discovered his groove and returned to center before Josh Sitton’s late-season injury moved him back to left guard.
Speaking of Sitton, his future in Chicago is up in the air despite two productive seasons since being poached from the Packers in 2016. Biggs discusses the decision the Bears have to make on Sitton’s team option for 2018, which must be exercised before March 9. Sitton has been a top-10 ranked guard by PFF’s grading standards in each of his two seasons with the Bears. But after missing just two starts between 2009 and 2015, Sitton has missed six games in the last two seasons. Sitton’s $8 million cap hit might be a deciding factor in where he is playing in 2018.
And then there’s the draft, where the Bears have a top-10 pick and are in a position to select the best player available at a number of positions. After Biggs asked a scout about Alabama receiver Calvin Ridley (who seems very open to the idea of catching passes for the Bears in 2018), the scout told Biggs he believed the Bears would draft a lineman.
Taking an offensive lineman with a top-10 pick is certainly one way GM Ryan Pace could opt to reshape the offensive line. Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson is believed to be the draft’s best offensive line prospect and came in at No. 2 on Daniel Jeremiah’s list of top-50 prospects. Tackles Connor Williams (Texas), Mike McGlinchey (Notre Dame), and Orlando Brown (Oklahoma) could also be on the Bears’ radar if they choose to go with a lineman in the first round.
Quarterback Jared Goff gets a ton of credit for the Rams’ revival in 2017, but the team also signed left tackle Andrew Whitworth and center John Sullivan to provide protection and veteran experience at the line. Teaming that pair with two former second-round picks (guard Rogdger Saffold, tackle Rob Havenstein) who provided league average or better production made for a great line that helped pace one of the league’s most potent offenses. So if the Bears want Trubisky to take a Goff-like step in 2018, they should start by copying the blueprint left behind by the Rams and make sure the offensive line is in order before addressing issues elsewhere.