Save for a handful of magical plays from Tarik Cohen, the best rushes by Chicago Bears running backs started with a strong push from the offensive line.
With that in mind, let’s re-live some of those highlights:
Last year’s offensive line projected to be a top-5 unit thanks to the strength of the interior trio of Josh Sitton, Cody Whitehair, and Kyle Long. That group didn’t play to the lofty expectations set, mostly because injuries threw everything for a loop. Long was limited to nine games. Whitehair played at all three spots along the interior of the line. Same with Sitton, who played some snaps at center in 2017. We knew it when it was happening, but we really didn’t get a full scope of how damaging the injuries were until we were fully removed from what was a not-so-fun regular season.
Alright, so Sitton is the only one who isn’t back. And that could prove to be a bitter pill to swallow at some point if Chicago’s offense doesn’t take the kinds of strides we expect. But at least Sitton’s replacement provides some upside you can dream on.
I want to be cautious when it comes to setting the bar for Bears rookies, mostly because I don’t want set unfair expectations. But I’m not going to ignore that Josh Daniels was a STUD run-blocker for the Iowa Hawkeyes last season:
Iowa's James Daniels dominated as a run blocker in 2017 pic.twitter.com/iEfNHI7ZdF
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) April 24, 2018
Daniels has some mighty big shoes to fill as he goes to replace Sitton, who was Pro Football Focus’ fifth-highest-graded run blocker. Teaming Sitton with Charles Leno Jr., who owned PFF’s 14th best run blocking grade among offensive tackles, gave the Bears a great left side of the offensive line. At least, when Sitton was healthy and playing the position.
Leno says he is prepared to jump into a leadership role in 2017. So if Daniels can apply anything he learns from Leno, then perhaps that left side of the line can remain a strength – even without Sitton. Giggity.
We often talk about the left side of the line as a point of emphasis because we want to know that Mitch Trubisky’s blindside is being protected. But let the record show the strength of the Bears’ offense in 2017 was running to Leno’s side. Jordan Howard averaged 4.7 yards per carry on the left side and scored six of his nine touchdowns while running left. Knowing what we know about Leno and Sitton, that number makes sense.
Not to be left out, Whitehair was a superb run-blocker. In fact, he earned the fifth-highest run-blocking grade among centers. See what happens when you stick to your natural position?
As it stands, we’re looking at a trio of Leno, Daniels, and Whitehair where each player is 27 or younger, under contract for at least the next two seasons, and excels in an area where the Bears offense has been productive despite being a boring and predictable offense. The arrow is pointing up, my friends.
ESPN’s Mike Clay shared a list of the offensive line starters for each of the NFL’s 32 teams, and here is how every starting offensive line looks right now:
Current offensive line starters for all 32 NFL teams. pic.twitter.com/jxqnYoQwlw
— Mike Clay (@MikeClayNFL) May 23, 2018
So how does this make you feel? Be honest.
Okay, it’s probably way too early to feel too strongly about the state of the offensive line one way or another HOWEVER, it’s hard not to feel good about it. In fact, I think it’s pretty easy to have positive vibes and optimistic feelings about the group that is currently assembled. Just stay healthy, and good things are bound to happen.