For Mike Glennon, Jordan Howard, Cameron Meredith, and the rest of the Chicago Bears offense to succeed in 2017, the offensive line will need to be winners in the trenches.
It all starts up front for the Bears, and you could make a compelling case that Cody Whitehair is the trigger man. Over at Pro Football Weekly, Whitehair makes a list of players in the NFC who are scheduled to break out on the offensive side of the ball. Here is what PFW had to say about the potential breakout:
“Moved to center permanently prior to Week 1, Whitehair flourished at the position as a rookie. Drafted as a guard, Whitehair showed the Bears he has the physical and mental abilities to handle the pivot and should improve even more this season with a full winter and spring to work at center.”
If you’ll recall, Whitehair was a second-round pick in 2016 out of Kansas State, where he played tackle and guard. Whitehair looked to be in the mix as a starting guard, but he slid into a new role as the team’s center after an injury to starter Hroniss Grasu and the free agent signing of guard Josh Sitton led to a rearranged offensive line. From there, Whitehair was the Bears’ Week 1 starter at center and didn’t look back, which says a lot considering it wasn’t a position he played at college.
Whitehair starred on the offensive line, putting together the best season by a Bears offensive lineman since at least 2003. His 87.1 pass blocking grade ranked third among centers, according to Pro Football Focus. And Whitehair was a standout run blocker, too, earning a an 82.2 grade in that area. Overall, Whitehair’s 87.6 grade ranked sixth among centers, 10th among interior linemen, and 22nd among all linemen at PFF. He is only one season into his NFL career, but Whitehair already finds himself in good company with his rookie season in the books.
With questions at both tackle spots, Whitehair anchoring the middle of the offensive line becomes that much more important for an offense looking to rebound from a poor 2016. Howard showed he could be be productive running behind the interior of that offensive line, putting together a Pro Bowl season that has sparked conversations of him being one of the league’s best players and dreams of being the NFL’s leading rusher. Meanwhile, Glennon showed that he could be a competent quarterback when given time by quality pass blockers.
If Howard can build on his 2016 and Glennon can prove to be a reliable quarterback, it would open up a world of options for Dowell Loggains and the Bears’ entire offense. A strong running game can aid a passing offense that is littered with unproven young players and veterans looking to make the most of a second chance on short-term “prove it” deals. A steady passing game could prove to open up running lanes for Howard, which is something that teams will look to shut down early in an attempt to force Glennon to beat them down the field.
For everything to work in the Bears’ favor, balance will need to be in order with the rush and pass attacks – neither of which will make positive strides if Whitehair and the offensive line don’t get it started up front.