Because of Kyle Long’s ankle injury and subsequent absence from the lineup, the Bears have been playing musical chairs along the interior of the offensive line. And in the event of a worst-case scenario (i.e. Long isn’t ready to go for the season opener) the unit will need to flex some versatility to make it through what could be some very rough times.
Luckily, they may already have a contingency plan.
With Long sidelined for a second consecutive preseason game, the Bears lined up Cody Whitehair at left guard, Hroniss Grasu at center, and Josh Sitton at right guard as starters against the Arizona Cardinals … and it worked.
“The strength of the Bears offensive line has been built in the past seasons at guard and center, as expected Josh Sitton has looked his usual excellent self, but what bodes well for the Bears is that second-year player Cody Whitehair, who excelled at center last season, looks perfectly suited to playing guard. Neither player gave up a single pressure and both were highly effective in the outside zone running game.”
It was Grasu’s first start at the position in more than a year, because if you’ll recall, the third-year center from Oregon tore his ACL at Family Fest last year. And while Grasu re-acclimated himself to a familiar position on Saturday, Whitehair and Sitton were standout performers at their respective spots, according to Pro Football Focus’ post-game grades.
Sitton’s 81.4 grade was the fifth-highest for a Bears player on Saturday, and Whitehair’s 80.4 wasn’t too far behind.
Whitehair’s performance is a positive sign for a unit in search of versatility and productivity from its healthy bodies. The group is already a man short after losing jack-of-some-trades Eric Kush to a season-ending hamstring injury.
The only player who might need or appreciate the stability that could come with flexibility along the offensive line more than Pro Bowl running back Jordan Howard might be quarterback Mike Glennon, who posted a woeful 40.9 grade against the Cardinals’ first-string defense. Even still, Glennon struggled, despite neither of the Bears’ guards allowing any pressure.
Whitehair was drafted in the second round out of Kansas State as a guard in 2016, played and practice there last summer, but moved to center after Grasu’s injury and the signing of free agent guard Josh Sitton. Whitehair put together a top-notch season as the Bears’ center in 2016, but could be asked to move back to guard in Long’s absence. Grasu has spent some time at guard during OTAs, mini-camps, and even training camp, but Whitehair is clearly a more talented and experienced player at that position.
If the season starts and Whitehair-Grasu-Sitton has to be the interior trio anchoring the line, so be it. It’s just one game, but that guard tandem proved the line can hold steady while Long recovers. It’s the rest of the offense we might be concerned about.