The Chicago Bears offensive line looked like it was on the verge of something special in 2017 and Cody Whitehair was going to be – quite literally – in the middle of it all.
However, a stellar 2016 rookie season, in which he was one of the league’s best centers, feels like a distant memory after an up-and-down 2017. Bleacher Report’s NFL1000 scouting team saw the inconsistencies in Whitehair’s sophomore season in the NFL and ranked him 29th among the 40 qualifying centers in the NFL.
Ranking among the bottom half of players at his position is not quite where anyone would’ve had Whitehair pegged at this time last year. However, the reasoning behind Whitehair’s struggles might not be too difficult to diagnose.
Here’s a snippet from BR’s scouting report:
“Whitehair didn’t look comfortable with a midseason shift to guard in the wake of those injuries, and some ugly reps (like tripping over his teammates’ feet when they engaged with a defender resulted). The highs are encouraging when he is in his element, but for him to thrive long term, he needs to play better when chaos strikes.”
Chaos. That sounds about right for Whitehair’s 2017.
Whitehair entered training camp as the team’s starting center, but moved to left guard during the preseason when Kyle Long’s injuries kept him out of action. When the regular season kicked off, Whitehair moved back to center for the team’s first two regular season games despite spending a healthy amount of time as a guard.
Just when Long was ready to return to the lineup for Week 3, Josh Sitton was unable to go because of an injury he suffered in Week 2. That kicked Whitehair out to left guard, but Sitton’s healthy return for Week 4 moved Whitehair back to center on Thursday Night Football. By the time Week 4 was over, Whitehair had played all three interior line spots in a three-game stretch that spanned 11 days.
But Whitehair was bound to find some consistency, right? Week 4 started a five-game run as the team’s starting center, which ended in Week 9 when he shifted to right guard to fill in for Long. That one-game outlier broke up a grouping of games where Whitehair played center in 10 of 11 games. It’s no coincidence Whitehair was playing his best during that set of games, which included a bounce-back game against the Lions, which sparked his re-emergence as one of the team’s most productive linemen.
Unfortunately, that all came to an end in the final two weeks of the season when Whitehair started at right guard (Week 16) and left guard (Week 17), because injuries had ultimately taken their toll.
Whitehair was something of an iron man for the Bears in 2017, starting in all 16 games and missing a total of 24 snaps. He’ll enter the 2018 season looking for consistency in his play, and probably in a position. The Bears are reportedly having internal debates regarding whether Whitehair will play guard or center moving forward. Chicago holds a team option for the third year of Josh Sitton’s contract and how they handle that situation will likely give us a better idea of what Whitehair’s future holds.