The Chicago Bears had insisted that James Daniels was going to play left guard since the moment he was drafted. And it wasn’t a far-fetched to believe that the second-round pick would take to the position quickly. After all, Daniels played guard as a true freshman while at the University of Iowa.
But a funny thing happened on Thursday night in Cincinnati that we need to discuss.
Daniels, the Bears’ second-team center, looked like the team’s best player at the position as he made his preseason debut against the Bengals and stood out for all the right reasons. Daniels held his own as a pass blocker protecting Chase Daniel and Tyler Bray, but really jumped out when you focused in on him as a run-blocker. The most impressive block from Daniels came as he cleared the way on Taquan Mizzell’s touchdown run as he steamrolled through a defender and cleared space for the rusher. That’s what Bears football is all about!
Where Daniels looked the pat of a starting caliber center, Cody Whitehair appeared to have his share of struggles (and not for reasons based on the competition). Whitehair had a high snap and was penalized for holding, which turned an already long third-down attempt into a 3rd-and-23. Poor snaps were an issue for Whitehair at times in 2017, so it was discouraging to see that problem turn its ugly head again in 2018. Between the high snap and the untimely penalty, it simply wasn’t Whitehair’s night during the first-team offense’s eight-play cameo.
So what can we take from one game where a rookie center (who was supposed to play guard) looked good, while the team’s starting center (who was drafted to play guard back in 2016 before moving to center) struggled at the position he projects to start at?
Well, Zack Pearson of 247Sports notes that Daniels has been working with the first-team offense at center, which could lead to him starting a preseason game at the position. It’s not out of the realm of possibilities that the Bears’ best offensive line could feature Whitehair at left guard and Daniels at center. And if Offensive Line Coach Harry Hiestand can live up to his billing as an offensive line guru, the position switch should go over smoothly. But here’s the kicker: Whitehair hasn’t practiced as a guard this summer, only at center.
For the Bears to successfully make this move, Whitehair will need to kick out to guard sooner, rather than later. Then again, the Bears moved Whitehair to center during Week 1 in 2016 and did something similar in moving Kyle Long from right guard to right tackle during the first week of the 2015 season.
Not only was the Bears’ offseason productive, there was a hint of creativity that was sprinkled throughout. The front office did its part in drafting Daniels and adding him to the mix, but now it is up to the coaching staff to sort through it all and get creative in its own right. Because if Daniels turns out to be the team’s best option at center moving forward, the Bears would be better off being ahead of the curve rather than waiting until Week 1 to let the dust settle.