Cody Whitehair won’t start on Sunday, which marks the Bears’ first game without him since before his debut in 2016.
A calf injury is keeping the starting center out of action for Sunday’s game against the Saints. It doesn’t take a football genius to know that losing Whitehair stinks. The Kansas State product has been excellent and durable – indeed, as Arthur Arkush points out, Whitehair’s 72 consecutive starts to begin his NFL career is nothing short of remarkable. But the show goes on for the Bears, who have an important game in front of them on Sunday.
Where there is crisis, there is opportunity. And that brings me to this:
Ahhhh, laughter. You’re the only thing that will get me through this afternoon after writing the injury report.
On a more serious note, Sam Mustipher is the next man up on the depth chart. He’ll start in place of Whitehair on Sunday, and for as long as the 2018 Pro Bowler is out. But here’s the thing … we don’t know much about Mustipher. So much like I do on draft weekend, I put together a profile for a player who is a relative unknown on the football scene.
Let’s meet the new guy!
SAM MUSTIPHER, CENTER
• Acquired: Signed as an undrafted free agent in 2019.
• College: Notre Dame
• Measurables: 6-2, 311 pounds
THIS IS GOOD TO KNOW
• High school: Mustipher was a four-star prospect, per Rivals’ rankings. At minimum, we’re looking at a player who was once deemed a premier prospect at his position at one point during his football life. That Mustipher also received offers from Alabama, Ohio State, and Clemson further confirms his prospect status was held in high regard.
• College: Mustipher started 37 consecutive games to end his Notre Dame career. His best season might have came in 2017, when Mustipher played 13 games without allowing a sack or quarterback hit. That’s impressive stuff. As is the fact that he was a finalist for the Rimington Award in 2018, which is given to college football’s best center.
• Miscellaneous: ESPN named Mustipher Notre Dame’s most underrated player before the 2018 college football season. Meanwhile, Athlon Sports placed Mustipher on its preseason All-American team.
HIGHLIGHTS AND PRO DAY WORK OUT
THREE STRENGTHS (FROM ESPN.COM’s DRAFT PROFILE)
• “Plays with an edge and leans on defenders when he’s able to get them on the ground” … Playing with edge is one of the most important things a lineman can do, so this stood out to me for obvious reasons.
• “A natural leader with excellent character” … Teaming the ability to play with fire in the belly while possessing leadership skills isn’t easy to find. I hope this is on full display while Mustipher is in the lineup, because the Bears could use some of that at the point of attack.
• “He gives ground initially but tends to reset and recover working against bull rushers” … Giving up ground initially gives me reasons for pause, but ability to recover and sustain blocks is encouraging. No lineman wins every rep, so I can acknowledge the importance of being able to bounce back.
THREE WEAKNESSES (FROM ESPN.COM’s DRAFT PROFILE)
• “He has shorter arms, and defenders have some success getting into his frame” … WELP, this explains why Mustipher went undrafted. Let’s face it. Teams, scouts, player development folks, and others throughout NFL front offices value physical attributes a ton. And with good reason. It doesn’t mean a player can’t excel, but it does make their trek tougher.
• “His hands aren’t married with his first step, and he’s late delivering initial punch” … A point of comparison since we’re talking about hands: Whitehair’s arms measured at 32-3/8 inches and his hands were 10-1/8 inches. Mustipher’s arms measured at 32-1/10 inches, while his hands were 9 inches. Take it all for what it’s worth. Additionally, I don’t love that mention of being late to delivering the initial punch one bit.
• “He gets into position and fights to sustain but has an average-at-best powerbaye and gets stood up a little too much in the run game” … Reading that Mustipher gets stood up as a run-blocker makes me feel uneasy. But that he gets into position well and fights hard is nice. Considering his listed weaknesses, he’ll need to bring plenty of fight to the field.
Mustipher’s ESPN pre-draft profile lists his toughness, awareness, durability, and production as being above average. That’s good. So is the exceptional grade for his intangibles. His run-blocking was described as average, which isn’t terrible. Unfortunately, Mustipher’s pass-protection graded out as below average. All things considered, things could be far worse for the new guy. Good luck!