Once sore spot, Bears' O-line may finally be up to par
Throughout the summer we will be running a 12-part series grading each Bears position group on a standard A-F scale, including pluses and minuses based on a bell curve comparing all 32 NFL teams.
The entire offensive line has been a sore spot for the Bears for some time, but it's looking like the inside may now be a strength for the offense.
Cody Whitehair and James Daniels were drafted in the second round to be what they've become: unspectacular but high-end starters.
On the other hand, Sam Mustipher and Alex Bars are both undrafted rookie free agents who've now both become NFL starters, and their best football is most likely still in front of them.
While Mustipher is strictly a center and unlikely to ever line up at guard, the other three have all started games at both positions and give the team excellent flexibility and depth.
Whitehair was the starting left tackle at Kansas State his junior and senior years. He was drafted by the Bears to play guard, but ended up a Day 1 rookie starter at center after a season-ending knee injury to Hroniss Grasu in 2016. He played so well he started all 48 games there his first three years in the league. He played guard and center the last two seasons. He's a bit undersized at 6-foot-3, 310 pounds, but his position versatility has shown off his excellent technique, smarts, instincts, natural power and athleticism, and even the feet to play outside on the left side. He's also quietly become the group's leader. Grade: B+
Daniels was off to a great start at guard last season before tearing a pectoral muscle. There is every reason to believe he can be every bit as good as Whitehair. What haunts you is he was the best center prospect in the draft four years ago, and there is a ridiculously false narrative out there that he failed there before being switched to guard after an injury to Kyle Long forced Rashaad Coward inside next to him. While he has very nice tools for the guard spot, he has some unique traits at center. In a contract year, we should expect his best yet regardless of where he's lined up. Grade: B
The only possible explanation for Mustipher going undrafted out of Notre Dame was his smallish stature -- remember everything is relative -- and being somewhat overlooked due to all the star power he played with in South Bend. He will struggle with huge powerful nose tackles, but other than that, he is really strong technique-wise, an outstanding signal caller for his group and a bit underrated as an athlete. He has also received excellent guidance on his body and learning the position working regularly with Olin Kreutz. Grade: B-
Bars went undrafted only because he tore his ACL in Week 5 of his senior year at Notre Dame. He may be the most intriguing of this group. He's played all five positions on the line already and looked good, even very good in spurts at guard. The problem is he's blocked right now. He played center, but just a little, and isn't nearly the natural Mustipher is, and Whitehair and Daniels are unlikely to open the door for him to take one of their spots. Grade: C+
We really haven't seen much as Hambright basically played one game last year, getting a start in an awful offensive performance against the Titans. But if the Bears keep eight offensive linemen, or even nine, it's hard to project him as one of the top nine without seeing more in the preseason. Grade: C
Germain Ifedi, Larry Borom, Elijah Wilkinson, Adam Redmond
Ifedi, Borom and Wilkinson will all compete at tackle for now and will be graded there, but all may in fact eventually prove to be better guards. Redmond is a real long shot, but he did get into four games as a rookie with the Colts and then 10 games the last two seasons with Dallas.
They have the makings of a very solid group and it should be fun to see how high Daniels' ceiling is regardless of which position he plays. It is the best shape the Bears have been in on the interior of the offensive line to start the season for some time now. Overall grade: B-